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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Untangling Emotions" (J. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith)

TITLE: Untangling Emotions: "God's Gift of Emotions"
AUTHOR: J. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019, (240 pages).

Why are we feeling what we are feeling? More often than not, we don't know the answer. Some like Jen or Angie are easily swayed by all kinds of emotional ups and downs. Others cannot make sense of what or why we do things. Still, there are those in the help industry wanting to speak wisdom and guidance into the lives of people in emotional turmoil. Over and above all of these situations, authors Groves and Smith believe that emotions are gifts to us and they desire to help us deal with emotions in the way God intended for us. They assert these fundamental truths.
  1. God has made us in His Image and emotions help bear that image;
  2. Jesus is our model to follow;
  3. It is about love.
In untangling emotions, the authors teach us first to understand emotions in general and to engage our emotions in particular. The final part is to learn to deal with emotions that are beyond the ordinary. I appreciate the way they say that they don't just want us to know the difference between handling emotions well or badly, but to "do things that make a difference" in both the lives of others and ours. Christians sometimes are prone to either being too suspicious of positive emotions or too weary of negative feelings. We need to learn to embrace both of these and to recognize that the Bible is full of characters who possess all of these emotions. Elijah was depressed. Jonah was afraid. Sarah was anxious. Peter was brash. Barnabas was encouraging. Judas Iscariot was disillusioned. Joshua was bold. Biblical characters have displayed a wide spectrum of emotions. We are no different. 

In understanding emotions, Groves and Smith write about two general theories: 1) Physical impulses (animal part); 2) Mentally connected (cognitive view). Rather than rejecting either outright, they show us that emotions are expressions of our love values. They help us connect, motivate, and elevate us to another level. There are no simple ways to deal with emotions. However, when we understand them, we would be able to harness the power to help relationships and to heal people. This is about using emotions to connect, to empathize, and to love. Not only are emotions instinctive, they are also instructive about understanding people. The way forward is constructive engagement. This engagement needs God. The whole engagement process includes:

  • Identification of our emotions
  • Examination
  • Evaluation
  • Action
  • Petition.
When we arrive at the chapter on "Engaging Relationships," we get a better idea of where the authors are trying to get at all along. The Bible has said: "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Understanding our emotions not only help us with self-knowledge, it enables us to connect with others as well. For we do not live on an island separated from people. All of us, if not most of us will need to interact with people. Thus, it is way better to nourish healthy relationships and "starve" unhealthy ones. The final part of the book deals with specific emotions such as fear, anger, grief, guilt, and shame. These are some of the most challenging emotions that we have to go through ourselves. Thankfully, the authors in this book provide helpful guardrails for us to navigate the tricky emotional journeys. 

My Thoughts
We get emotional from time to time. Such things are normal but we need to manage our emotions so that they do not get the better of us. A lot of people know the importance of emotions. What they are not aware is understanding the what and why they occur. Rather than treating emotions as problems to be solved or puzzles to be resolved, this book reminds us that emotions are a gift from God. While we can understand why some emotions are considered positive and others negative, we need to be careful not to treat the former as holy and the latter as sinful. Both are real and authentically express who we are, how we are feeling, and what we are made of. Understanding them is far better than avoiding them. In order to engage our relationships well, we need a fair amount of self-understanding. This is why this book is particularly helpful in a self-knowledge aspect. I appreciate the authors for patiently taking time to define emotions, clarify terms, and to assure us that emotions are good to have and potent enough to help us in our relationships. What really drives the point home is the way the authors point out engagement as a "better option" in dealing with our emotions. Learn to engage our emotions with God; and through that understanding to relate to others. 

As advocated in this book, we should not fear "negative" emotions. Neither should we over-emphasize the "positive" ones. For if we do so, we might create a false dichotomy when all emotions that are created by God is good. We may not be able to control how we feel but we could control our responses and reactions to them. The single biggest reason for reading this book is to develop boldness to deal with negative emotions. Instead of sweeping them under the carpet, we can deal with it fearlessly and learn how to deal with it. The authors take a potentially complex subject and explain it in a clearheaded and logical manner. On top of it, they encourage us with the knowledge that God is with us and if God is with us, we will never be alone in dealing with our emotions.

J Alasdair Groves is Director of School of Biblical Counseling at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). Winston T Smith is rector at Saint Anne's Church in Abington, Pennsylvania.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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