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Alasdair Groves

Answering Your Questions on Emotions

June 14, 2024


In this last episode of our miniseries on emotions, Alasdair Groves answers 11 questions submitted by our listeners. We hope these answers are edifying to you!

This is episode 6 in a miniseries on emotions. Listen to the other episodes in this series: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5

Mentioned in this episode: We’re excited to be doing a giveaway of some CCEF-branded items! To enter, visit Winners will be chosen and notified via email on July 5.

Are you looking for an answer to a particular question? See timestamps below to jump to that part of the episode.

  1. How does a Christian deal with a tendency to struggle with joy and happiness even when life is relatively good? [3:50]
  2. Is it a good thing when we can’t control our emotions? [11:56]
  3. Is the emotion of frustration a sin? [18:08]
  4. What about people who don’t know what they feel? [23:50]
  5. What about when a woman’s monthly period or menopause, where emotions “happen” to us and are not “our fault”? [28:00]
  6. How do I manage or overcome strong romantic emotions that are misleading? [35:22]
  7. What’s your encouragement for someone who says he’s a thinker, not a feeler? [39:48]
  8. What do you do with emotions that you should not act out on, but are still important to process? [42:02]
  9. How do you have empathy but also encourage resilience? [45:36]
  10. How do we handle anger, jealousy, negative emotions, and other things that may lead to bitterness? [50:55]
  11. Can you speak to rumination and sadness over relationships that are over? [54:12]

For further study on emotions, we want to recommend to you Untangling Emotions, a book by Alasdair Groves and Winston Smith, where they seek to biblically frame emotions and consider how to wisely engage with them.


Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves and I'm the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, where our mission is to restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church. For more information about our ministry and for thousands of resources that seek to mine the treasures of Scripture for the troubles of life, visit our website at

Today's episode is our final episode in our miniseries this season on emotions, a biblical view of emotions. In particular, we've been looking at the emotions of Jesus. But I've been really excited for this particular show because we invited you guys to reach out to us with your questions, and a lot of you did. We got dozens of questions. I'm not going to be able to hit on all of them today, but I've picked a good healthy handful. And they hit a lot of the different topics that were raised. And when you send us questions, even if we aren't able to respond to your individual question, the questions we get, we read and we take seriously. And they inform future topics that we take on for our blogs and articles and conferences. So thank you to everyone who sent things in, and I hope that even if your question doesn't get addressed, you do find the things that I do speak to today to be helpful and to be relevant to your concerns.

These questions are no particular order. They're a fun mix and let's just get into it with the heads-up warning that this is going to be a bit longer than our normal episode. I can tell you that right up front.

First question I want to hit, and this one was echoed in one fashion or another in a number of your questions that you sent in. The question is this, I'm going to read it to us word for word: "How does a Christian deal with a tendency to struggle with joy and happiness even when life is relatively good? It seems patently unchristian to do so. For myself, it has added fuel to the fire of despair, since my struggle to be happy itself seems to confirm, at best, disobedience and sin. And at worst, the lack of true transformation. Is there any encouragement for the New Testament Christian who find themselves struggling to be happy despite every effort to overcome that?"

A couple of thoughts. Let me start by actually just saying that word “happy” is an interesting one. We actually just in our last episode addressed Jesus and happiness, and how to think about that. So if you haven't listened to that one, you might find that helpful if this is intriguing to you.

But the question here is a good one. I'll start by saying, as you ask this question, you are not the only person asking this question. I've been asked this question many, many times. I know many people for whom this is a struggle. It's just, life is a melancholy affair for some people, including some Christians. And it's a struggle. It hits hard at the core of, How can I be melancholy? How can I be unhappy if I'm a person of faith? All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord, who are called according to his purpose.

How can I be so glum? And I guess I would say two basic things in response to this question. The first is to say that it is a fair question to ask of ourselves, whether you're a cheerful person constantly or whether, yeah, this is your life experience, to be struggling constantly with joy, with happiness, with contentment. It's a fair question to ask, is this representing things in my heart that are not good? Are there places where I'm struggling to trust the Lord and his goodness, where I'm failing to perceive his comforts and his mercies, where I'm so focused on the things I don't like that I can't see the graces and the gifts that he's given? So yes, there is a call to self-reflection.

But what I hear in this question is not so much the idea of, "Oh, is it possible that there are good things the Lord is doing?" I hear somebody saying, "I find this deep pain in my soul because my struggle to be happy seems to me to be evidence that I have no faith at all, seems to be evidence, at best, that I am running from the Lord constantly. What do I do? Is there any encouragement?" Well, there are many encouragements from the New Testament and from the Old Testament. But since you've used the phrase New Testament, I'll go there, focus there. I think of 2 Corinthians 1, and I think of the picture that is painted. And it's an incredibly hopeful picture. It's this hope-filled picture of all of God's promises being yes in Christ Jesus. It's speaking of the God of comfort and his comfort overflowing to us and us helping each other.

