Book Review: ‘Untangling Emotions: God’s Gift of Emotions’ by J. Alasdair Groves

Review by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Emojis. I love them. Thumbs up, thumbs down, cry-laughing, heart-eyes, blowing my top: They are so handy and expressive! Most of us have over 90 facial-expression emojis on our phones, all meant to communicate how we’re feeling with one tap of a button.

I love being able to express any emotion without actually having to verbalize it. Don’t you? After all, why take time to describe how I feel when “smiling-face-with-happy-hands” says it so perfectly and (more importantly) with such ease. Clearly, the developers of our smartphones knew something of the cauldron of emotions stirring within us. And they knew, intuitively, that we would want a simple and satisfying way of expressing them.

But sometimes, of course, our emotions are confusing, unsettling, or intense enough to defy easy expression. King David once asked, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5). In their new book, Untangling Emotions, J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith set out to uncover the nagging questions underneath our emotions, the ones that keep us clicking on that crying face or the angry one with symbols over the mouth. Questions like, Why am I feeling like this? orHow can I stop? They want us to know why Christians struggle with understanding their emotions and engaging with them in a productive way.

Good to Feel Bad

Believers are often tormented by an inner voice that says, IfI’m a Christian, shouldn’t I be joyful? Don’t my negative emotions prove that my faith is flawed?

Not so, say Groves and Smith, two experienced counselors affiliated with the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Emotions—even the unpleasant ones—are a good gift from a loving God. “Our emotions,” the authors write, “are one of the most common and commonly misunderstood opportunities in our lives to grow in maturity and love.” Rather than ignoring our fear, anger, grief, guilt, or shame, we should focus on what those emotions reveal: first, about God and what he loves, and second, about us and what we love. “The way you respond to your emotions, including how you feel about how you feel,” write Groves and Smith, “is of vital importance to your relationship with God and others in your life.”

Untangling Emotions contains three main sections. The first helps explain the complexity of our emotions and demonstrates how, surprisingly, it might be good to feel bad. It also addresses the confusion that arises from the fact that emotions rarely arrive alone and are tied so closely to our bodily state. The second section teaches us how to respond to our emotions—how to bring them before God and share them with friends and loved ones. In the final section, the authors offer guidance on how to engage our most common and troubling emotions. Every chapter ends with reflection questions for individuals facing their own emotional difficulties, as well as a section for those who are seeking to help others.

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Source: Christianity Today