Social Media Question #5: “How should we deal with our emotions?” [More specifically, maintaining a balance of being unfazed by hurtful comments or experiences, but also remaining grounded when receiving praise or compliments.]
“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” (Isaiah 53:3, NLT)
Although Isaiah 53 is one of many Messianic prophecies, I can’t imagine what it would have been like for a young Jesus to read that about Himself. It’s one thing to be apprehensive about what the future holds, but it’s quite another to know exactly what’s in store, with frightening clarity. Cast your mind back to the last time you felt despised, rejected, or sorrowful – how did you deal with that? How long did it take to overcome it? Now imagine adding the deepest grief. Nothing we go through will ever come close to Jesus’ experience. However, the fact He’s lived through the darkest woes means He can resonate with any problem you might experience. It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline and resilience to ‘be happy’ when life, on a daily basis, gives you every reason to wallow in sadness and self-pity.
The most remarkable thing about Jesus is that He didn’t lead a melancholy life.
The unbelief He consistently encountered was an attack on His character. By challenging His authority (e.g. John 8:13; Luke 6:7; Matthew 9:32-34) the Pharisees were essentially implying that He was a liar. Moreover, the Roman soldiers’ mockery also demonstrated that they felt His claims of Messiahship were wildly far-fetched (Matthew 27:27-31). It’s astonishing to think that He didn’t retaliate or become reclusive. However, His calm demeanour, although prophesied (Isaiah 53:7), was not effortless. His prayer life is what enabled Him to handle negative emotions with grace (e.g. Luke 22:42; Luke 23:34). Of course, there was the not-so-little problem that responding to someone’s accusations/comments in a sinful manner would endanger the salvation of mankind! Put simply, He couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong. Although we don’t shoulder the same responsibilities, if we practice His restraint, people would (knowingly or unknowingly) see a glimpse of Jesus.
“So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to tell others about Him. For this reason the crowd went to meet Him, because they heard that He had performed this [miraculous] sign. Then the Pharisees [argued and] said to one another, “You see that your efforts are futile. Look! The whole world has gone [running] after Him!” (John 12:17-19, AMP)
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey (with people jostling to lay their clothes on the ground) is akin to modern day limousine arrivals with obligatory red carpets. Jesus was the man! The slightly hyperbolic tone of the AMP in verse 19 made me chuckle – to the Pharisees, it certainly would have felt like the whole world was captivated. His donkey entrance is the height of postivity and euphoria. Furthermore, it occurs shortly after Mary has been smothering His feet in oil and tears (John 12:3). If ever Jesus needed an ego boost then those events would have ticked the box. In fact, a flavour of their (befitting) kingly treatment might have been enough to make Him question whether He wanted to proceed with crucifixion. Why commit to dying like a criminal when people are finally giving you the respect you deserve?
Jesus mastered the art of internal contentment.
It’s worth noting that His resurrection miracle was the main draw. A type of miracle that was performed sparingly, and, in Lazarus’ case, after a significant delay (John 11:1-44). If He were inclined, it would have been easy for Him to abuse His miracle-working power specifically to replicate or amplify this moment of glory. Thankfully, Jesus remained humble despite all the pomp and ceremony in His honour. His triumphant entry remained a fulfilment of prophecy (Zechariah 9:9) and nothing more. Compliments and praise are nice, but it’s important to let them occur organically. In other words, orchestrating situations specifically for attention leaves you at the mercy of the attention-giver. What happens if they don’t notice/react? Jesus knew who He was whether the people acknowledged it or not. However, He didn’t allow their acknowledgement to lead to bigheadedness.
Applied: Spotlight on Prayer
When Paul advised that anger should not lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26), clearly the implication was that anger could lead to sin. Although Jesus lived a sinless life, I don’t believe that He was immune to negative thoughts and frustrations, or even anger. The key thing is how he dealt with those emotions: prayer. His prayer life was undoubtedly raw and honest. Perhaps:
- “Bob The Pharisee is getting on my last nerve with his accusations! Give me the strength to not punch him the next time I see him.”
- “I was crushed by Peter’s lack of faith. We’ve been through so much, but He still doesn’t trust me and it hurts.”
- “I’m not the Messiah that Judas expected. When I think of his upcoming betrayal, the rejection stings so much more. How do I treat him like the rest?”
However, to stem pride, it may also have been necessary to pray these prayers:
- “Every time I go to a wedding people keep asking me to repeat the water into wine miracle and it’s so tempting!”
- “It was so refreshing to be acknowledged as the ‘King of Israel’ today. I really want to hear someone say it again.”
The point I’m trying to make is that Jesus brought His emotions to God. It would have been difficult for Him to minister to others whilst harbouring unexpressed anger, hurt, rejection, or pride. In fact, choosing to ignore such feelings or hoping they’d go away would have made things worse. It’s essential that you ask Jesus to help you deal with your emotions. Emotions that you can be confident He Himself has felt.
- Acknowledge – don’t bury negative emotions. No one enjoys feeling sad/annoyed/insulted etc but take the time to register that emotion and what exactly has caused it. Was it their phrasing, or their tone? Or perhaps the comment itself wasn’t bad it just happened to be the final straw in the series of things you’re dealing with. Sometimes it may be necessary to seek counselling to get to the root of difficult issues.
- Appreciate – not everyone is a hater! What you’re processing as a hurtful comment might actually be sound advice. Make sure you’re not overreacting by taking the time to listen carefully.
- Affirm – know who you are. Unkind comments may hurt, but they hurt a lot less when you don’t register them as true. If their attack has no basis then remind yourself of who you truly are (scripture memorisation is very helpful). However, there’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Negative energy can have such a profound impact on self-esteem and mental health that it may be best to cut ties with said individual.
- Assess – whether your reaction is proportionate and appropriate to the action. We’re all aware that “two wrongs don’t make a right” – or Romans 12:17-21 for the biblical equivalent – therefore, retaliation is never the answer. In fact, immediately responding to someone that has wronged you could cause you to say or do something you’ll regret.
- Aspire – follow His example. Despite the issues He faced, Jesus demonstrated an extraordinary amount of resilience and humility. As difficult as things get (even with praise!), aspire to have His level of peace.
Jesus’ emotion regulation was undergirded by prayer. Likewise it is imperative that you have a thriving prayer life so that your relationship with God can inform how you deal with your emotions.