But not just the backdrop, but the core theme running throughout that chapter is one of intense, intense suffering. It's one of being profoundly harmed by your circumstances, and Paul doesn't get into a lot of specifics. Although, he does at one point say, "We had this experience in the province of Asia." It was clear his readers would've known what he was talking about. He talks about despairing of life itself, of feeling like he was probably going to die because the suffering and the hardship was so bad. And we know enough about the things that happened to Paul. You can read in 2 Corinthians 11 a long list of them. He went through horrible, horrible things. And his comments about joy or James 1 talking about joy in trials—none of these are meant to say, "Oh, trials shouldn't be a big deal," or "Suffering doesn't matter," or "Anguish is not real." We watch Paul himself in Philippians 2 talking about sorrows and anxieties as godly, appropriate things. And you can listen to earlier podcasts in this series if you want to hear more about that.

But yeah, we have lots of places where we see, essentially, Christians are indeed intended to feel bad about the things that are bad, and this world is full of them.

Are we meant to have joy and hope in the redemptive presence and promises and rescue of Christ? Yes, and amen. Are we meant to mourn and grieve and lament and be distressed by the things that are distressing? Yes, absolutely. That is what it means to love what God loves and hate what God hates, as Romans 12 puts it.

And so, all of that leads to, there are going to be some of us who are just more sensitive to those hard things and to those painful places. And who are going to just be more alert to the lamentable dismaying things in life. And there are some of us who are going to be more alert to the joyful, the exciting, the sweet things of life. Both types, all people, no matter where you fall in that spectrum of where your instinctive sensitivity is, we're called to be able to engage well with all of it. To be purely and only ever happy means you are missing mourning with those who mourn. And to be purely and only ever miserable means you are missing the hopes and the joys of the comforts that God pours out. But is it okay to live in the more painful, the more hard, the more sensitive-to-lament side of the spectrum? Absolutely. That should not be a sign of despair. That's actually a sign that you love the kingdom, that you love the Lord, that your people and his good purposes and the healing of the nations is on your heart. And that your own desire for a better kingdom, for a better day, for the fullness of heaven is near and dear and present to you. We were not made to live in this world; we were made for another home.

So long story short, summary: yes, it's absolutely appropriate for us as Christians to have a tendency to struggle with joy and happiness. And keep struggling to feel, taste, see God's comforts and those good things in the midst of sorrows. But don't take a tendency to lament and to see hardship as a sign of anything other than, this is a human experience in a fallen world and Christ knew the hardships as well.

So, getting back to the original question of being down even when life is good: what I’m essentially saying is that this suggests to me that you’re noticing and focusing on the hard things even in the midst of a good season. Now, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with being someone who is attuned to the hard, the genuinely broken aspects of life in a fallen world. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are those who mourn, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. Now, is there danger in this, that you’ll become more of a grumbler or a cynic or a kill-joy? Rather than having this kind of sensitivity lead you to be in honest lament before the Lord and in honest vulnerable sharing with others and even having a deeper heart of compassion? Yes, of course, that’s going to be a danger, and that will no doubt be one of the ongoing battles in your life. I’m simply saying that feeling the sad more easily than the good, even when there is lots of good to go around, is not a wrong thing in a broken world.

Okay, I'm hoping I don't go quite that long on all of these questions, but I'm just going to give you a heads-up, the next one's going to be a long one too. Here's the question—very interesting, I like to sprinkle in a couple of these that are extremely specific, and yet I think the answer will be enlightening for all of us.

So here's the question. "I found your episode on ‘Why Can't I Control My Emotions?’ somewhat unsettling. I'm a pastor of a church, I’ve been helped by CCEF, I’ve benefited from the writings of Paul Tripp and David Powlison." And he said, "I think I heard you saying in the podcast that it's good that we can't control our emotions, because that is the way God made us to be and part of what it is to be human. Thing is I'm also an autistic trauma survivor, and I often can control my emotions. I can turn stuff like anxiety, worry about various things, on or off. I can make myself feel genuine grief during funerals, even if it's the funeral of someone I never met and don't think I'd have gotten on with, and so on. I don't think I could survive being me without it. I'd be interested to hear what you make of that. I don't think you were meaning to say that I'm deficient in my humanity. But it's probably possible to hear that in what you said. I am of course aware that I'm not the majority of your audience."

I love the enormous variety and flexibility of being human, right? This is indeed a very specific question. I suspect it's not the majority of you who are listening. But let me give a couple of thoughts in response to this question. Number one, let's say the most important thing right out of the gate: I am not saying there's anything deficient in your humanity, and I'm enormously thankful that you raised that particular question that was raised for you.

That is not my design or intent at all. So, no, having this sense of “Yes, I feel like I can control my emotions” does not make you in any way, shape, or form less than human. Let me speak to the actual question. "I feel like I can turn my emotions on and off, that I can make myself feel things in the moment." The way I would explain what you're talking about, is I would say you're describing a more significant, extreme even, a more extreme form of something that we all do experience, which is a certain ability to control. And I might even say a certain ability to influence, to push on our emotions.

