Emptying the Jug

It’s cold on this side of the globe and I’m making hot chocolate on the stove as I only half listen to the Prime Minister’s address. I’m waiting for phrases like ‘vaccine rollout’ and ‘lifting the travel ban’ and ‘overseas flights to resume’.

There are many blessings to living overseas, but there is also a heavy cost in the splintering of my heart across the oceans. The dull ache that is always there has grown loud and thorny over the past eighteen months with the inability and uncertainty of travel and the loss that it ensues.

The ingredients are spread out before me and I add them into the pot in a manner that I call ‘instinctive’ and others might call ‘haphazard’. Milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup, chocolate chips, heat on low, keep stirring. I look with satisfaction at what is currently a lumpy and muddied mixture. It will become something wonderful.

“It is unlikely that international travel will resume before the middle of next year…”

For just a moment time stands still and I think I can physically feel my heart drop. I feel angry and sad and frustrated and disappointed and tired. And then I feel embarrassed and ashamed. How can I react this way when so many people are carrying a far heavier burden of grief? I don’t need to look far to see that here in my country and my community we have barely been touched by this pandemic.

I’ve burnt the milk.

As I tip it out and begin again, I push aside the mess of my emotions and begin thinking through the list of things I need to do before bed. There is always so much to do. So many good things that call for my time and energy. So many people and needs and problems to solve and tasks to complete. I don’t have time to sit in my emotions.

But over the next few days those emotions spill out in ugly ways onto people I love.

By the time I get to the weekend, there is no avoiding what I have known all along—ignoring what I’m feeling isn’t going to work. Nor does it demonstrate faith. The reality is that I have a heavenly Father who sees me and knows me and loves me completely. He calls me by name, counts my tears and numbers the hairs on my head. He is deeply concerned with the things in my heart, and he delights when I come to him. Again and again, in his Word and in our lives, he shows us that he is not offended or disdainful of our messy emotions; instead, he leans in, embraces, comforts, heals, redeems, makes whole.

I’m not sure where it originally came from, but Emptying the Jug was a skill I was taught early on in ministry, and I turn to it now in the few hours of stillness I have set aside. It’s just five simple questions, no explanations or justification required. I’ve done it many times for and with others, but today it’s just me and God.

Deep breath.

What are you sad about?

I’m sad about the global suffering caused by Covid, and not being able to see family and friends, and I’m sad about the ad I saw the other day for a lost puppy and the fact that good things end.

Good. Is there anything else?

I’m sad about missing my niece’s birthday, and the hard things a friend is walking through, and how quickly I turn to self-reliance instead of trusting God.

Is there anything else?

I keep going until there is nothing left to say and then move on to the next question.

What are you angry about? Is there anything else?

What are you fearful of?

This is the one that always gives me pause. To speak my fears aloud, even to write them down, feels so wildly dangerous and vulnerable. But I remember that it’s just God and me. I remember who he is and who I am in him. I choose trust. Shaky, whispered, tearful trust, as I tell God the things that I am afraid of.

Is there anything else?

I’m pretty well exhausted by the time I get to the last question, but it’s the best one, the most important.

What are you thankful for?

It takes a moment as my mind and mood shift gears, but once I start, there’s plenty to say.

I am thankful for hot chocolate in winter and the bright colours of spring. For family and friends who love me so well regardless of geography. I’m thankful for the saving work of Christ and God who sees me and cares.

Is there anything else?

I finish the time with worship and prayer, tired, but a weight has lifted.

I don’t burn the hot chocolate the next time I make it.

Do you ever get to a point where you need to empty the emotional jug? How would you answer those five questions?

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10 Comments

  1. Ruth Potinu July 29, 2021

    Thank you! This was so good and so practical as well. I’m going to save those questions for the next time I need to process hard emotions. It is hard and yet there is power in naming what is going on and ending in worship.

    1. Rachel Mutesi July 31, 2021

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! It’s been really good for me to do every now and then

  2. Jenny July 29, 2021

    Thank you for this! Resonate with this so much and those questions are such a tangible way to release. Thankful for your voice.

    1. Rachel Mutesi July 31, 2021

      Thank you for your encouragement!

  3. Bayta Schwarz July 30, 2021

    Thank you so much for this Rachel! This is not an exercise I’m familiar with but it sounds so helpful!

    1. Rachel Mutesi July 31, 2021

      The friend who taught it to me says it’s originally from PAIRS training, but she’s adapted it for every situation and now we both use it all the time! I’m glad you found it helpful.

  4. Abigail July 31, 2021

    I feel this as you talk about the Prime Minister and waiting for travel ban to be lifted. As I’m “stuck” in Australia, homesick for Asia and America. Praying hard every day that the travel ban will be lifted. Also it’s been very challenging here with our first baby just born in June, missing my mom and not having any extended family around. Thanks for sharing this, I can use it as journaling prompts.

    1. Rachel Mutesi August 4, 2021

      Oh dear sister, I’m so sorry. I have a few friends in a similar place and have just glimpses of the joy and the grief that they’re feeling in this season all at the same time. I’m praying with you for those borders to open!

  5. Sarah Hilkemann August 4, 2021

    I think my emotional jug fills up fast. 😉 Thank you for sharing this practice, Rachel! I love journaling and I’m been more intentional about doing it lately because I know I need to process what’s in my heart and mind and sort it all out on paper. This is a great tool!

  6. Bonita September 18, 2021

    Wow, you brought me to tears. Thanks for sharing!

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