Here’s the truth about your negative emotions. They’re not bad. They are not immoral. Feeling angry or sad or frustrated does not make you a bad person or even less of a human. They actually make you a complete human.
We don’t choose our emotions, we experience them. They just happen. This means they are neither good nor bad, but we can respond to them in a good or bad way. So if your anger causes you to hurt someone else, it’s bad. But if your anger motivates you to defend some one who, let’s say is being bullied, that’s great!
So when we experience negative emotions, we should not let them be dictators that demand and control our response. Instead, we should see them like a friend who makes suggestions to us as to how we can respond. This allows us to choose and control ourselves.
But being a Christian is more than just controlling ourselves. Being a Christian is about seeking to be in union with Jesus. We want to be in Union with Him so that He can be Himself through us. This is what St. Paul meant when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” in Galatians 2:20.
So when we have these negative emotions, we do try to choose how we respond to them, but we can do this through Jesus. We take our negative emotions to Jesus and allow them to lead us to Him. What’s more is that they can unite us with Jesus.
You can’t say Jesus was never sad. He wept. You can’t say He was never frustrated for He revealed His frustration many times. Jesus even complained in Matthew 17:17.
In the garden, He cried out to God with a desire to escape His suffering when He said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” He showcased His anger in cleansing the temple in John 2. Yes, He experienced many positive emotions as well, but a thorough study of the Gospel shows us that the Godman fully experienced the human condition with numerous negative emotions.
We should take great consolation in this. It means that when we too experience these emotions, we know that nothing is wrong with us. Now something can be wrong if we are inappropriately experiencing emotions or become overly depressed or anxious, and if this is the case it is good to seek professional help. However, if you find yourself in moments of anger, frustration, sadness, or other negative feeling emotions, there is a great way to respond to them so that you can be sure that you are handling them in a healthy and fulfilling manner.
To have this healthy and fulfilling experience of our negative emotions, we need to respond to them like a Christian. And what I mean by this is that by being a Christian, you want to be like Christ, which is only done by being united with Christ.
The Purpose and the Process
The goal of the Christian life is to be united to Christ as Jesus instructs in John 15, “Remain in me, as I remain in you” and then adds that we cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Him. This is how we handle negative emotions as Christians. We must unite our negative emotions to Jesus as He experienced the same emotions.
For example, when you feel frustrated, think of Jesus in Matthew 17:17 when He expressed His frustration with His followers’ lack of faith. Know that His frustration was pure and holy so when you unite your frustration to His, yours becomes pure and holy along with His. This sanctifies your emotion.
This process is similar to when Catholics ‘offer up’ our sacrifices and suffering to unite them with Jesus in His suffering. ‘Offering up’ our sacrifices and suffering unites our suffering to that of Jesus on the cross. We can do the same with our negative emotions that cause suffering, but we can also unite them through Jesus’ own experience of those same emotions.
A simple, fairly mundane example is when you cannot find your keys. You have looked everywhere and are moments from being late to an appointment. The frustration is boiling inside you as you look. You can choose to allow the frustration to overwhelm you or you can simply pray in the following manner:
-First, in your mind, think of Jesus in His moment of frustration in Matthew 17:17.
-Second, simply say, “Jesus I unite my frustration with yours, please fill my frustration with your love.”
-Finally, wait in this moment and focus on your frustration and that of Jesus uniting. Say thank you and continue on in your activity.
What Jesus Did Not Experience
It’s good to remember that in response to His negative emotions, Jesus did not experience the bad choices that we can make. He may have been feeling a kaleidoscope of emotions on the cross, but He never despaired. In fact, His statement of “Father, why have you forsaken me!” was actually a reference to Psalm 22 to point the people around Him to praising the Lord as the writer of this Psalm does at the end of it.
Furthermore, Jesus may have been angry at the fact that His Father’s house was filled with corruption, however, He never hated the people who were involved. In response to their actions, He was not taking revenge when He kicked them out. He was giving us all a lesson how we must treat the Father’s House and how we must respond to corruption that enters into our hearts.
Jesus never responded inappropriately to the negative emotions that stirred inside Him. He always handled them with perfect love. Even in His foreknowledge of His suffering and Death, while He sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, He responded to His stress with perfect love of the Father trusting Him and seeking His will.
More Than a Model For Behavior
It is very good that we try to imitate the model of Jesus in our efforts to be virtuous and good. We too want to seek to imitate Him in His good choices and responses to negative emotions. We too want to trust God and seek to do His will. However, acting like Jesus will not be enough.
We need Jesus to be like Jesus. We need to unite ourselves to Him so that He helps us respond to these emotions as He would respond to them. Once again, we do want to do what is right and to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. However, on our own this is too much. Instead of seeking perfection, seek Jesus and He will lead you to perfection.
Jesus’ Negative Emotions in Scripture
Once again, in the Gospels we have a multitude of examples of Jesus experiencing negative emotions and responding perfectly to them. For your own practice of uniting your emotions to Him, I have provided a list of a few below so that you may go to these verses and meditate on Christ’s handling of His emotions and unite yours to Him.
There are many more complex ways to look at these, as well as other examples, so you can use your own investigation skills to discern the Scriptures for examples as well. However, please enjoy my own list that I use:
- Jesus was frustrated – Matthew 17:14-20
- Jesus was extremely sad – John 11:33-35
- Jesus was angry – John 2:13-22
- Jesus felt anguish about His future suffering – Luke 22:41-44
- Jesus felt rejected – John 19:13-30
- Jesus felt misunderstood – Mark 8:14-21
- Jesus felt disappointment – Luke 19:41-44