What I hear you describing in this question is something like a light switch level. Like I can just kind of flip it and it goes. And I feel genuine. I'm at the funeral and I can tell myself, "Feel sad now," and I can feel sad for this loss. Indeed, that's unusual for someone to have that level of ability to impact things. But I think every person has some ability to move in that direction. So, something really hard happens, what do we often do? One thing many people will do is say, "Okay, but at least such-and-such," or "Well, it's not as bad as such-and-such." Or "I'll have another chance again tomorrow," or vice versa. Or you have to do some unpleasant task and you say, "Well, you know what? It's going to be over in a few minutes." And there are things we can say to ourselves, perspective we can grab onto that does change the emotion in the moment sometimes, to some level. And that even is going to get played out physiologically.

I hear you describing not something categorically different, but rather just something that's more. Now, I suspect there's a lot of... If you can find a way to bottle and sell that, you will never have financial problems again because people will be beating down the door of your online portal to buy that. Everyone would love to have that, or not everyone, but I suspect ... And here's where I ... Let me connect then back to what was I saying in the other episode of “Why Can't I Control My Emotions?”

I won't try to redo the whole episode. I'll just say at the end of the day it's actually right that what we love shapes what we feel. And what I hear you doing in its most basic and simple form, you're at a funeral, why are you even bothering to try to feel sad about this? On some level it's because you instinctively are perceiving that would be the right and loving thing to do. The appropriate thing in this moment. The godly, the kind thing is to enter into this moment, and this moment is about grieving the life of someone who has died. And even if you don't know them, you're certainly seeing the family. There's some alertness, some awareness you're having to “This is difficult, this is painful for these other people.”

Now, you've talked about being an autistic trauma survivor. And I'm not even going to begin to try to wade in to speculate about how those particular factors might be playing into the extent of your emotion, the nature of your emotion, what it's like for you to feel grief at a funeral versus what it's like for someone else to feel grief at a funeral. All I'm saying is love is still the overflow of emotion. You are finding a simpler path for what you love in a given moment to flow over into emotion than most people do. And that wouldn't be a huge surprise, giving many of the things that we know around the experience of those on the autism spectrum.

At the end of the day, what is our hope? Our hope is that however much emotion we experience, however quickly we move into or out of emotions, whether our emotions are right or wrong, what we want is to have hearts that are increasingly shaped by love for the right things. By love for the Lord, love for his kingdom.

And so, whether your emotions can shift very quickly because of what you think to yourself about what you should be feeling right now, or whether they shift very slowly and hardly at all in the moment. As we are people whose loves are in the right place, our emotions are going to always be impacted and affected by that. In some way, on some timeframe, over some level. So, love and appreciate the question. Thank you.

Next question. "My husband and I recently argued about the emotion of frustration. We all get frustrated in our life because of circumstances around us. In my view, frustration is an anger, a type of sin. Even if you do not respond to the frustration and behave like Christians ought to do through the strength of the Spirit, the emotion felt is a sin. It stands against the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5. My husband argues that if he does not act in anger while experiencing frustration, it is not sinful. Can you please advise?” I enter with great hesitance and trepidation into any question that begins, "My husband and I were arguing recently about…" But you know what? I appreciate that, that's where some of our most important questions land, is the kinds of things that we argue about. So thank you for submitting this. Let me offer a word of affirmation and a word of pushback actually to both of you, to each of you.

Is anger a sin? Not necessarily. You want more on that? Go listen to the episode we just did on Jesus and anger. Anger is the emotion that overflows from “I love something, I love someone, and it is being treated unjustly. It is being attacked, it is being wronged.” Jesus got angry and did so without sin. God's wrath has no sin in it. He is right to be utterly furious against the sinful, awful evilness that has entered his beautiful world. So anger against the right things is a good thing. That's actually the right thing. We mirror God's heart when we get angry. Now, what does Scripture have to say about anger? It's got a lot of warnings because as James 1 puts it, human anger doesn't tend to lead in the right direction. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Let's be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. Why? Because anger tends to lead to really bad places.

So it is absolutely right for you to say anger itself certainly can be sin happening in our heart, spinning off in the wrong direction. My affirmation to you is, yes, it's right to say that anger can absolutely be sinful. And that's true whenever the thing we’re loving, we shouldn't be loving. I'm angry that you caught me in my sin and I didn't get away with it. That's bad anger because you're loving keeping your sin in the dark and not being exposed to the light. That's a bad thing to love.

It's also a sin when anger spills over into action. You guys both agree on that. But I'm saying, yes, even in the heart, there's places where your anger can get sinful and even godly, righteous anger: "I'm angry that you just harmed my child and treated them unfairly or were dismissive of them, and that was really hurtful to them." How you deal with that even in your own mind and heart, it's pretty easy for us to roll down roads of vengeance, or resentment, or bitterness, or grumbling, or antagonism, or whatever. So the sin of anger in the heart can either be, "I'm loving the wrong thing," or it can be, "I'm quickly going in selfish ways with something that I am right to be upset about."

