New research has directed our attention to an overlooked and vastly under-appreciated human ability: emotional intelligence. The ability to understand how emotions affect our and others’ decisions is considered a traditionally feminine skill, but it is also a big part of spirituality. Luke 7:36-50 concerns the importance of emotional intelligence as Jesus recognizes the gifts of a woman regarded by many as “immoral.” The ability to tune in to such emotional frequencies is something we should continually consider in friendships, parenting, professional life and more.
This talk was part of a Sunday morning message given by Rev. Adey Wassink at Sanctuary Community Church in Coralville, IA.Read transcript
Well, Tom and I have been married for almost thirty years and early on we had a fight. We’ve had many fights – this is just one that we had early on. Let me give you a little context for this fight. Tom is a researcher, a research scientist, so he loves ideas, he loves patterns, and he loves truth.
I’m a pastor and I used to be a therapist, and so I love people, I love story, I love emotion. If I had time to hear the stories of every person in this room, and we could just take our time and you could tell your story, I would feel like I was in heaven. Maybe that’s what I’ll actually find in heaven. Tom would love to engage with everyone in this room around ideas.
So, two different people, two different personalities, we’ll celebrate our thirtieth anniversary very soon. We’re very much in love, we balance each other out in all kinds of ways, but we’ve had to learn a few things along the way. And thank God for fighting, because when fighting is done well, it’s hard as you slosh through, but in the end our relationship’s deeper, we mature, we become smarter people.
Well anyway, we hadn’t been married that long. I had a doctor’s appointment. While I was waiting for the doctor, I was in the waiting room, and I picked up a popular magazine and I see something that is called emotional I.Q., emotional intelligence. I never heard that phrase before, but I got kind of excited about it. I hadn’t heard it because we were married in ’88 and the term was coined in ’90. So it was brand new, it wouldn’t be written about till later in that decade. So I am reading about emotional intelligence and I’m feeling really good. I think “wow, I think I’m good at this.” Now they have a little test you can take. An I.Q. test. I took it, and I scored really high, so I was really excited to go home and tell Tom.
So now it’s late afternoon and Tom comes home. Luke, who’s two at the time – so this would have been 1990 – is playing nicely and I’m pregnant with Josh. I’m sure we started out with something like “hi, how are you, how is your day, good, how was your day,” but pretty quickly I started on this new concept that I read about. And right away, Tom interrupts me and he says “what kind of I.Q?”
And I’m feeling pretty happy and confident, so I say “emotional I.Q.”
Tom frowns and he says “Where did you read this?”
So suddenly I’m not thrilled to name the popular magazine where I read about it in the doctor’s office, and I fantasize about saying I read it in “JAMA, the premier medical research magazine, honey.”
But I tell him the truth. I say “the magazine” and then begins to explain to his thirty year old wife about pop psychology, and what I can trust, and maybe what I shouldn’t trust, what sources might be better, and I explode and I tell him “you’re an intellectual snob and I don’t care what you think, and obviously you don’t value me.” I tell him why I’m not an idiot, and that I could read whatever the heck I want to read, and I will for the rest of my life, in fact, I’m taking the subscription out in that magazine, and I might be taking out stock in the corporation. Tell me what to read. Whatever, we’re still married.
All right, the thinking brain, emotional brain, and instinctive brain: so the thinking brain is big and it’s cool and it does impressive-sounding things like executive function, which we hear a lot about a lot today, higher-order cognitive tasks, logic, rationality. The emotional brain is smaller and it’s hidden deep inside, and it looks a lot like the brain of simpler lower animals that are driven by instinct or controlled by urges.
It’s bigger than, say, the pea-brain size of a dinosaur, but it doesn’t come close to the glory of the cerebral cortex, which is like the kingly crown of the human brain.
Well, these images actually present a popular contemporary understanding of the human brain, but the problem is this. In doing so, they trivialize the profound interconnectedness of the entire brain, and that really whatever exists above is built on the foundation of what has been built below.
In the end, these images both reflect and produce a general devaluing of the importance of understanding and doing well with emotions and feelings. So, emotional intelligence is being aware that emotions drive our behavior and impact people both negatively and positively. Emotional intelligence means we learn how to manage our emotions and to manage others’ emotions, especially when we’re under pressure.
