Untangle Your Emotions | Jennie Allen

The Porch 2024

Do you try to "fix" your feelings? Guest speaker and author of "Untangle Your Emotions" Jennie Allen walks us through John 11 to remind us that Jesus felt things deeply, and when we learn how to acknowledge our feelings in a biblical way we can find freedom from the confusion.

This message was recorded on November 28, 2023.

Jennie AllenFeb 13, 2024

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Drew WorshamApr 30, 2024
The Purpose of Purity | Jonathan "J.P." Pokluda
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Untangle Your Emotions | Jennie Allen
Jennie AllenFeb 13, 2024

Hey, guys. Okay. Now, all of the guys in the room are like, "She's going to talk about emotions. There's a girl teaching, and we're going to talk about our emotions." I'm going to tell you right now this is going to be the best marriage advice you will ever get, the best friendship advice… I know y'all are like, "We're not married." You might be one day, and I'm just going to save you thousands of dollars on counseling, because this subject is everything.

Whether you are someone who expresses your emotions easily and are all over the place emotionally or you're someone who holds them all in, you are an emotional being. You were built by God to be an emotional being. Now, let me start with a question. How many of you would say emotions are bad? Any of you? How many of you would say emotions are neutral? How many of you would say emotions are good? Good. Okay. You're healthy. You've done some counseling, many of you.

I will say this. Largely, believers in the church have been confused on that question. Are emotions good? Are emotions bad? Because it sure feels like we're all pretty jacked up with them. This is the picture I drew when I started this project, because this is what I felt. The reason the book is called this is because this is the way my emotions felt to me, and I think it's the way a lot of people's emotions feel to them.

I remember being in the back seat. I was 7 years old, and I was leaving the funeral of my great-grandmother. I didn't know her very well, but I was 7 years old. I'm sitting in the back seat with my parents in the front seat, and I'm crying as quietly as I can, not because I loved her. I mean, she was my great-grandmother. I remember she had a cuckoo clock. There was very little context I had for this woman, but I remember driving, and I remember looking out the window. I remember being 7 years old and crying because I was scared to die.

I remember another thought. There was part of my brain at 7 years old that was scared to die and was crying, looking at the stars, thinking about God, and thinking, "I don't want to die," and there was part of my brain that was saying, "Cry really quietly so your parents don't hear you, because they'll think it's weird that you're crying about your great-grandmother who you didn't know very well."

There was part of my brain that was crying for a really good reason. I look back at that 7-year-old Jennie, and I tear up now thinking about her, because I'm thinking, "I get why you're crying about death." I don't know whether you lost a fish first or a dog or a grandparent or a parent. I don't know when your first encounter with death was, but it likely overwhelmed you. Of course 7-year-old Jennie was a little overwhelmed.

That's what I want to say to her. I want to pick her up and go, "Baby girl, of course you are scared of death. Let me process it with you. Sometimes I am scared of death too." Yet there was another part of my brain (and I think it's why we're all mixed up; I think it's that tornado we feel about it) that was telling me the whole time, "Don't cry too loudly, because you don't want your parents to hear." I was judging that I was sad at 7 years old.

Are emotions good? Are emotions bad? Are emotions neutral? Now, we all know emotions are causing a whole lot of trouble everywhere we look. Because of that, what we see is the world has said, "Okay. This is the way it works. Life is a little bit chaotic, and I don't know if I believe in God, so I don't know what's coming, so this life is all there is," and then the way I feel and what I feel inside becomes everything. Emotions become everything, and whatever we feel, we chase.

That is the way the world largely has lived. Let me just say, I don't think it's a bad plan if there is no God. In fact, Paul said, "Let us eat and drink, because tomorrow we die." If this is all there is, then let's meet every desire we have, every feeling we have. If there is nothing after this and it's meaningless, go have fun. Follow your feelings. Follow your heart. But we know it leads to destruction. Right?

The world is following their feelings, and sometimes we are following our feelings, and it is leading to destruction; therefore, the church has responded. The church has said, "Emotions are dangerous. Emotions aren't reliable. Emotions aren't trustworthy." All of a sudden, we have demonized emotions, and just like that 7-year-old little girl in the back seat, we're sitting there not only feeling sad and angry and confused, but now we're also judging it. There's a big part of our soul that's judging it.

