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“After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. ‘One of you is going to betray me.’ “ (John 13:21)
As it turns out, I do not have a good poker face.
The fact that I ever did (and truly, I did) believe I had the ability to “fix my face” and not react in sheer transparency to the things happening around me is hilarious to my husband. When I first mentioned how great I was at hiding my true thoughts, he burst out laughing. “You are terrible at that,” he said with a smile. “I’m great at that!” I argued. But his truth was confirmed by everyone in the room, and every friend I’ve had since. Apparently I make a lot of faces, and they are never neutral. I had no idea.
At first it was horrifying to know that I wasn’t hiding anything. I had understood it to be good manners – a kindness – to conceal what I was thinking and feeling. And worse than that, I’d come to believe that this was what it looked like to be a Christian.
Perhaps you’re like me, and learned somewhere along the way that the right response to grief was to search for the silver lining, the best way to handle disappointment was to count your blessings, the faithful response to betrayal was to simply (and swiftly) forgive. It wasn’t just polite to deny your emotions; it was faithfulness.
Psychologist Hillary McBride ties this impulse to spiritual trauma.
Enter Jesus, who does nothing of the kind. When facing the world-shattering betrayal of Judas, Jesus “became visibly upset.” He couldn’t, he didn’t, hide his suffering from the ones who loved him; instead, he let them see it all.
I love the idea that Jesus was so human that his nervous system got overwhelmed. That he cried, or shook, or yelled, or punched a wall, or threw up, or whatever display of distress made the Scriptures take note. For someone like me who learned that faithfulness looks like smiling in the face of suffering, this is about as human as it gets: “he became visibly upset.” He let it all hang out.
It is such a challenge to be a human. To have a body, to feel stressed, to get overwhelmed. It’s so excruciating to fall apart, and so vulnerable to do it in full view of someone else. But perhaps this is what an upset and betrayed Savior reminds us of: that it is Christ-like to be this human. To be seen. To be known. To be loved when we need it most.
I need new frameworks for being a Christian in the world I find myself in, so I’ve turned to people like Stanley Hauerwas who teaches about nonviolence. He says that nonviolence is a way of life that is committed to telling the truth. I think about that a lot. I also think about its inverse: a way of life that is committed to bluffing is a kind of violence (to self, to community).
Slowly, I’m learning that truth isn’t simply something we tell someone else. It’s also something we tell ourselves. And it’s not only communicated with words or thoughts or ideas. It’s also told with adrenaline and snot and cortisol and tears. Truth can be embodied, it can be emotional, and it can be seen.
This, too, is the way of Christ. Thanks be to God.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-emoticon-artwork-806408/
So excellent. Deep and strong.
Yes, we are free to be Christ-like in our responses to life!
It sounds to me that you are arguing from the exception and trying to make it the rule. Kind of a backward way to scrutinize the Bible.
Didn’t read that at all in Kates essay. When young she was taught (as was I) that it’s not ok to be visibly upset. Now she sees in Jesus one who makes it ok. No rule there, any more than anyone would read “Jesus wept” as a command to be crying constantly. Not every passage in the Bible is a rule. Very little of it is, in fact. Thanks for the observation, Kate.
Ya know, we may be surprised to one day discover that the exception in many cases SHOULD have been the rule all along. Thanks, Kate.
This is beautiful and wonderful. Yes. Thanks be to God. And his Christ.
I brought this up in a staff meeting this morning, as we discussed how to help middle school students manage their emotions. We want them to understand their feelings, to be real, especially with all of their post-covid grief, just like all of these emotions are there in the psalms. And we want them to be manageable students, to have self-control and show evidence of “growing up.” One of those many situations in life when we need to hold opposite ideas in each hand, because both are true! Thanks for helping us put words on this one, Kate.
Good morning Kate
I agree with your husband and can see him laughing. You make a lot of faces which help others better understand what you are saying. That’s a gift and you use it well.