Last week Tom began a series on the Spiritual Brain. How does understanding our human brain inform faith? He focused on the System 1 and System 2 understanding of cognitive activity, that mapped in interesting ways to thoughts from both Jesus and David on how our minds work.
My thesis this morning, not surprisingly, is that emotions matter. They matter in how well we can connect with God, how well we connect with people; it’s essential to keep our emotions involved in our decision-making, our assessments, our evaluations. We need to pay attention to the health of our emotions because they have such a strong influence. Whether or not you or I are aware of it, they have a strong influence on how we will navigate the world: how we do at work, how we do at school, how we do in our relationships.
And our scripture this morning comes from the Gospel of Luke: Luke Chapter seven, verse 36. One of the pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet.
Her tears fell on his feet. She wiped them off with her hair. She kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. When the pharisees who would have invited him saw this, he said to himself, “really if this man were a prophet, he’d know what kind of woman was touching him. She’s a sinner.”
Then Jesus answered his thoughts – so he hadn’t said it out loud but Jesus knew what he was saying – “Simon,” he said to the pharisee, “I have something to say to you.” “Go ahead, teacher,” Simon replied.
Then Jesus told him a story. “A man loaned money to two people: five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty pieces to the other, but neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, cancelling their debt. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered: “Well, I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. He turned to the woman and he said to Simon, “look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer to wash the dust off my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she anointed my feet with her rare perfume. I tell you, her sins – and there are many – have been forgiven.
“So she has shown me much love, but a person who has forgiven little shows only a little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “who is this man that goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”
So there are a couple things to note. Number one: the woman in this story is absolutely incredible. It’s especially meaningful that this story was told by a man who was steeped in patriarchy. The language he uses to describe her – an “immoral woman” – that can be offensive to our sensibilities, but Luke gets what’s happening. Likely this woman is a prostitute. This was not a time in history that would have understood prostitution to be a natural outcome of a culture that denies rights to women. They would not have had a narrative that said “well yes, some women turned to prostitution but this is because the systems that exist favor men and often prostitution is the necessary means of survival.” No, the only narrative was that she was immoral. The pharisees understood that she was an unclean sinner. She would have never been invited into the pharisee’s home, into any pharisee’s home. And this woman isn’t confused. She knows that “I’m a sinner.” Who knows, there could have been men in this home there could have been pharisees that this woman knew.
But the woman comes in with an expensive jar of perfume that she likely bought from from money from the profits of her trade. She dumps the whole bottle of perfume on Jesus, and she begin sobbing and sobbing and sobbing and kissing his feet, and you can feel Simon’s outrage on so many levels, his complete offense at her display of love to Jesus, but he’s not only freaked out by this Immoral Woman and what she’s doing that seems so hideous to him. He gets it. He realizes, “oh my god this man who’s in my house, this rabbi, he’s a fraud this man has no prophet, because if he was a prophet he’d know who this woman was right? She’s trash.”
Jesus would understand the law. Jesus has read the law. He’d be appropriately offended by who is kissing his feet. So Jesus lays his trap. He tells a story and then “he says look at the woman kneeling here. Simon, when I entered your home, you didn’t offer to wash the dust off my feet. She’s washed them with her tears, wiped them with her hair. You wouldn’t greet me with a kiss but from the time I came in, she’s not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the common courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head but she’s anointed my feet with rare perfume.”
So how does this map on to emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence goes beyond intellectual reason. Otherwise the pharisee would be right, right? The woman is a sinner. She’s barged in uninvited. She’s wasting this expensive perfume. Like, by this day’s standard, the woman is a sinner, and the pharisee’s right.
But here’s the thing. Simon and this woman have both been around town. They’ve both seen Jesus. They’ve both heard him preach. They’ve both seen the demonstration of his power. For Simon, Jesus is an important person who he should have over for dinner with other important men in the town, so that they can have an important conversation.
Maybe he wants Jesus to know that he’s important as well, or maybe he wants Jesus to know that there’s limits to Jesus’s importance. After all, his hospitality was wanting. Whatever it is, he totally doesn’t get who he, Simon, is and he doesn’t get who Jesus is, both of which require emotional intelligence.