We're going to look at two words in Scripture tonight: Jesus wept. We're going to unpack those two words tonight, but before we do, I want to pray, and I want to ask God to transform our minds. Like Grace said, I've been working on this for a year. It kind of feels like I'm coming out from disheveled papers and a mess. I'm nervous to bring this to y'all today because I've worked on it for so long, but what I know to be true is it has transformed my life and my relationships. It has changed the way I view one of these most important things in life.

God, transform the way we view this. Redeem our view of emotions. Redeem emotions in us. Help us to see it how you see it. Help us to feel how you feel, and then help us to live out of those feelings in a healthy way. Help us. In Jesus' name, amen.

I want to show you a picture of my family. I have four kids, and now I have a new son-in-law. I remember when my oldest daughter was 10 years old. It was my turn to have the "talk" with my daughter. Y'all got me? So I have the talk with her at Sonic. I took her to Sonic, and I just dropped it like a bomb. I said, "This is what happens. This is the way babies are made. This is how it goes. The end." She started weeping. I was like, "That did not go how I thought. Let's go to the mall."

So we go to the mall. I'm like, "Let's change the subject. I'm going to go read some more books about this and how to do this better, and I'll come back to this." I'm thinking she'll forget it. So, we go to the mall. We're gone for two hours, and we drive back into our driveway, and right before we go in… I think she has moved on and forgotten it. Right before we go in, she grabs my arm and says, "Mom, I need to thank you for what you did for us three times, and I totally understand why we adopted Cooper."

Sex is one of those things God made. It's one of those crazy, great things God made that's so confusing. I'll tell you today my daughter is married, and she's sitting over here right now. I'm sure she loves me telling y'all this story. She's married today, and guess what. Her view of sex today is very different than her view at 10 years old. Her view of sex at 40-something is going to be very different than her view of it at 20-something. Her view of it at 80-something is going to be very different than her view of it at 40-something.

Sex is a mysterious, awesome gift God gave us that is really hard to get our heads around while we're on earth. It gets twisted, and it gets messed up. Y'all, sex and emotions aren't so different. God built our emotions. He built them. He gifted them to us, and he has a plan for them. In case you don't know theologically, in case you're like, "I don't know if it's good or bad or neutral," let me start with how God feels. We know emotions are good because we have a God who feels.

In Genesis, you see that emotions cannot be a sin because God is feeling like crazy. He creates, and he loves what he created. He delights over what he has created. Then creation rebels, and he's disappointed and hurt that creation has rebelled. Then he feels delight when Abraham and David and others follow him and submit to him. Then he feels anger. Numbers 32 says the Lord burned with anger at Israel because they wouldn't believe him.

So there's a war going on in God. There is anger, delight, and disappointment. You see all of that just in Genesis, in the beginning of the Scriptures. Time and time again, we see God express his compassion toward humanity. In fact, the word compassion is used so often in the Bible. He is moved with compassion to his people. It says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

Then Jesus comes. Even before Jesus comes, in Isaiah it says that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Then we see Jesus face the cross, and at the garden of Gethsemane we get this glimpse into this intimate moment with the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is troubled, and he's afraid. He's sweating as if it's drops of blood.

It says he is in agony. That word agony in the Greek is actually translated almost every time into anxiety or fear. So, you see a God who even struggles with fear. He experiences fear. Why on earth would these emotions be in God? He knows what's going to happen. He knows everything. He can fix anything. Why would these emotions exist?

"Jesus wept." It's a story… If you haven't read it, those words are found around the death of one of his good friends. In this moment where he knows his friend is dead and he's not yet with his friend, he stops his people from going back. It says in John 11, "Before we go to Lazarus, he's going to fall asleep, but I'm going to wake him up."

So, he announces to his disciples, "We're going to go see Lazarus, and he's going to be asleep, but I'm going to wake him up." Then he arrives on the scene, and Martha greets him, and she's mad. In John 11, she's mad. She's angry, and she lets him know it. "If you would have been here, he wouldn't have died."

