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Mini Man-sode 47: Expressing Needs and Emotions as a Guy


Jeff Vanderstelt

Today JJ is joined by Jeff Vanderstelt to talk about how to feel emotions and express needs to God and safe people. 


Hey fam, welcome back to another men’s minisode on the Heart of Dating podcast!!! This season is so FUN. We’re hearing from so many intelligent and wise men. We hope it’s blessing you as much as it’s blessing us! If you’d admit that you and emotions don’t get along great, this is an episode for you to grow and learn. This episode will make you a better man and if you get married one day, a better husband. 

Jeff is a Seahaws fan, he’s married to Jayne for 31 years in March. They have 3 kids, 2 in college and the youngest is a junior in high school. 

You use a few different phrases to describe your approach to emotional health as a Christian.. 1. Feeling your way to Jesus 2. Gospel Fluency of the Heart How would you describe these two phrases? What is the difference?

Gospel fluency is a lot about applying the Gospel to all areas of your life. A lot of times people will only apply the gospel to the forgiveness of their sins or life after death but it’s truly for your whole life. Jeff personally went through a whole journey of waking up to his emotional world, getting his heart back. His journey led him back to realizing that he had shut his emotions down at a very young age. He didn’t know how to attend to his needs. Therefore he wasn’t bringing the true Jeff to Jesus. He was bringing a Jeff that didn’t need as much. So feeling your way back to Jesus came about when he realized that the more aware of my needs the more I become aware of my need for Jesus. This looks like… if you don’t feel sadness you won’t mourn, if you don’t mourn you won’t realize you need a comfortor, so you’ll never know Jesus as your comfortor. You’ll only ever know Jesus as comforter if you feel sadness, mourn, and need comfort. He realized he wasn’t really going to Jesus because he didn’t need Jesus to be his healer, comforter, protector, all the things he is. So really he was going to Jesus to be his forgiver because he did feel guilt. Now he’s realizing, man I get to go to Jesus for everything, and he’s actually able to meet every need I have. We get to the gospel through our heart, but we do it by feeling our way to Jesus. 

When you’re born the part of your brain that feels is 95% developed. Which is why when a baby is born it cries. It’s feeling all the emotions in that moment. It’s scared, lonely, hungry, all these experiences the baby is having and we see the evidence of that through crying. The only way a baby can make his or her needs known is through crying because they have no words yet. Their feelings get expressed through crying and parents who are attuned know which cry is which need. Then the parent effectively meets that need according to the cry. Overtime the baby develops a voice and the job of the parent is now to help the baby get words to each feeling and need. I’m sad, I need comfort. I’m scared, I need protection. As they get a voice now they get a voice to what they need, because they already know how to feel their needs. The idea of being fluent now, is now we know how to make our needs known and go to the one who can meet our needs, which is Jesus. 

The downside is that most people were told not to have feelings. Yet they’re told you need to have thoughts and think and be rational here. BUT the problem is that for men, their rational part of their brain doesn’t get fully developed until about 25-28 years old and for women it’s 23-24. So we’re telling boys, “big boys don’t cry,” “sticks and stones may break my bones but words never hurt you.” You were told all these catchpharses essentially saying, “don’t you dare feel.” The problem is if I don’t get to feel and make my needs known through my feelings, I don’t have anything else to make them known through because my brain doesn’t fully work yet. So we have this zone from around 5 years old to 28 where I don’t know how to make my needs known. You have all these feelings given to you by God on purpose so you could be in relationship. Feelings and needs push us to relationship. So being told to shut all of that down is another way of saying, “go be by yourself and stay isolated.” 

What percentage of men would you say you’ve worked with that have shut down their feelings?

Probably 80% or more. So it’s very normal. Jeff wonders if the other 20%, did they parents that just understood how to attune and how to attach at an emotional level with their children? He thinks that’s probably what happened. 

You had a quote that blew my mind that I could have used at 17 years old.. “To be needy is the best place we could ever be.” Would you say that phrase for you changed everything and how did you come to that place?

Jeff would probably rephrase it a little now. He would say that he wants to be a person who embraces his weaknesses and is excited about being in need of others. This isn’t new, this is the apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 12 then you have Jesus in John 5 and 15. We can’t do ANYTHING apart from Jesus. Emotions and needs are key in working out our salvation. Emotions are indicators, they’re making you aware of what you need. Every feeling is to make you aware of a relational need to give you an internal gift. Guilt is a big one. 

I am someone who has struggled to share my needs, what would you walk me through or ask me?

This is a learned behavior. When you were born, you didn’t have a problem making your needs known. It’s a family systems, church culture thing that’s learned. You can really take it all the way back to Geneis 3 where the serpent tells Eve that she doesn’t need God. We’ve tried to find autonomous, rational provision. 

What do you feel when you think or believe that God doesn’t love you? JJ would say he feels a lot of loneliness, pain, sadness, so isolated and on his own. Your willingness to go there, made it possible for Jeff to have relationship with JJ. Feelings are the bridge to true relationships. To learn how to be in relationship with need is to go beyond talking about events or ideas and inviting emotion into the picture. 

Is the fear of being vulnerable a learned thing from past experiences of being vulnerable and people stomping on it and you learning it’s not safe?

Probably a variety of things shape it. It could be that someone wasn’t at ease with you being in need. When someone else is expressing real needs and where they’re at, we feel out of control because what can we do? We like to feel in control so we do whatever we can to get the person under our control. It’s important to show up and say hey I’m a safe place for you to be and need and I just want to attune with you. You can’t extend safe spaces if you’ve never had and experienced safe space. 

What can be the catalyst for saying I don’t want to be like this, I want to experience that safety, I want to view my emotions as something I can embrace?

The beauty of wisdom is that the person who wants it doesn’t have to go through pain to get it. They can get it from other wise people, potentially the people who have gone through the pain. This generation has watched enough brokenness because of our unwillingness to pay attention to our emotional world. Let the wisdom cry out. You can do the work now. The work is, feel your feelings, tell the truth about them, become aware of your needs and move towards God and others in a healthy way to get them met. Which requires that you’re sitting with someone who has some abiblity to be present. Start listening to people talk. 

Let’s all learn how to be real men and real men lead the way with being honest about what they feel and being aware of their needs, and not being shy to make their needs known to God and people that are safe. 

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Jeff Vanderstelt

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I'm honored that I get to dedicate my life to teaching and equipping the Church. I draw much joy from training and encouraging ministers of the gospel - YOU! I serve the local church as the Director of Missional Communities and a teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. I'm also on the leadership team of Saturate the Sound, a Puget Sound church collective dedicated to seeing our region saturated with the good news of Jesus.

When I'm not coaching our missional communities or prepping trainings and sermons, I oversee the vision of Saturate and the Soma Family of Churches; two organizations dedicated to the planting and strengthening of churches that multiply disciple-making communities. On occasion, I also get to do a little writing.

Jayne, my beautiful wife of thirty years, and I have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie.

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