Navigating Emotional Climate Change – Just Between Us

We’ve all experienced climate change. I’m not talking about physical climate change. I’m talking about emotional climate change.

Emotional climate change is what happens when one person in the room affects the entire climate of the room. We all know people who can change the mood of a conversation or gathering on a dime. While some days may be sunshine and cool breezes, an emotional front can suddenly move in, causing storms and disruption.

These disruptions show up in a variety of ways:

  • Sometimes it’s a cold front, where the climate changer withdraws, and suddenly there’s no engagement, no eye contact, but an abundance of icy temperatures and cold shoulders.
  • Sometimes the person blows up like a volcano, and emotional lava lands on everyone present.
  • Sometimes a deep underground fault surfaces intermittently from seismic triggers in the person’s environment, shaking everything around them. Or tragedy strikes and the ground shifts, leaving the climate changer in trauma and survival mode. You never know when an earthquake will strike.
  • At other times, there’s an abrupt shift in the emotional wind, and the climate changer’s response is unpredictable. For reasons unknown, the previously expected forecast is dramatically different from current weather conditions.

These sudden changes can cause deep pain, bewilderment, anger, and fear in families, friendships, or working relationships. I know it hurts, and more importantly, He knows it hurts (John 11:35-36). The question is: What can we, as Christ-followers, do when we are on the receiving end of emotional climate change? It can be challenging—we need Christ’s help to respond appropriately—but here are a few tips.


1.  Try to understand the underlying reason for the turbulence.

Philippians 2:4 urges us to humbly look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others. Consider causes behind the climate changer’s behavior other than what appears on the outside. We see only a fraction of what is going on in someone else’s life; only God understands them perfectly.

2.  Pause before responding or reacting.

James 1:19 challenges us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. It is often easier to overreact than to pause and speak to God, a counselor, or a trusted friend before making a relational mess. Pausing can make room for the Holy Spirit to protect us from playing the junior Holy Spirit in someone’s life.

My late mother-in-law, whom I grew to love dearly, used to bluntly confront both family members and complete strangers on a variety of issues, always ending with “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!” Then she’d chuckle. No one else was chuckling. Though she was often right, the truth was packaged in such a way that no one could possibly hear it.

3.  If necessary, talk with the person about your concerns.

But remember, not everything needs to be discussed; pick your battles. You may think you’re right about the climate changer (and you might be), but that doesn’t mean you are the one to speak into their circumstances.

Nevertheless, any feedback you offer must be done with love. One of my friends almost never confronted others with her feelings, often taking the blame on herself rather than muster the courage to speak into a climate changer’s life. Yet when she did speak up, her words were powerful and transformative because she spoke humbly but directly.

Some of us would rather sweep things under the rug, but there may be times when we need to speak up, not only for the good of the other person but also for our own benefit. If we continue to bury our frustrations, we can experience physical, spiritual, or emotional symptoms that will gnaw at our insides. This can cause internal climate change, unless we deal with it.

4.  If you discern that you are not the best person to raise an issue with a climate changer, pray that God will bring someone else to speak into that person’s life.

Years ago, a friend told me she had a family member who was turning away from their faith. She tried to speak with this person whom she dearly loved, but they flatly rejected her. This deeply grieved my friend, but in the end, she had to let it go and simply pray. To her credit, she has continued to love her relative unconditionally and connect on the common ground they do share.

5.  If you do decide to speak into a disruptive climate, lead with humility.

Start with “Help me understand why you were upset yesterday” or “When you said this, I felt sad or scared.” (Not “You made me feel this way.” We all have feelings, but no one makes someone else feel the way they do.)

Recognize, however, that you can do everything right and still not get the hoped-for outcome. I once approached a friend with sincerity, explaining, “When you said such-and-such, I felt badly.” Their curt response was, “I’m not responsible for your feelings!” Ouch!

In Romans 12:18 Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This implies that it’s not always possible to resolve everything. You cannot change anyone; you are only responsible to do your best in the most loving way you can. So even if you do everything right with a climate changer, it may not make a difference, at least not right away.

6.  Conflicts are rarely just one person’s fault.

Let’s own what is our responsibility but not let others blame us for their part. Sometimes we must be strong enough to let the unfair blame of a climate changer roll off of us and not internalize it. Other times, we may need to reflect on our own role in a situation rather than lay the blame completely at the other person’s feet. As you gain understanding of a climate changer, you may realize you jumped to conclusions. You may need to apologize. Repent quickly when necessary.

You may also need to recognize that this frustration you’re experiencing is meant for your good as well as theirs. I always pray that I will be transformed through my frustrations. God causes it all to result in good (Rom. 8:28).

Dealing with emotional climate change is tough. It involves tapping into God’s grace and mercy at every turn so we can love others unconditionally—not just when we agree with them or like them. It means realizing that Jesus is the Savior of the world, not us. It means seeking to understand others better. And it means praying like crazy that we don’t cause an even bigger storm.

We either contribute to the storm or help the clouds to break. Manifesting the fruit of the Spirit through Christ in us, changes the climate everywhere we go. We can all promote healthy climate change: “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15). May God enable us to be the wind of change in whatever frustrating climate we face.

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