It is her faith that makes her angry. She's ticked. "Why weren't you here? If you were here, this wouldn't have happened." He comforts her, and he doesn't scold her. He doesn't judge her. He gives her hope. He says, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." He gives her hope. He gives her comfort.

Have you ever been angry at God? I actually want to pause for a minute, and I want you to think about the strongest emotion you've felt recently. What is it? Anger, fear, sadness… I want you to think of what we consider a negative emotion. When have you felt a negative emotion recently, and what was it? Do you have it? Talk to me. Fear. What else? Grief. Anger. Sadness. Loneliness.

Okay. This is what I want you to do. I want you to tell your neighbor what that feeling made you feel. I want you to say, "When I got angry…" "When I got sad, I felt uncomfortable." "I felt happy to be sad." What did you feel? What did you feel about what you felt? You got it? I know. Some of you guys are like, "This is way over my head." Try it. Go.

All right. Now talk to me. What do you feel about what you feel? Stupid. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. Hopeless. Purposeless. Anxious. Afraid of what you feel. Okay. I want you to picture your brain, and I want you to picture little parts of it. I want you to imagine that there's a part of it that gets mad. Have y'all seen Inside Out? Okay. Let's picture it with all of the Inside Out people.

So, there's a part of it that gets mad. There's a part of it that gets scared. There's a part of it that gets happy. There are these parts of your brain, but then I want you to imagine an extra player, the part of it that is beating you up for everything you're feeling, calling it stupid and purposeless. "Don't feel this way." Guys, I want you to think about the last time you admitted to somebody that you were sad. You started crying.

What do you say as soon as you start crying? Everybody does it. "I'm sorry." What is that? Why? Guess what? We live in a completely jacked-up world, so, yeah, we have some jacked-up emotions. That actually helps us navigate a jacked-up world. God gifted us emotions so we could navigate a mixed-up world. It feels like it's all crazy, because part of your brain is telling you, "Stop feeling that way."

I don't know how you're wired. Many of the guys will actually relate to the way I am. I am actually not that emotional. I am passionate, I am zealous, but I don't cry a lot. I don't like to cry. I think crying feels silly, because in my mind I theologize it. I'm like, "You know what? It's all going to be fine in the end, so let's just deal with it right now. Let's just do the best we can, and let's get through it." That just makes sense to me.

I was at a little group therapy thing, which I highly recommend. It's very uncomfortable. I don't enjoy it. Every time. I literally go, and I know I need to go, and I don't want to go. I showed up at our first gathering together. I was sitting there, and I knew that when we got to this we were supposed to share our guts out. We were supposed to show up and share our sadness and share our fear and share our anger. I was like, "This is just stupid, but I'm going to do it."

So I literally rolled up my sleeves, and I went first. I sat down, and I wept. This was about two years ago. I wept. I was hitting the table and saying all of the things I thought they wanted to hear, which was why I was sad, why I was tired, why I was angry, how it felt like there were times God had called me out on the ocean where feet may fail, and they failed. That's what happened. I felt like God wasn't fair and God was asking too much. I wasn't sure I trusted him.

I mean, I was as candid as you could possibly be. I felt really proud, because I did the thing they'd asked me to do. I stopped, and they all looked at me, and they started saying things like, "I don't think God is that way, Jennie. I think God loves you. God wouldn't do that." Something inside of me completely shut down, because I had just braved thoughts I had never said out loud. I had shared with them my guts, and all of a sudden, I felt like they were trying to fix me and were judging me for feeling that way.

We had a counselor in the room, and he stopped the room. He said, "Jennie, how do you feel right now? How does that make you feel?" See, we are really good at answering the question, "What does that make you think?" but we are not so comfortable or good at saying, "How does that make you feel?" So, I said, "Well, let me tell you how I feel. I feel ticked, and I really don't want to be here anymore, and I don't want to share anything with y'all, because I feel judged." I kept playing the game. I did really well. I said all of the feelings.

Their faces changed, and they were like, "Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. We love you. We're proud of you. I hear you. I can imagine that you would feel that way." All of a sudden, there was this safety in the room. "That makes me feel sad that you feel hurt." Now, you have to realize we're at three layers of feelings. I have felt, they have felt about what I felt, and now I have felt about what they had felt about what I felt, and now they are telling me how they feel about what I felt… You got it.