But that doesn't mean that all anger in the heart is sin. That doesn't mean that all anger is opposed to Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I would go so far as to say Jesus, in the temple cleansing it because the money changers are exploiting the poor, is in fact demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in that moment. That is actually the right thing. The Spirit is producing in him, overflowing in his heart, into action. So it is possible to be angry and not sin and have that move us towards actions that are godly, right, just, and restorative.

To your husband who argues that if he doesn't act in anger while experiencing frustration it’s not sinful, again, affirmation and the pushback. Affirmation, yes, there's something really good about not acting in anger. And that's right, there's a resisting of temptation. When our hearts are spilling towards anger and we hold back and we actually restrain and we actually say, "No, Lord, I don't want to go there." And when we choose not to do the thing that our anger is directing us to do, that's right, that's excellent. That is fruitful rather than sinful. Where my pushback is to your husband would be, "Oh, it is absolutely possible that you're already spilling way into sin in your heart, in your thoughts, in your emotions even if you don't actively do something with that.”

So, bottom line: you’re both seeing something right and true, and you’re both rightly pointing the way forward toward love and good deeds. My hope for both of you, and for me and for all the rest of us who bump into this kind of struggle on a regular basis as we all do, my hope is that you would be able to embrace every good aspect of holding back and restraining yourself in the face of the temptation to lash out in anger and frustration, and that you’d be able to embrace the pursuit of a heart that loves what is good and is quick to repent before the Lord, even if you haven’t pushed something into action, and that you’d repent in front of each other when your heart is running down the path of ungodly anger and frustrations.

The next question is one I've certainly bumped into in a number of places, both in the questions that came in and in life experiences and in counseling, probably especially in marriage counseling, is essentially the question of, What about people who just don't seem to recognize or have access to their emotions?

It's not even necessarily that they don't feel anything as much as they don't know what they feel. They don't know how to identify feelings, they don't have words for it. They don't so much feel like they're suppressing, it's just they don't know, they don't have access. Whether that was because that was what was modeled for them growing up, or very hard things have happened, or they got emotionally flooded and overwhelmed and it seems like they've just sort of shut down. But especially if it's more of a "Yeah, I just never have really felt like I had emotions. What do I do to become more emotionally aware?" I'll give a very short answer to that, which is to say, pay attention to your community and pay attention to your body.

So if you are someone who feels like, "Yeah, I really don't know what I feel. I don't know that I feel much of anything. I just don't even think about what I feel. Why would I ask that question?" If you're listening to this podcast and that's you, or if someone is coming to you, or if you have someone in your life where that feels like the question, my encouragement is, enter into conversation. Ask, "Do you see me express emotion? If so, where?" And if that conversation is not getting anywhere or if you yourself are looking to get the ball rolling, the best way to think about where might emotion be hiding in my life or where might I be feeling things I'm not aware of would be to ask the question of "What do I most value? What is most important to me?" If our emotion is the overflow of what we love, then look at what you love. And if the word love is a little tricky for you because it feels emotion-y, what do you think is most important? What do you think is most worthwhile? What is worthy of time, attention, and investment? Whatever those things are, that's where you would be looking to find emotions, whether it's excitement, whether it's fear.

And that leads to my second thought, which is, your body is telling you things about emotions that you just may not be aware of. I won't give a long extended play—there's thousands of places out there you can find information on what's the connection between particular emotions and particular bodily experiences, and it's going to vary from person to person. But just at the most basic level, the experience of fear often feels like a clench in the chest, a tightening of the muscles. Sometimes it is experienced as sort of a knot in the pit of your stomach. Sometimes the back of your neck will get hot or cold. Sometimes you're just going to feel more tight in your face. There's lots of other things you could say. It often comes with an elevated heart rate. Your body may be sending you signals that you've never before identified as "Oh my goodness, that's called anxiety. That's what I'm feeling."

So, what I’m ultimately trying to get at, is it’s not like the goal of life is to be endlessly aware of your emotions and constantly tuning into them above all else. The goal of your emotions, of having emotions, is simply to connect you to God so that you would bring him your heart, the things that matter to you. So he can comfort and encourage and ultimately shape you and shape what you love and what you care about and what matters to you. You may or may not have stronger feelings than others. You may not feel strong feelings at all or be aware of feeling much of anything. But you still care about things. You have values. There are things that seem good or bad in the world around you, and having access to your emotions simply means that you have the ability to engage more clearly with the Lord about the things that you truly care about, the things that are on your heart. That’s something we all need to grow in, regardless of how strong the experience of our emotions is, regardless of how strong the experience of our emotions is compared to others, or even compared to ourselves in a different season of life.

All right, next question, and you'll appreciate why I spent a minute or two thinking about it. This is one I really wanted to hit. But it was such a good question. I felt like, "Yeah, let's do this." Here's the question. "I have a question about emotions and the monthly period or menopause for women where it feels like our emotions ‘happen’ to us and are not our fault." That's a quotes around "happen" and "our fault." "Obviously, that's not true, but it's a tricky time for teenagers through to women in menopause. And some are worse off from others. It would be great to hear someone speak into that space and how we can untangle the complex web of emotions through this and what it might look like to flourish as a Christian woman with real and big emotions/mood swings that feel beyond our control."

