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Men & Their Emotions

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a classmate in Chicago years ago. I asked him what he was learning from life lately, and he looked back at me and sincerely said, “I’m learning that it’s okay to be broken and vulnerable. It’s okay to let the Lord and other people love me as I am.” I was taken aback by his honesty and openness with the very deep things he was experiencing in that season. My respect for him, rather than diminishing, shot through the roof.

Ironically, many of the manliest men I’ve known have been ones who have gone through similar seasons of humility and awakening to the emotions raging inside of them, as they learned to sort them out, order them, and experience them both with the Lord and with others. Some people call it ‘soul work,’ while others consider it ‘self-care.’ Whatever you call it, the important thing is to rightly recognize that the things you feel, good or bad, are very real. They are meant to be experienced and not drowned out.

Isn’t this what we see in Scripture all throughout? I mean, the Bible’s book of prayer, the Psalms, is lousy with emotion. Men soak their couches with tears, or experience such rage that they want to smash the infants of their enemies against a rock. And these are not limp-wristed milquetoasts writing these lines, either. These are songs penned by men who killed lions and bears with their bare hands, and fought in battles. Yet how odd is it to picture a Thor-like character writing beautiful poetry like we find in the ancient texts? Why is this so foreign to us today?

I think some of it, men, comes from a right understanding of our God. He is not a stale and emotionless Being, stoic and flat in the sky. We see our God as one who is alive and active, and His emotions are no different. He is grieved and He is hurt. He delights and is filled with joy. He weeps and He sings. (We are so quick to forget the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”)

To deny ourselves the experience of our own emotions is, in part, to deny our own humanity. It is also to deny the fact that we are made in the image of a very vibrant and sensitive God. (Of course, the opposite extreme of being overly emotional is viable, though this is vastly the minority when it comes to American men specifically.)

My friend Frankie wrote this beautiful clip, and I tried to trim it down but there’s so much good stuff in it I left it pretty long:

Emotions are important. Emotions are intrinsic to what it means to be a person. It is impossible for a person, a human, to think, live, act, exist, without emotion. If I devalue emotions and feelings, then it has acute ramifications for my theology at large. Our theology proper will begin to envision a deterministic god who’s stripped of a heartbeat; our anthropology will envision humans as functionally a-emotional, capable or removing feelings from the fabrics of our beings (and surely nobody will like being around us, since we can’t take a joke, can’t cry for the sake of crying, can’t be silly for the sake of being silly—indeed we will look more like Spock than the Suffering Servant); our ethic will logically lead to a strange, unrealistic, impersonal law that makes absolutely no sense with experience and can’t satisfy the longings for justice, love, goodness or any actual desire in the human heart.

If you get emotions wrong, you get personhood wrong. If you get personhood wrong, don’t bother talking about God, humans, love, mercy, goodness, fear or anything else. [American Christianity is] filled with people who look more like the pharisees than joyful poets. This strange view of emotions is not Christian. It’s not even human. It’s just absolute falsity.

It’s time to be done with bad theology. It’s time to view emotions rightly. It’s time to live life to the full. It’s time to weep; its time to laugh; it’s time to hug and kiss; it’s time to fall in love; it’s time to love so much it hurts; it’s time to love like God has loved each of us; it’s time to “live to the point of tears” (Albert Camus). Emotions are important to my view of life, my philosophy and my theology. Emotions are intrinsic to how humans know. We cannot know or be known without emotions. My exhortation to each of you: Let yourselves feel. I know it’s the scariest thing in the world. But it’s what it means to be human. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to yell at God, yell at God. If you feel scared, tell somebody, and maybe, I pray, let yourselves be comforted. If you want to live, risk. There’s no other way to live.

I don’t know what this looks like, particularly because there is likely not one solve-all solution for every man in the world. I think some key elements are openness, honesty, vulnerability and others with which to share and begin to open up to our feelings. Often, we cannot begin to feel things and be real with ourselves without the help of others to walk with us through those places.

So let’s continue this conversation, because it is far bigger than one blog post can cover.

May we be men who are honest enough to emote fully. May we learn to be vulnerable and expressive, rather than distracted and off-center. May we not become carried away on the tides of our feelings, but be sensitive when the time calls for it and in control of ourselves when other times call. May we experience life fully, as our God feels His emotions fully.

This article originally appeared here.

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Ethan Renoe has published 7 books, been on 6 continents, done 5 one-armed pull-ups, and gone to 4 universities. He has not fallen in love, but he did fall out of a tree in front of a cute girl one time. Not only is he scuba certified, but he also knows how to dance. He is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and is currently attending Denver Seminary. Read him weekly at ethanrenoe.com.