“When you hear strong emotions, especially anger, your natural tendency is to back away and perhaps cross your arms to protect yourself. If you want to help someone with their pain, I suggest leaning forward toward the person with an open posture.” I heard this counter-intuitive advice from a small group training facilitator who was showing us how to help sexual abuse victims process their emotions. This guidance was against all my natural tendencies but has been most useful in helping others with strong emotions.
Many people are afraid of strong emotions but the Old Testament Psalms demonstrate that God is not afraid of our feelings. Expressing deep emotions can be risky. The authors of the Psalms risked their true feelings with God, feeling of anger, rage, disappointment, depression, hope, dreams, and failure. Knowing that “All Scripture is breathed out by God (Mounce Translation)” means that the Psalms were co-authored by God and the human author. God is right in the middle of our anguish, right in the middle of our pain, ready to help us deal with it.
I also knew it was more important for him to express his anger to me than for me to be right.
One day my teenage son, who was usually quiet with his criticisms, was so upset that he let me have it with all he could. He was angry for a whole series of reasons. Some of those reasons were simply not true or were not the full truth. I knew I could correct his information but I also knew it was more important for him to express his anger to me than for me to be right. He trusted me enough to take a chance and let me have it. I needed to be a safe place to receive his feelings. It has been many years since this happened and now my son is a father to four children. I can say that my son is a better father than I ever was.
One of the most important lessons I have learned working with traumatized people is that feelings cannot be stopped by someone from the outside. Only the person themselves can turn off the strong voice of emotion. If someone feels left out, you cannot reason them into feeling accepted. If someone feels ignored, apologies will not change their mind; only long-term changed behavior can do that. If someone feels unsafe, you have to accept this and not argue with them or convince them they are safe. Demonstrating safety over a long period of time is how to embody safety.
Instead they tortured him with their logic.
When Job lost his family business and all of his children there was nothing that could console him. He sat alone in dust and ashes. His friends came and sat with him without saying a word. They did the best thing to help him, not advising him, not counseling him, not trying to explain - but sitting with him in his pain. They demonstrated their solidarity with him in his loss by mourning with him. Every good thing then came unwound when they opened their mouths to “comfort” him. Instead they tortured him with their logic. It is a pathetic scene to watch a man who has lost everything arguing with his so-called friends.
A younger man named Elihu intervened and began to get the conversation in a more productive mode. Then God intervened and set the record straight. He told the truth and let everyone know that life is full of mystery and small minds don’t do well trying to explain the unexplainable. When it was all said and done God healed Job, restored his fortunes, and gave him twice as many children. The lesson of Job is; identify with the sufferers, demonstrate solidarity, don’t try to have all the answers, and trust God.
This blog was originally published on Do Justice and is written by the Senior Leader for Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation, Adrian Jacobs.