Sara Hargreaves from engageworship talks about their ‘Jesus & Emotions’ creative journal for families, featuring stories of Jesus that show how he expressed and handled different emotions and including tips and tricks from modern research.
If I were to ask you to close your eyes and picture Jesus, I wonder what you’d see? However many books I’ve read about him, sermons I’ve heard or theology degrees I’ve gained, the picture behind my closed eyelids remains an image imprinted in early childhood. It’s a picture you would likely recognise, from the early 20th century, by the Christian artist Warner Sallman. In this picture, Jesus has wavy long hair, falling gently down his shoulders and reflecting a golden light. His skin is light and smooth and his eyes are looking away to the right of me, with a stoic, silent expression. I spent many boring services staring at this picture, hanging front and centre of my childhood chapel and so, despite trying to shake it off, it still lingers. It’s a very different image to the one we see in the gospels. Once you start to really enter into the stories and imagine what Jesus must have looked and acted like in the different scenarios, you realise that this stoic, silent, celestially beautiful being of Sallman’s painting is fiction.
The Jesus of the gospels feels things strongly and seems unafraid to show it. He weeps publicly, sharing Mary’s grief at the loss of her brother; he is shaken to his bones with fear in Gethsemane; he bubbles over with joy at his disciples getting things right; he snaps in anger when the same disciples try to banish the kids from the inner circle.
If this had been the Jesus I had stared at during my childhood, I wonder if I’d handled the bumps and bruises of life any better? If I had known that becoming more like Jesus meant feeling emotions stronger, but handling them better – would I have been a more emotionally healthy teenager later on?
This is what I want for today’s generation of children and that’s why we produced the ‘Jesus & Emotions’ creative journal for families. We have chosen to tell the stories of Jesus that show how he expressed and handled different emotions. We have inserted pictures of Jesus actually laughing and crying. It turned out, we found in our research, that much of what science tells us about how to manage emotions well, we already see Jesus living out. So the book is filled with tips and tricks from modern research on how to handle our emotions, as well as plenty of space to add our own thoughts, drawings and prayers.
In normal times, we might be able to bumble along as churches and families, skirting over the issue of emotional health, or simply sending anyone with ‘issues’ in the direction of the prayer ministry team. These are not normal times, however, and struggling with our mental health is no longer just for the few. The lack of social interaction with friends and family members, the constant instructions to avoid physical contact, the lack of corporate worship in the flesh and the tension of trying to keep up with rules and restrictions is affecting both children and adults.
If we want the children in our lives and the families in our churches to come out of this time with the maturity that James promises for those who persevere through trials (1 James: 3-4), we need to face the issues head on. We need to talk about how we feel, accept each other’s emotions and trust that Jesus knows what it’s like to feel these things.
Find the journal here: engageworship.org/emotions
Special Offer We have ten copies of Jesus & Emotions to give away - all you'll need to do in return is write a short piece we can post on Facebook telling us how you used it, what you learnt from it and any other encouragements. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get hold of your copy.
This article first appeared in Issue 3 of Mosaic magazine (January-April 2021)