The woman is deeply stirred by Jesus. She hears something that goes to her heart. She probably doesn’t fully understand what it means, right, because 2000 years later we’re still wrestling to understand the gospel, the good news of Jesus, this incredible mystery of this God man. But she knows “I’ve never experienced anything like this anywhere in my life.” She knows that her heart is pounding. She knows that when she’s by Jesus she feels OK, she’s not thinking of herself as a sinner, she’s not condemning herself, she’s not feeling shame. She’s not hating herself. She’s not a failure.
When she’s by Jesus her world is OK. Somehow Jesus makes her feel alive about herself. She knows she could go anywhere with Jesus, that where Jesus is life. So it’s not that she’s unaware of the scorn and the judgment of the men in the room and scripture doesn’t tell us what’s happening to this woman internally. Like, I like to think that she was so overcome by Jesus’s love, by Jesus’s goodness, so compelled by Jesus’s kindness that nothing else matters. She can only see Jesus. But more likely she is feeling terror, right? She’s terrified. She’s thinking to herself, “I understand where this fear comes from. These men hate me. I’m despised in this community. I am a sinner. I’m uninvited. I would never be invited into this home.”
She knows where her fear comes from, but she also knows where this rising gratitude and love that she’s feeling in her heart comes from.
“I’ve seen this man. I’ve been with this man where he was preaching. I’ve seen him heal people. I’ve seen the look in his eyes. I’ve seen the compassion. I’ve seen the way he looks at me.”
And you can hear her say to herself as she’s balancing this. Love wins. That’s emotional intelligence. Part of emotional intelligence is knowing our emotions, understanding where they arise from, and using that information to make the decisions that we want to make. Emotional intelligence allows us to see beyond our intellect. It allows us to know what reason alone can’t tell us.
A guy named Adam Grant is a longtime researcher of emotional intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2013, for a journal, he wrote up a study that he performed at a health care company. So he asked employees at this health care company to take a test that’s often used in academic research to quantify a person’s ability to manage and regulate emotions. So, emotional intelligence. He then he asked managers to evaluate how much time those same employees spent helping their colleagues and other customers, and as it turned out, what he found out with it was no relationship. There was no relationship whatsoever between emotional intelligence and helping other people. The desire to help, Grant at least believes, is driven by our motivations and our values, not by our ability to understand and manage our emotions.
However, emotional intelligence was consequential when challenging the status quo by speaking up with ideas and suggestions for improvement, so Grant believes that emotional intelligence gives people our voices, enables us to challenge the status quo.
If you were here last week when Tom preached, emotional intelligence is what allows our System 2 decision-making to challenge our System 1 foundational beliefs. The immoral woman, right – that is the closest thing we have to a name for this woman – this woman challenged every foundational assumption of her day. It was incredible. Jesus likewise challenged the status quo. Jesus understands the difference between Big-T and Little-T truth in his life. The pharisees are bound by the foundational truth of their lives, of their day. They are bound by their interpretation of scripture and it’s killing them; their obedience to Scripture and their obedience to tradition has blinded them to the truth.
Number two: in the story God uses a woman to reveal Him, to reveal truth. So the increased attention given to emotion over the past twenty years, in part, has been a manifestation of the rise of feminism.
In most prominent fields of endeavor – health care, science, academia as examples – have been developed by men and implement a prototypically masculine approach to training and advancement. The focus is on testable measures of intelligence and task competencies. But studies show that women – and these are all generalizations – are more aware of, are more facile in their expression of emotion and are more committed to healthy social relationships. Women have been shown more likely to resolve conflict through compromise, to take a more inclusive approach to decision-making than men.
The immoral woman had it within her to challenge the status quo and to love Jesus from his heart, so what does that say to us today? Basically the message is this: invest in your emotional health and help your kids while you’re at it. I want to talk about our kids’ emotions: number one, because between the two services we’re dedicating eight babies this morning, and because we have 180 kids that call Sanctuary their home, and we want to do all we can to help those kids develop healthy emotional expression.
So number one: make safe space for your kids or the kids around you to have and express a full range of emotion. OK, this means we live counter-culturally. When our little boys are crying, we comfort them, we affirm their emotion, we bless them for being exactly who we are they are. Our culture is a disaster with men and with boys – the whole “Don’t Cry, Be a Man” mantra is deadly. It’s deadly for our boys and truthfully it’s deadly for our girls. Take just a minute and ask yourself how emotion was treated in your home growing up.