Let's just point out the obvious right up front, that I'm a man responding to this question and there are lots of answers out there from women and I happen to have one that I came across recently. So I'm going to start by giving a better answer than anything I'm about to say, which is just to mention a book. I'll do a little unpaid advertisement here for Rachel Jones has written a book called A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, Really). Great book on how to think about what's happening in our bodies and how it connects to our life of faith and our emotions and all the rest. Go read that, it's the best and most important answer that I'm going to give.

I pick this question in part not because I'm an expert on this by any shape or form of course, but because it's actually a subset of a much broader question, which is this: What about when our bodies impact us in ways where it does really feel like our emotions are happening to us, where something physical seems to have such strong impact that the way I would describe my experience is, "This is out of my control"? Now you hear me hedging there a little bit of, feels like, seems like, seems to be beyond my control. The reason I'm doing that is to say I want to always remain clear that our emotions lead us to the Lord, and engaging our emotions with him is going to have impact on our emotions. That doesn't mean, "Oh, if you engage in the right way, you'll stop feeling anything you don't want to feel." I don't mean that at all. In fact, often engaging our emotions may lead to a deeper sense of distress at what is distressing. It certainly did for Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus and other times, garden of Gethsemane.

What I simply mean to say is it's incredibly complex to speak to, do we have control over our emotions? And I just spoke to that a couple of minutes ago in one of these other questions as you just heard. What I want to dig into is, can our bodies have really profoundly strong influences on us in our emotions? Yes they can. Now, I've never had this particular experience that you're describing, so I can't speak directly from experience to what you are saying, the feeling of being controlled by it. But I have had many similar experiences and I'll give just a couple.

Number one, when I'm starting to get a cold and when I'm feeling sick, it just is hard to feel happy about things. Life just gets more gray. When I've lost energy and I'm in the first couple of days, I just feel run down and worn down. It's so much harder to feel emotions that are pleasant, and honestly I find it harder to think about things, I find it harder to respond to my own emotions. There's a sense in which it sort of feels like my emotions have a 50-pound weight change then and they're sort of sinking down toward the bottom of me, and it's hard to get them up.

I'll give another example. When I am tired, when I'm significantly sleep-deprived, my tears go off vastly faster. And I've had a lot of experiences, especially actually in church while singing. If I'm tired on a Sunday morning and we get to church and we're singing, the chances of me weeping dramatically increase. And my experience is that it just sort of leaps on me all of a sudden. Something happens that the words we're singing, the tune, being in a room full of people who are expressing these things, and it'll just suddenly well up, the realness of it.

Now, I have to be honest, I actually treasure those moments when worship together with other believers singing these words and having the truth just suddenly so penetrate me that I move to tears. I actually find that to be an incredibly sweet gift from the Lord. It's often a little bit embarrassing, but I'll take it. I'll take it. I love that that happens. So in that particular case, I actually find a certain benefit from being sleep-deprived on a particular Sunday morning.

But in both cases I would say here's a place where my body is affecting, if you will, and at some level controlling my emotions, or at least what I have the capacity to feel. So what are you experiencing as a woman between your teens and the end of menopause? I can't speak to directly what level of impact it's having and I know there's even a spectrum there. But our bodies and the things we experience every day including having an itch we need to scratch, or having something stuck in your eye, or having trouble hearing, or running a mild fever, or being tired, or any of the rest, being uncomfortable in this particular outfit. All of those things are actually having an impact on our emotions. This particular monthly experience for women is obviously just a much more significant aspect of where the body is indeed having a profound impact on, footprint on what we're feeling.

And it is okay to acknowledge that this kind of suffering is real and difficult and that it is indeed suffering. It is okay to lament the fact that having your body step on the accelerator of your emotions once a month means that both the good and the bad of where your heart is in general will be exposed to you and to those around you more because your emotions will come out more strongly. In this particular place where your body is tugging on you and making life more difficult, you get the certain promise and comfort that the Lord knows you and sees you’re suffering and sees the struggle that this brings. And he who made you and formed you is the one who will walk together with you tenderly, the good Shepherd, leading you to enough green pasture and enough quiet water to restore your soul this day, this month. And that he will do it again tomorrow, and again next month, until he brings you all the way home.

Next question: "How do I manage or overcome strong romantic emotions that are misleading?" Now this is an interesting one to me because you could have just stopped at "How do I manage or overcome strong romantic emotions?" And you'd have had a lot of listeners on the edge of their seat asking a really good question like that. But even adding in particular then "That are misleading." And I'll say a couple of things. First off, I appreciate the language choice you've made here with the word overcome because, boy, if you're feeling romantic emotions, overcoming is the right description of the level of struggle it is to seek a change there.

