Paying attention to our emotional lives - through the tears we shed
Baptist minister and Spurgeon’s College tutor Jeannie Kendall introduces her new book Held in Your Bottle, which explores the value of tears in the Bible and in our lives today
There are times when we only see part of the picture, but looking back we can see the much broader vista which was in God’s plan. When I began writing my second book in the autumn of 2019, I had no idea that by the time it was published we would have endured 18 months of a pandemic with all the attendant heartbreak it would bring. It seems now that this book is even more extraordinarily relevant than I believed it to be then.
The starting point for Held in Your Bottle was a series of photographs depicting tears, cried in different circumstances[i], and which had been placed under a microscope. They were extraordinarily varied and indeed beautiful, and started me on a journey exploring the diversity of occasions in the Bible when tears are shed, including by Jesus himself.
Having previously run a counselling service for a number of years before training for ministry, I am acutely aware how uncomfortable many people are with their own tears and indeed, as I share honestly in the book, I have a degree of ambivalence to my own. Christians in particular sometimes wrestle with whether a particular feeling is sinful or not.
Yet emotions are part of the way that God has created us. I would suggest that they are neutral, though how we manage them and the behaviours that result have the capacity to be helpful or harmful to both ourselves and those around us. It seems to me that Jesus was at peace with his emotions and able to freely express them. Most of us, at least some of the time, find that more challenging. How frequently are tears followed by an apology for them?
The book itself has a straightforward format. Eleven of the chapters look at a different situation or emotion resulting in tears – including gratitude, regret, friendship, family pain, loss and anger. A further four chapters then explore our tears being seen by God, unshed tears, tears and prayer and the ending of tears. With the exception of the final chapter, each begins with a modern story of tears cried in those same circumstances, and I am grateful to those who were willing to share their stories in this way.
This is followed by an imaginative retelling of a linked Bible story, and there is quite an array of characters including Hagar, Joseph (that coat was just the beginning of his journey of tears), and Samson from the Old Testament and Paul, Jesus and the women at the cross from the New.
The final section is an exploration of the way in which our emotions work to help the reader more fully understand both themselves and others. To further help self-exploration, each chapter ends with some open questions to help the reader see the relevance in their own lives and continue to reflect. To write it I have drawn on my own counselling training and years of counselling others in both formal and informal settings.
This book required a costly vulnerability about aspects of my own life story, but I genuinely believe it will be of help to a number of people. Most of us, I suspect, will identify with one of the chapters more readily, but can perhaps learn even more from those which are less familiar or more uncomfortable to contemplate. The book will be a valuable resource for anyone engaged in pastoral work in any setting, as well as a useful gift for anyone struggling to understand the ways they respond to different circumstances. The book could be used in small groups as well as individually.
This pandemic has seen many tears. We have seen those shed by NHS workers after a demanding and heartbreaking shift, and by those who have lost loved ones and been deprived of seeing them in their last hours or marking their life in the way they would have chosen.
Yet we have also seen tears of gratitude to scientists who have made the vaccine possible, with all that it signifies, and tears of joy at being able to again see and embrace our closest relatives. This season has perhaps also taught most of us to pay more attention to our emotional lives rather than unhelpfully seeing them as a nuisance we wish to suppress. As we hopefully continue to emerge from the pandemic, though undoubtedly with repercussions and challenges for a long time to come, this is a timely opportunity to reflect on this part of our lives and my prayer is that God will use this book to bring understanding and even healing to those who read it.
Jeannie Kendall is a retired (or as she terms it ‘freelance’) Baptist minister. She was previously director of a high street counselling service, and has extensive experience of training others in pastoral work. She is currently a tutor on the Spurgeon’s College Pastoral Supervision course.
Her first book was Finding our Voice, and Held in Your Bottle is published by Authentic on 10 September
[i] The Topography of Tears, Rose-Lynn Fisher, Bellevue Literary Press (18 May 2017)
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