Something shifted in me that day, because I am usually them. I am the one who is usually trying to fix them with truth. I am the one who is usually trying to answer the problem and fix it. Y'all, my son recently showed up and asked his first girl out to a dance. He was so nervous about it, and the girl said, "No." So he came home, and he was really sad about it.

Let me tell you what I wanted to do. I was like, "Oh, buddy. We're going to ask the finest other girl in this school. You are going to look so good on that night. Shoot. You're 15. We're going to get you a hardship license. You're going to be the only freshman to pick up their date on homecoming night. We are going to win. We are going to fix this problem." But that was not what he needed in that moment. Do you know what he needed? Me to be sad with him.

He needed me to just be with him and be like, "Man, that stinks!" with stronger language. In those moments, something in our heart was built by God to mourn with those who mourn. There was something about mourning with those who mourn that would heal our souls. Jesus knew it before scientists figured it out and counselors figured it out recently. He knew it, which is why the Scripture is so clear that we are to mourn with those who mourn.

So, now let's go back to the story of Lazarus. Jesus has passed Martha. He has loved her. He has comforted her in her anger toward him. Now he walks up to Mary, and Mary falls apart when she sees her friend. It says, "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled." I want you to see what made him cry. What made him cry? When Jesus saw her crying. That is what moved him deeply.

"And he said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept." This is one of the most profound Scriptures, and it will completely change the way you interact with humans for the rest of your life. We already saw earlier in John 11 that he knew Lazarus was going to be dead, and he knew he was going to raise him from the dead.

He already announced it, so this is already in the plans. It's not something he thought about after he was bummed that his friend was dead. It wasn't like Jesus wept. "Okay. I think I should raise him from the dead because I can." No. He knew he was going to do it. Let me tell you, as a fixer, how I would have handled this situation. "Mary, quit crying. It's all good. I've got you. Watch this," and I would raise him from the dead.

I would not sit there and cry with her. Because why? He's going to fix the problem. But it isn't about the circumstances. It isn't about fixing the problem. It's about not being afraid to stop and be present in the pain with Mary. What made Jesus weep was seeing her weep. So he weeps with her. He stops himself from fixing the problem, and he weeps with her. It's a completely different way of living.

I will tell you, if you are not used to doing this with people, if you are not used to doing this with yourself, it is so scary, because it doesn't feel like it actually helps. It doesn't feel like it actually changes anything. This, truth, beating it over the head of someone crying…maybe that would change something. But does it? I'm not saying truth doesn't help, but there is something before truth is received that happens inside of us when we actually connect with another person and feel what they're feeling.

As I was doing this work, I also did the scientific work. It was so cool, because what scientists realize is that one of the only ways to heal from trauma is to connect with another person in their pain. We were never meant to be alone in our pain. One of the only things that actually heals neural pathways that break because of trauma is being in the pain with someone else.

I thought that was so cool, to picture little neural pathways fighting their way back to each other that have been broken because of difficulty or death or trauma. They're fighting their way back to each other, trying to get back to each other, and the way those little neural pathways heal and come back together is that someone mourns with you in your pain.

I think about little 7-year-old Jennie. What she needed was for her parents to hear her crying. She needed for them to pull over and to explain death and help her not feel so afraid of it. She needed connection in that moment. See, emotions are gifts from God given to us to navigate a crazy world, but they're given to us for a bigger reason than that. They are given to us to connect us deeply to God and to connect us deeply to other people.

All of those things, when they untangle and when you get connected to God… I want you to think of a time when somebody cried with you, when somebody sat across from you and started to cry, and they didn't mean to. Maybe they said, "I'm sorry." But I want you to think of how you felt inside when someone vulnerably shared with you and cried with you. How did you feel? Heard. Known. Understood. Loved. Honored…that somebody would cry with you.

Yet why are we apologizing? Why are we judging it? This is the good stuff. This is the best stuff. This is the stuff that actually forges relationships, walking through difficulty together. This is where, for the rest of your life, you never want to lose that person who walked through your parents' divorce with you. You never want to lose the person who showed up at your house after your parent died night after night after night or after the breakup.