I spent a good portion of my junior high and high school years pining away with unrequited romantic, strong emotion for people who did not return it to me. So I know something about this experience. And even if we're not... I'll get to misleading in a minute. But I've certainly been in situations where you're feeling something strongly romantically and for reasons of either, I'm not at a place to pursue this relationship, or this is not a helpful, healthy thing for me to be going after. This person does not return that interest. And that's been made clear and that seems to continue to be clear over time.

There are times to say, "You know what? I'm going to have to walk away from these emotions." And I think the best metaphor I've got is sort of it's a gradual turning down of a faucet. But each crank of the faucet is going to take a lot of energy and effort. You asked how do I manage or overcome strong romantic emotions? Very difficultly. It's very hard, and probably one of the most helpful elements of it will be to say, "You know what? I'm going to have to trust the Lord that his plan for my life, whether that is some other person that I'll end up in a romantic long-term relationship with that yields a long and delightful marriage, or whether that is a singleness in which I walk in the fellowship of other believers, and feeling the joys of being part of God's household as a person knowing what it is to be united to Christ and to be the spouse of Christ is my eternal destiny.”

Having those sorts of wrestling to trust the Lord with the fact that these romantic emotions are not things you can unleash, that they're not things you can say yes to. That there's a difficulty to that and there's a wrestling to trust those into the Lord's hands. And in a sense there's often going to be an appropriate grief to it. We're going to say, "Okay Lord, this is something I wanted. This is something I would love to have, even right now. But I can see that it's not the direction this is going. And so will you help me to trust these into your hand, to lay these down?" And I think it's appropriate to have lament be at the front and center of that process. So rather than being like, "Suck it up, no one promised you that you would," blah blah blah. I think an approach of, "This is genuinely a sorrow to me because I can see how good, or I think I can see how good this could have been."

Quick comment about your question about it being misleading. Yes, that is a particularly important place to say no to romantic emotions when they're leading you towards something. I don't know exactly what you meant by that, but the most common scenario I can think of where romantic emotions are misleading is when they are drawing you towards someone that is clearly, obviously, not a good person to be drawn to. That could be a situation where you're attracted to someone of the same sex, and you need to say no to those emotions and to that feeling because it's drawing you towards something that is not God's design for you or for humanity.

Could also just be, "This is a really bad fit between us. It's really obvious that we should not spend our lives seeking to live in marital harmony. We should be going in other directions, either with other people or just on our own ways." So when it's not just, "Okay, this doesn't seem like it's going to work," but even if it did work, that would not be good. The people around me are telling me, "This is not a good person for me to be drawn to." That's the most obvious situation I can think of where you would want to and say, "Lord, help me overcome." So whatever you do, it's going to be a prayerful and difficult endeavor to say no and to say no by trusting it into the Lord's hands.

I'm going to hit this next one briefly. "What is your encouragement for a husband who says that he is a thinker and not a feeler?" Well, my first thought is it depends on who is asking that question. Husband, to you, if you're saying, "Yeah, what would you say to me if I say I'm a thinker and not a feeler?" I'd say, Maybe so. And yet, even so, usually that's something you're saying because your wife is more of a feeler and would appreciate if you were too. And so, loving her is probably going to look like growing in feeling with her. Mourning with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who rejoice. That's a good and worthy command of Scripture that you can think about and pursue. And to the extent you're having struggled with that, listen to the rest of the podcast series. If it's you, wife, saying, "My husband is a thinker and not a feeler," I will just say, you may be right. But A, to the extent that he's trying to feel with you and he's feeling with you in the ways that he can. You're more of a feeler, he’s more a thinker, as his native instinct. Have patience and appreciate the places where in love he is moving towards you in those feeling ways. And do your best to tell him and to put words as clearly as you can on what it would mean for him to feel with you, for him to engage with you in ways that share what's important to him, and that takes seriously what's important to you.

I just talked a moment or two ago about what if I can't really access my emotions? You can go back and re-listen to that question in terms of how might it be helpful for him to learn more about it. But also with a warning to you of be careful that you don't over-elevate, "I need him to feel with me to be okay." Just as I would tell him to not over-elevate, "We just need to think about things and do what's rational and be less emotional." Thought and emotion are not meant to be at war with each other. Thought and emotion are meant to spur each other to go deeper. They're meant to move us in action, and thought and emotion are all meant to mutually spur each other on towards worshipful obedience to the Lord and love for neighbor.

Here's an important one, and you can see that it's related to others we've spoken about. "What do you do with emotions that you should not act out on, but it is still important to process?" First, let me affirm, there are lots of emotions that we should not act out on, and anger is probably at the top of our list. But “it's still important to process” is a helpful window into what I think is at the heart of this question. So let me begin by saying the question itself has given the most important bit of information, which is that there are emotions that are in fact important to process rather than act on. When I think about emotions—and if you've listened to the rest of this series, you probably have a sense of this, certainly if you've read the book that Winston Smith and I wrote called Untangling Emotions. You'll get plenty of this, but the idea is that essentially all emotions were made to be processed.

