It can be hard for men to express emotions. That probably comes as no surprise. A recent poll was taken about men and emotional expression. That poll found that 77% percent of men said they knew that talking to someone about their problems was good for their mental health but 58% of men believed that as men, they were expected to be “emotionally strong and show no sign of weakness.”1 In a recent podcast, Tim Lane, director of the Institute for Pastoral Care, stated in reference to emotions: “There is a sense in which, we as men, we are at a disadvantage.” This disadvantage, he explained, is because at young ages boys are often either implicitly or explicitly taught that any emotion outside of anger or happiness is not a part of what manhood is about.2 This leads to a crucial question.
What does Jesus teach us about emotional expression?
The Bible is filled with emotional content. First, it uses explicitly emotive language throughout. Words like sorrow, grief, anxiety, fear, dread, joy, happiness, sadness, and love are just a small taste of the terms used to name and describe the types of emotions that we have as humans. Second, the most important character in the Bible, Jesus, shows the full experience of emotions in the Gospels. Consider these examples.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
“I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38)
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
“I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
Jesus, as the perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), is the person we should follow in every aspect of our lives. That includes emotional expression. This means we all should be keenly aware of our emotions, how our hearts are affected by them, and how our desires, thoughts, and choices affect them.
Naming and Expressing Our Emotions
One of the difficulties for many men is expressing emotions at all. If you ask a man how he “feels about that” you will likely be met with a blank stare, or an “I don’t know.” Or you may hear language such as, “I’m tired of ______.” or “I’m really frustrated about ______” These answers are more specific, but many times lack the emotional content of what they are actually feeling in those moments. For some, this is a matter of not knowing what kind of language to use to express themselves or for others, they may lack an understanding of what to call how they feel.
We can use several sources to help us grow in our vocabulary to give accurate expression to our emotions. First, in God’s Word, we have the Psalms. The Psalms are replete with emotional language.
“How long will I store up anxious concerns within me.” (Psalm 13:2a)
“I called to the Lord in my distress, and I cried to my God for help.” (Psalm 18: 6)
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22: 1)
Each of these expresses a little of what our emotional reality may look like. The second resource we might use is the Feelings Wheel.3
Notice that on the feelings wheel it takes many of the same emotive responses the Psalms gives voice to, as well as others, and categorizes them in simple terms. You can start with your basic colors of emotions (angry, sad, happy, etc.) and move your way out to more specific flavors of emotions.
A final way we might identify and process emotions is to utilize a chart like this one. There are many similar examples that can be found online, or created to suit one’s particular preferences of note-taking.
The purpose of using these tools is simple. We need to be able to express our emotions. We need to be able to express them to our Lord and we need to be able to express them to others.
Returning to Matthew 26:38, we read that Jesus was “grieved to the point of death.” He told his disciples to stay with him while he prayed. He wanted and needed his friends with him during this time. He also prayed to God in the garden. He brought his emotions to the Lord. It is to that end I want to encourage you to do the same. Pour out your hearts to the Lord and to others and experience the comfort of being known and loved in the middle of your hard emotions.
1Global Research Report: Perceptions of Masculinity and the Challenges of Opening Up
2Counsel for Life Podcast, Season 2 Episode Episode 42, 6:39
Joseph has years of ministry experience providing soul care to a variety of age groups as an Education Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Associate Pastor.