Response to Emotions

jesus-weptJesus wept. (John 11:35)

His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. His emotions weren’t out of control. He simply wept. He felt. He expressed those feelings.

And so did the people around him after he wept. They certainly had a variety of responses:

  • The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36)
  • Some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
  • Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” (John 11:39, following Jesus commanding the stone of the tomb be removed)

We respond differently to situations, as well as to the way others respond to those same situations. We declare people are too sensitive or justified. We’re surprised by how well or poorly we think they’re handling something. We have our own emotions to sift through, and our emotions affect our response to others’ emotions.

Be careful. Emotions are great companions but terrible leaders. They enhance life, but they don’t run life. Don’t give them the power and control they don’t deserve, either in your own life or your assessment of others.

What Do We Do With What People Say?

Can you believe she said that?

How dare he say that to me!

She didn’t have to say it; I know what she meant.

screen doorEvery time we communicate with someone, there’s a lot of processing, and a lot of opportunity for misunderstanding, assumption, and frustration. It’s as if we each carry around a screen door right in front of us. None of us have completely clean screen doors. Our experiences, preferences, and assumptions clog some of the holes. When we stand face-to-face with someone, we speak, and our words have to go through our screen door, which means not everything makes it through. Then, our words have to go through the other person’s screen, which is also not pristine. They speak back to us, and their words have to go through both screens, too. Add in the nonverbal communication we’re sending every moment, and the opportunities for disaster exponentially escalate.

We can’t hear what people say to us with a undeniable purity. Many times, our reaction isn’t just about what they say but how they say it, or even, what they intend by it. We certainly seem to be confident in our ability to know a lot of things about another person’s communication.

Are we as vigilant, discerning, and confident in the way we respond?

It’s not so much about what people say as what we do with what they say. After all, we have absolutely no control over what someone says or how she says it. We choose how to respond. Many times, we waste that choice, because we aren’t intentional about our respond. We give a knee-jerk response, either to the person’s face or behind her back, either right away or after we’ve fumed or pouted about it for awhile. Instead, we can use that same time to take a deep breath and ask God how He wants us to respond. What would honor and reflect Him to other people? What would draw us closer to Him as we trust Him, even in situations and relationships we don’t understand?

We don’t have to take offense. We don’t have to get angry. We don’t have to retaliate. We don’t have to coddle. We don’t have to enable. But we do have to take responsibility…for our response, whether it’s our attitude, words, or actions.

What are you doing with what people say?

Are you listening to what God says above all other words?

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.(James 1:19-20)

A Chance to Respond

I recently drained the battery of the van while sitting in Kohl’s parking lot waiting for the girls to get done shopping. Instead of waiting for roadside assistance, I thought of someone who lives ten minutes away. He was soon on his way. Just as I was wondering how he was going to pull alongside the van when he arrived, the car to my left backed out. I jumped out to stand in the empty space, hoping to keep it clear until help arrived.

Busy department store. An empty parking space close to the doors. Congested shopping a couple days before Christmas. Well…at least it wasn’t as cold as it had been recently. I watched many faces of people who spotted the great parking spot and frantically tried to reach it before someone else. I saw puzzling looks when they saw me standing in the space. I’d smile and motion for someone to roll down a window so I could apologize for the inconvenience after a brief explanation that I was trying to save the space for someone to help me.

What a myriad of responses…

  • Several smiled understandably.
  • A couple people asked if I needed help. 
  • One asked if I needed jumper cables. “No, thanks,” I said. He responded, “Well, I don’t mind jump-starting the car if you let me park here.”
  • One man looked as if he didn’t believe me but later walked by and told me how odd it was that I couldn’t start my van. His wife had the same issue two rows from the same parking space a couple weeks earlier. He arrived to help and was waiting for an adjacent space. When it became available, someone quickly zipped into it and refused to move even after hearing their story.
  • One man told me he wouldn’t make a big deal about it, but if he came out and saw I’d simply been saving the space for a friend, I might find my tires slashed. I didn’t know if he was kidding. It hadn’t occurred to me that people would think I was scamming.
  • One car, driven by a young woman accompanied by, perhaps, her mom, began to pull into the space despite me standing in it. I motioned for the mom to roll down the window. The driver kept inching her way closer to me. I explained, and the mom laughed while looking at her daughter, who looked disgusted and determined to move forward. She sat there for at least 30 seconds, staring straight ahead. The mom continued to laugh and look between me and her daughter. I apologized several times and thanked them for understanding. The car began to move slightly, but just as it passed me a little more, the driver tried to cut back into the space – then slammed on her brakes, rolled her eyes and drove on.

I have to admit…there have been times I’ve responded with irritation when I feel inconvenienced. There are times I respond with irritation when I feel inconvenienced. I hope those times are less frequent, but I’m just being honest – I don’t always respond with patience, love and understanding.

We can all find situations in which we’ve been generous. We sacrifice our time or convenience for someone else. But what about the times we respond on the other end of the spectrum? In what situations have you responded with anger, irritation or apathy when you could have responded with patience, generosity, and compassion?

Be honest with yourself. And watch for opportunities to choose well…today.

This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between good and bad and will choose the good. Philippians 1:9-10