Now, when I say processed, I don't necessarily mean lengthy, working with a counselor, long conversations or journaling sessions. I simply mean emotion is meant to lead us to interact with the Lord. We are to bring him our joys. We are to bring him our sorrows. We are to pour out our heart to him at all times, as Psalm 62:8 puts it. We trust him by trusting our emotions to him, and we do the same with each other. We were meant to interact with each other in the same way, to share our hearts, to share emotions, to care about each other, to mourn with those who mourn, to rejoice with those who rejoice in Romans 12 language. All emotions were meant to be shared, to be processed, to be understood, to be felt as actually a part of what it means to love neighbor, love kingdom, love the joys of God's comforts and the pleasures and the redemptions that he gives in this life.

So what do you do? How do you do this? What do we mean? Well, first off, yes, please to not acting out. And we do obviously many, many episodes on how to not act out on our emotions. What I would say is, fundamentally, when you have an emotion that needs conversation, that needs reflection where you don't understand all the emotion, but you know need to not just run with it and do what it seems to be pushing you to do. Enlist help, enlist help. And the two places you go for help are, number one, you rush to the Lord and you cry out for help. In fact, my most common prayer, driven by various thoughts and emotions, is “Help.” Sometimes it's "Help, Lord." Sometimes it's "Help me." Sometimes even "Help me, Lord." But help is probably the single most common prayer I pray. We need help, and that reality is the fundamental aspect of who we are and how we function emotionally.

But go to other people. When you're having an emotion that you're struggling to process, go talk to someone you trust. In many cases that may be a counselor who has got training and thinking about how our emotions connect to our actions, connect to our loves and treasures, connect to the promises and hopes, and warnings, and directions, and guides of Scripture. But when you are having that experience, "I want to do something. I know I need to not, but I need to figure out, I need to think more." Go get help, go bring someone else into the picture.

This question is short, but boy does it hit an important one for us right now. "How do you have empathy but also encourage resiliency?" Or resilience. Let me give a disclaimer, I'm not going to enter at any length into the discussions out there around if empathy is a good thing or a bad thing. I think there's a lot of helpfulness and lots of things that I've heard in those conversations on both sides of it. I myself for this answer, I'm going to respond to what I think you are talking about when you say empathy, which is essentially showing compassion, showing sympathy, showing a sense of "Oh, I feel for you and with you, and I'm sad that this hard thing is happening to you."

I assume, or for the sake of my answer, I'm going to also assume that you've had the experience of showing compassion, of trying to be helpful and loving and kind and with someone and mourning with, grieving with, and watch that actually seem to exacerbate the problem because they sort of spiral further down. They seem to actually take your sympathy as an invitation or an affirmation that they should dive deeper into some sort of self-pity rather than responding with strength, and wisdom, and faith that acts and says like, "Okay, yes, this is hard, but I want to move forward in the most mature, loving, God-honoring way I can."

And that is difficult. If that's the experience you're having, you're not the only one who has had that experience. And I've had the experience of clinging more to somebody else's compassion than I probably should. We did an episode on self-pity a while back. So if you want more on that aspect of the question, that'd probably be worth a listen in a previous season. But fundamentally, what's the dynamic here? Number one, it's that you're trusting the Lord that you can show compassion always. There never comes a time when you don't show compassion. Jesus, standing, looking down at Jerusalem, knowing he's going to walk down and be crucified in the next week and having just prophesied woe to the teachers of the law and the leaders of the people who were not receiving him as the Lord as they should, he weeps. He says, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem how I have longed to take you under my wings like a mother bird. If only you knew what were good for you, if only you had peace." So Jesus shows compassion in the moment that compassion would least be deserved by the objects of his compassion as people rejecting him in such an utter way, leading to the worst crime in all of history, the cross.

What do you do? What do you do? Number one, you trust the Lord that you can always have compassion. You can always, always have compassion. Number two, sometimes compassion will also lead you, because you love and care about them and aren't simply interested in you feeling good about the interaction, sometimes it will lead you to say hard things that need to be heard. And it's certainly possible in a given relationship that you may even need to say and put on the table, "It feels like when I grieve with you in these ways, I'm starting to worry that I'm not helpful to you. I'm starting to worry that I'm actually undercutting the things the Lord is doing in your life or calling you to. Where I'm watching you spiral down into yourself. I'm watching you struggle more and more, and it seems like you actually get further away from hope and from perseverance when I do these things."

So that would be the kind of thing you would say if a significant pattern were emerging in a given relationship, a given situation. You would not do that the first time that someone wept harder when you seemed to show compassion. In fact, that's a very normal thing. We often feel great frustration, or sorrow, or discouragement, or distress, and somebody says, "Oh my goodness, that's so hard," and you feel the floodgates open and you weep. Because there's something deeply sweet and cathartic about being understood.

