I recently led my team at Soul City in an exercise where we looked at this question: How do we learn to identify what is really going on beneath the surface, and how do we walk with others when they are facing any kind of tension in life?
There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of each of us. God made us to be emotion-full, and at any given moment, we are all experiencing some kind of feeling.
At the same time, our tendency is to try to FIX FEELINGS. I think it’s because we have identified some feelings as good feelings and others as bad feelings.
But what if our feelings are not looking to be fixed… what if they are just looking for some healthy space to feel?
When we don’t give emotions loving space in our lives, we dishonor the emotional capacity that God gave to each of us. Emotions are not looking to be fixed or rescued. Emotions are not formed in our innermost being looking for an answer. Emotions don’t need to be given answers. They are looking for oxygen to breath. They need to be given space. And when it comes to other people, what most of us are looking for is for someone to just hold loving space with us and our feelings.
This is a passage I love that shows Jesus inviting us into the practice of holding emotional space for one another.
Matthew 26:36 – 46
A little context on what is going on here – Jesus was very aware that he would soon be arrested by the Roman Soldiers and the fate of his life would be in the hands of the religious authorities. So, he gathered his disciples, his closest friends, and he invited them to just be with him as he essentially asked God for a Plan B. He was looking for there to be a way other than the cross. He invited his friends to hold emotional space with him.
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
Jesus’s invitation was very direct and very clear. Sit here. I’m gonna go pray. I don’t need you to do anything. I don’t need you to fix anything. I just need you to be here.
Ever have a moment in your own life when you don’t want advice, you don’t want someone to fix what you’re feeling, you just want to know that they will be with you? That’s what Jesus was inviting his friends to do.
37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
I appreciate how the scriptures describe the current state of Jesus. He began to BE. This was present tense pain. Jesus, the Savior of the world, was experiencing intense emotions. He was heartbroken, troubled and full of sorrow.
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Jesus names his emotion. He says, “My soul is….” What? OVERWHELMED. Jesus was about to face death and he chose in the moment to name what it was that he was feeling. He was experiencing FEAR and he had no issue saying it aloud. Can you just imagine for a moment if the world would actually start naming their fear instead of acting on their fear? Oh, how our world would change.
Jesus had no shame. He didn’t try to cover it up. He didn’t try to use a socially acceptable way of describing his fear. He didn’t say, “You know, I’d like you to sit here with me because I have an UNSPOKEN PRAYER REQUEST. I’m just struggling with a few minor things.” Jesus was authentic and vulnerable. He named that he was OVERWHELMED.
As the passage goes on, during these final moments before Jesus would be tried and then sentenced to death, he spent them in deep emotional anguish needing his closest friends and His Heavenly Father to hold space for him. He didn’t need them to help him. He didn’t need their counsel. He didn’t even invite them to pray for him. He was just looking for them to BE with him. That is what holding loving space does. It walks alongside another person without judgment, without making the other person feel inadequate, without trying to fix them or impact the outcome. When we hold space, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, let go of the need to control and we trust God to be at work.
I am convinced that this is the need of every human being on the planet. Every one of us is desperate for people that will hold space for us. If the Son of God needed it, how much more do we?
Holding space is something that we can all practice doing in our relationships by listening more and speaking less. Listening is the oldest and perhaps most powerful tool when we hold space. It is often through the quality of our listening, and not the wisdom of our words, that we are able to affect the most profound change in others. Listening is an art, and like most artistic expression, it needs to be developed and practiced in order to become good at it.
To listen more, you need to be present. To listen more, you need to be free from distractions. To listen more, you need to learn to release judgment. There is no need for you to “fix” anyone or anything. When we choose to LISTEN MORE, the result is that we choose to SPEAK LESS. The need for words fades because the sacred space has been filled with our seeing and listening and being with.
There is a real grace to holding space. It is a powerful experience to have someone extend grace and presence when you are all over with your feelings. It is a true act of love. Not just anyone can hold space for us. Hearing one another’s stories is a sacred privilege and we need to wisely choose the people that can both hear and hold our stories and our vulnerabilities with true grace.
Holding Space is giving the sacred gift of telling someone, you are not alone. That’s what Jesus wanted in the Garden. The person he ultimately received it from was from his Heavenly Father. While I pray that we become a community of people that Hold Space for one another, I equally pray that we become a community that roots itself in the truth that GOD has never left us. He’s never abandoned us. He is our ever-present help. In all things, He is faithful. He is not just great, He is good and kind. He always holds loving space.