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Entries in emotions (3)

Monday
Oct302017

The Green Mile: what John Coffey knew about empathy

Being in the same room is not the same thing as connecting.  Remember that holiday office party where everyone chatted non-stop but you left feeling more alone?  Or the well-meaning friend who freely quotes Scriptural promises with the non-committal detachment of a fortune cookie, but doesn't really get what you're going through?  Speaking is not the same thing as connecting.  Even listening isn't the same.  

We need others who are emotionally in-sync with us.  Jesus surprises us here:

 ...he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled."  - John 11: 33, 38 [Lazarus story]

Would you be emotionally gutted if you knew you'd get back what you lost; that day?  In the Lazarus story, Jesus' emotional response doesn't really fit what he secretly knows. He has inside information that Lazarus is really just "sleeping" but he's not acting like the superhero.  He's not grinning like a giddy parent who knows the new birthday bike is waiting in the garage.   Why does God still cry when he knows everything works for good?

There are the typical interpretations explaining why Jesus was emotionally distraught, despite being the bearer of good news:  Jesus was indignant at his friends' unbelief; or he was overcome with grief by the entrance of death and decay into his Father's world. 

Yet, author Carol A. Brown, in her book, The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity, has another explanation:  Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled because he was dialed into his friends' emotional reality; and despite knowing that all would be okay, was still able to feel what they felt.  He remained emotionally in-sync with his friends.

He came alongside His friends and drew some of their burden into His spirit and soul, thus lightening their emotional load.  He felt what the sisters and friends were feeling - He was fully in sync with them."1

Note:  Jesus does not frantically rush to move people from difficult emotions to positive ones.   To do so would dishonor them.  He's okay staying in-sync with painful emotions like grief, terror, and anger; he won't rush to extinguish the pain without first feeling the pain himself. Why?  Because Jesus knows that people won't walk with you into the light until you've stayed with them in the dark.  

 

The Green Mile:  what John Coffey knew about empathy

Image: courtesy, IMDB

If you've ever seen the movie The Green Mile, you know that a falsely accused empath named, "John Coffey," literally inhales the pain of those who are suffering around him.  As he breaths in their affliction, the lights in his prison cell surge brightly with supernatural electricity as John Coffey swallows the misery of suffering souls.  He carries what they can't.  And it costs him, as it does all those who have extraordinary empathy.   

Psychologists call this kind of emotional engagement, "attunement."  It's the ability to dial-in to another's emotional states, to quite literally feel what they feel, to get in-sync with them.  It's how we, "Bear one another's burdens."  (Galations 6:2)

 

Ways to get in-sync with those you love

It starts simply by asking ourselves, "What must this person be feeling?  What is their body posture telling me: Are they slumped over?  Tense and rigid? What emotions are showing up on their face and in their tone of voice?  Wide-eyed with fright?  Do they have that far-away stare that says, "The feelings are so overwhelming that I can't feel them myself"?

Finally:  If you haven't had a chance to watch The Green Mile, it's one of the best portrayals of the Gospel in film.   

..........................................

Source: 

1.  The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity, by Carol A. Brown; p. 23

Thursday
May162013

How do others respond to your suffering?

The best way to respond to another person's suffering is at an emotional level, not a rational one.  Respond to emotion with emotion. [1]  I don't mean that we fake an emotional response, or become overly dramatic or animated as we acknowledge their anguish; but rather, we learn to hear with our hearts, rather than dispensing prescriptions. 

How a person handles your pain will tell you about their view of God.

When sharing our heartache with others, most of us get a corrective response.  Here's what the Corrective Response sounds like:

1. "Here's what the Bible says about that; now just believe it." 

2. "Here's my experience and how I handled pain:  You should adopt my attitude."

3. "You're over-reacting or too sensitive.  It's not as bad as you think it is."

[It may, in fact, not be as bad as they think it is, but telling them so isn't likely to improve their situation or perspective.]


The negative impact of the Corrective Response:
The fallacy here is that reason cannot always heal; and will often make the suffering worse.   And reason is a cheap substitute for entering into another's suffering:  It takes more energy and love to "weep with those who weep" than offering a rational [and clinical] response to their hurt. 

The collateral damage of the corrective response is one of dismissal, which quickly becomes shame:  Because your heartache isn't taken seriously,  your suffering is leveled as an indictment against you because you're too weak, too faithless, or too sensitive to handle the situation well.  Or, so go the assumptions about you.

Suffering is not faithlessness:
Often times, the corrective response is built upon the assumption that your response to pain indicates a lack of faith.   The truth is, that while your "flesh may be weak" and faithless; your good and noble heart is not:  Your new heart may be growing in trust, but it was equipped with the same confidence in the Father that Jesus himself held onto.  "Christ in you" means that there is a very deep part of you that still trusts, despite your very real feelings of abandonment.

Don't see pain as necessarily a lack of faith.  Emotions are not always reliable indicators of a person's true inner strength; especially when they themselves are overwhelmed and can't see their own hope and resilience while its buried beneath the rubble.


The positive impact of responding to emotion with emotion?
1.  Responding with emotional empathy opens the sufferer up to the healing presence of God.

2.  Responding with emotional empathy give the listener permission to be taken seriously, especially when something challenging may be needed to be said at a later point in time.  Without empathy, the listener doesn't have permission.

3.  Responding with emotional empathy makes the listener a safe harbor for a broken vessel. 


We can learn to ask: What is my friend experiencing? 

  • Fear?  
  • Betrayal?
  • Futility? 
  • Loss?
  • Forsakenness?

 
Learning to respond to emotion with emotion, particularly the emotions the suffering person is drowning under, will help us serve as an advocate rather than as an advisor; a companion rather than a courtroom judge; a compassionate healer rather than a clinician.


[1]  Intimate Life, Intimate Life Ministries

Tuesday
Sep082009

Emotions -- friend or foe? You may be surprised.

Emotions can't be trusted.

Strong emotions will lead you into sin.

Believing the right things is more important than feelings.

Just do your duty, whether you feel something or not.

Love is a 'verb.'

Reason and the intellect are more trustworthy than the heart.

What do you think of these typical typical responses to emotions and their place in the Christian life? Are these statements true? 

I've discovered a book called, Feel -- the power of listening to your heart, by Matthew Elliott.  His claim is that much of what the Christian community has taught about emotions, is in fact, not biblical.  The Church has bought into secular psychology and philosophy rather than a biblical position on the place of emotion in our lives.  It's actually a bit surprising.

The author claims,
I realized this idea [the suspicion and villification of emotion] was the prevailing Christian view of emotions - and this "Christian" view was essentially platonic [from Plato], a secular perspective in line with the view of Descartes, [William ]James, and - if you can believe it - none other than Charles Darwin."  p.20

What have you been told about emotions and their place in the Christian life?

I'll be following up this conversation on emotions in upcoming posts.