Did you talk about emotions? Were your parents, family, friends comfortable with emotion?
Where they fluent in the language of emotion?
Were your parents comfortable with their own emotions?
Did they relate to one another in emotionally healthy ways?
When kids get hurt, they just need comfort. Period. They don’t need to be tough, they don’t need to be grown-up, they just need our love. And the greatest gift that we give to our little ones is space where expressing emotion is safe, and where we can help them learn how to manage it in good ways. Teaching them the language of emotion and most importantly, modeling healthy emotion, is so important.
In the end our kids will be shaped somewhat by what we teach them and those books we read them. But mostly they will be shaped by who we are. So that’s number two. Whatever it takes, live healthily from your heart. Culture never encourages us to live healthfully from our heart. At Sanctuary we recommend spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, as a part of your daily rhythm. The mystics, contemplatives have been doing centering-type prayers – contemplation, meditation – for centuries, to awaken their hearts, to live healthily from their hearts. Tom mentioned last week that he sees a spiritual director.
With the rise of anti-Semitism in our country over the last few months, something got seriously triggered for me. For those who don’t know, I grew up in a Jewish family in a Jewish village that was a sanctuary for Holocaust victims, so one out of six of my neighbors, one in every six, would have had numbers burnt into their arms. So I’m reading about all the defiling that’s happening all over, and then I read about a library that I would have attended, and how it’s been wrecked with all these swastikas all over it, and something happens. I just kind of snap a little bit. My digestive system goes bonkers. My anxiety peaks. And so one day over lunch I’m talking to a friend and I’m describing this and she says “Adey, maybe you’d benefit from going to a counselor.” And my immediate response was so defensive. I’m thinking to myself “I’m a pastor and I was a counselor and I pretty much think I know a lot about myself, and I did really well on that emotional test when I was 32 years old, thank you very much.”
But because I’m sixty and super-mature, I sucked it up and I said, “Really — you think I’d do well seeing a counselor? Well maybe I’ll consider that. All right.” So I did make an appointment with a counselor and I’ve been seeing this woman ever since and I have to tell you it was the best decision of my life. It turns out there are a few unresolved things in my 60 years of living that need some healing. I’m all for it. I’ve become a “go see a counselor” fan. But truthfully it doesn’t matter what we do, whether it’s counseling or spiritual direction, or spiritual practice, mindfulness. There’s so many things that are out there to help those of us who can be so disconnected from our own hearts reconnect because we understand somewhere deep inside that we will be our best selves and be better for the people around us as we begin to know our own hearts.
And three, probably most important – I bring Jesus in. I pray with a friend every Wednesday morning. We pray about everything in our lives, we bring Jesus into all of our life, and we have been amazed by Jesus’s goodness over the years. We are always shocked that no matter how badly we feel about ourselves, when we come in, when we meet to pray, whatever our shame or our disappointment – one of us is always saying “I had such a bad parenting week.” Try parenting adult children. I don’t think I did that very well. I had the moment – I can’t believe it – can I tell you what I said this week? I said something so dumb. What do you think. We’ve got our list of accumulated things that we’re feeling kind of bad about. And all the sudden we encounter the living God who seems to have this eternal voice coming down from heaven,
“I love you Ady and I think you’re great.”
“Wait what – because did you hear what I just said? I have a list of things that I screwed up.”
“I love you.”
And the next thing you know I’m hugging Jesus. I’m intimately connected with the God of the universe who’s telling me that I’m doing just fine.
Because I’m a complex human with all my accumulated traumas, all the stuff that has messed me up over the years, I now repeat to Jesus a certain mantra. I ay it a lot throughout the days. You guys might appreciate it, I don’t know. This is my mantra to Jesus. I say, “all of me to all of you.” It’s pretty simple.
“I give you my joy, I give you my shame, I give you my successes, I give you my many failures. I give you my embarrassments, my celebrations. I give you my younger messed-up self. (Doesn’t your younger self always seem kind of embarrassing? You go back and are like ‘oh my gosh.’) I give you my younger messed-up self. Whatever, all of me, Jesus, to all of you.”