There's something about the Lord knowing us to the depths, even though we are worthy of judgment, and saying, "I actually care about your sufferings." Realizing that the Lord that we crucified also bears our hopes and dreams and sorrows on his heart. That's mind-blowing. That's emotion overflowing, and it should be. So how do you have empathy but also encourage resiliency? At the end of the day? Yes, yes. Have compassion, have empathy, have sympathy. Show genuine feeling for other people in their sufferings. And when you see somebody who is not responding to their sufferings well and who is spiraling into self-pity, then you actually want to be someone whose compassion leads you to encourage them towards growth rather than towards spiraling in.

Almost there. Two more to go. "How do we handle anger, jealousy, negative emotions, and other things that may lead to bitterness?" I'm going to speak very briefly to this one. How do we handle these things that might lead to bitterness? By fighting against them. The words you've picked, anger I've already said today in this very episode can be a good thing. Jealousy, we know that God is a jealous God. That's a right and good thing for him to be. But what I hear you saying is these are negative emotions that lead to bitterness, meaning these are the bad versions. Anger that is not good, jealousy that is not good, envy that is not good. Anything that's leading to bitterness, which if I were going to sum up bitterness in a sentence, I'd say basically bitterness is anger that's gone sour and it's gone inward.

So it's anger when I can't seem to really take much of an outward action or I choose not to, or I'm afraid to. But the anger lives on inside me and it chews away at the inside of my soul. How do we handle those things? Number one, by knowing bitterness is deadly. It is not to be coddled, and the path away from bitterness is one of forgiveness. Or in some cases even one of repentance. We're holding things against people that we shouldn't even be holding. We're unfairly holding something against people when they've done nothing wrong, or we've exaggerated the wrong, or whatever the case might be on any point on that spectrum. So jealousy, envy, anger, anything that's leading towards "I'm seething inside." When we're seething inside with bitterness, it's because we're fundamentally saying to the Lord, "I don't trust what you've done in my life. I don't trust the people you've put here. I deserve better than this. I deserve something, and I want mercy for myself, but I want justice for them."

And boy is that seductive, and boy is that easy to fall into. So the core battle against bitterness and against all the things that lead to it is going to be one where we say, "Lord, help me always stay humbly aware of what I have had to be forgiven." This is Matthew 18 in action and the parable of the unmerciful servant, where Jesus says, "Look, this one servant got billions of dollars of debt canceled." And so when another person owed him $20,000, which is still a lot of money, the first servant should have said to the second servant the same thing that had been said to him, which is, "I am going to let you out of this. I'm going to let you go."

And Jesus says, essentially, "Those who know how much they have been loved, cherished, forgiven, saved, spared, rescued, redeemed, are going to be those who extend forgiveness and grace to others." And when we're doing it in our heart, when we're doing the bitterness cycle, the need of the hour is to say, "Lord, will you help me to forgive? And will you help me to understand how much I've been forgiven? Not by minimizing genuine wrongs done against me." That's why Jesus picks a big number for the second debt. "But rather by understanding the sheer wealth of how much I have been loved and may there just be this deep eagerness to show to others what I have been shown."

Let me close with one last simple question that I think is a good place for us to land. The question is this, "Can you speak to rumination and sadness over relationships that are over?" I've already touched on things like this along the way. But yes, and I love this question because there are two things that are so important to say here. Number one is the obvious thing that we are cautioned about and warned about and that probably most of our minds go to when we hear a question like this. Which is, it is dangerous to ruminate endlessly on our sadness about a relationship ending. If that's a romantic relationship, I've already spoken to the challenges of that. If that's, someone has died, there are challenges to that. If that's a friend has moved away. Or in this season I just don't see somebody anymore in the way I used to because our kids are at different schools now, or whatever. There's a reality that it is certainly possible to dwell into that in a way that is morose, in a way that heads towards bitterness against the Lord and against the hand he has dealt, that acts as if the only good I could have in life is if this person is in it, my true hope is having this relationship with this other human being. And no human relationship was ever designed to handle that kind of weight.

But the flip side is, the other answer is that there's absolutely an appropriate sadness. And yes, even rumination at the end of a relationship. If you have loved and cared for someone, then it's absolutely right and appropriate that you would grieve the ending of that relationship, the loss of that closeness, and friendship, and time. Again, whether it's forever or whether it's for a season. If there was anything valuable about it, it should indeed cause sadness. So what does good rumination look like? I like the word rumination because I think it leaves the door open to good or bad. What would good rumination sound like?

Two things. Number one, it would sound like lament. It would sound like being honest before the Lord and being honest perhaps even in other relationships. "You know what? I feel a deep loss. I feel a deep grief." I'm speaking, I'm naming the good that the Lord gave in this relationship.” Secondly, what does it look like? It looks like thanking him that this relationship was here and was in my life. It looks like actually fondly remembering. It looks like what you often see at funerals when people laugh and tell stories, and people weep and reminisce about all that was good in the life of this other person. So there's a right way to fondly recall that which is good, to be grateful to the Lord for it and to lament its loss. There's a wrong way to obsess and to live as if this is my only hope.

Thank you so much for listening to all of these, thank you so much for sending in these questions, and thanks for being with us this season.

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Alasdair Groves

Executive Director

Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).

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