Anything, little or big, that feels traumatic… Our brain breaks unless someone is with us in the pain. The beautiful thing is God knew it. He knew it wasn't just about bringing Lazarus back from the dead; it was about helping Mary in her pain, to know it's okay to be angry for Martha, and it's okay to be sad for Mary. It's not just okay; it's the right response to a freakin' broken world.

Have you ever seen a documentary that had no emotion in it? It's so boring. It's the worst. Some of us are living that way. Some of us are living a numb, boring, dead life because we are scared of pain, because we are scared of anger, because we are scared of feeling sadness, because we are scared of looking at our past, because we are afraid. I get it. I get it, because on this side, when you think about the damage emotions have caused… I get it.

Guys, it doesn't say, "Don't be angry." Scripture says, "Don't sin in your anger." The problem is not our emotions; the problem is what we do on the other side of them. So, we feel the feeling. We don't fix the feeling. We feel the feeling, and we let that feeling connect us to God and to other people. As we live that way, and as we do that over and over again… It is embarrassing some days. It can be humiliating to do, but it is transformative. It changes everything.

Me crying with my kid… He was fine. He asked another girl. She said, "Yes." It's fine. But you know what? He knows it's okay to be sad with me. That lets me be with him in his sadness, and that lets his little brain heal. That is what God wants for you. I know for some of you it feels like I'm pushing you up to an abyss, and you are standing over the edge, and you're like, "If I go down here, I am terrified of what I'm going to feel. I don't know what's down here."

Let me tell you what's down here. Jesus. He's down there, and he wanted us to know it. He stopped to cry with Mary so that you knew when you wept that he was weeping with you. He's down there. He also has built some handles on the side of the rock, and he's like, "Listen. I know it looks dark, but if you take the first step and you feel the sadness or feel the anger, I will help you with it. I will help you navigate it."

People are down there. People who love you, who are sitting beside you, or people you don't even know yet who want to live this way are there, and they want to come around you. All of that's down there. It's not easy, but we're going to practice right now. Everybody is like, "Oh, I was doing so good till that. It sounded like a great idea in theory."

We're going to try it right now. I want you to get comfortable, and I want you to close your eyes. I want you to think back to that feeling you mentioned, that last feeling you felt, the sadness or the anger or the fear. I want you just to feel it. I know that sounds kind of crazy talk, but I want you to just feel it, the sadness, the fear, the anger. I want you to sit with it for just a second.

Keep your eyes closed. I want you to imagine that you're sitting somewhere awesome, beautiful, and I want you to imagine Jesus walking up. I want you to imagine that he's sitting right across from you, and he is watching you cry or he is watching you at the table or he is watching you be afraid. In fact, I want you to tell him about it right now. In your heart, I want you to say, "This is what I'm mad about. This is what I'm scared of. This is what I'm sad about." Just tell him.

Now I want you to imagine how he's looking at you. What's his expression? What does he feel?

Hebrews tells us, Jesus, that you are acquainted with our weaknesses, that you have felt our infirmities. Thank you for that. Thank you that none of us ever fall asleep crying alone, because you are with us. You cry with us. I thank you that our feelings don't overwhelm you, that they don't scare you, that it is your delight to be in them with us.

It's like this homing beacon that is drawing us back to you. Like, "Yeah, it's broken. I need God. I need hope. It's hard. I need Jesus. It's good. I want to worship. It's wrong. I want justice." You're all of those things. You're all of the good parts and the hard parts. You're all of it. And you are our comforter.

God, I know that a life lived in the fullest is not lived numb. It's lived with all of this, as you lived it here and showed us on earth…all of the feelings. Yet you promise us that one day every tear will be dried and every sadness will be over and gone with you. A time is coming where tears will be no more. We believe it, yet we still thank you that in the brokenness today you have grace for us. You want us to come to you in it.

So, for the hope we have we thank you, for the joy we have we thank you, and for the sadness and the tears we also thank you. Just help us know how to live out of the way you built us to live…holy, loving, compassionate, worshipful, and thankful and also sad at the brokenness, angry at the injustice, and scared of what is rightfully scary, yet coming to you again and again and again no matter what. Thanks for always being there in that. We trust you. Amen.