You want to be wise about your emotions. There are some things we often do with and about them that we must learn NOT to do. Growth and maturity happens in several ways. One way is that we learn to do good things we are not doing. Another way is that we stop doing harmful things we have been doing. This reflection will help you stop doing some harmful things about emotions.
This one is a little longer, but you will find it helpful. Here is what NOT to do with your emotions:
You are an emotional being. That is how God created you. Emotions are a wonderful and important part of life. Even the darker ones (like anger and fear) have a purpose. Of course, the darker emotions can easily degenerate and become toxic and harmful to you and others.
Christians may be at a disadvantage on this because we hear well-intended but biblically misguided messages like, “Good Christians don’t get angry.” Hmm. Tell that to those money changers in the temple. Jesus got angry and they felt it. Maybe he wasn’t being a good Christian! Or “Good Christians don’t get depressed or sad. They are always happy.” Hmm again. Jesus was sad. Jesus wept. He wept because he loved people who were suffering. Maybe Jesus wasn’t being a good role model!
Do you see where this is going? The Son of God, the perfect Man, the Creator of emotions, experienced them. He wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed about being a “hot rabbi living in a hot culture.” You should not be either. Hey, I stopped being embarrassed about crying a long time ago.
If being afraid of emotions is not good, this one is really not good. Usually it is the dark emotions of anger, sadness, fear, resentment, envy, jealousy, and such that we stuff. As a strategy for emotional healthiness this is bad, bad, bad. Stuffed emotions are still there. And they fester, rot, decay, and basically become really yucky. And more powerful. And more painful. They make you sick and weak (spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically). Sometimes they leak out and poison everything around you. Other times they explode out and create a real mess.
This was an issue for me. A real issue. I was a stuffer. I would stuff irritation, frustration, disappointment – all because I thought good Christians should not feel those things. Stuffing them was not working on them. Stuffing them was not allowing the Spirit of God to bring healing to them. Stuffing them only made them worse. This happens in relationships all the time. When you can’t or won’t express (properly) your emotions, they hurt you and eventually the relationship.
But also, remember that many of us stuff good emotions. Maybe our “cool culture” tells us to be dispassionate. Maybe you learned how to do this in your family of origin. But stuffing or holding in check the emotions of joy, love, delight, wonder – that’s also bad. You are meant to live in and enjoy those passions.
This is a softer version of stuffing. We don’t completely stuff, we just keep them at the periphery. We smile when we should be laughing out loud. We sniffle when we should be crying. We are irritated when we should be angry. We have concerns when we should have passions.
FOUR: Vent and spew them everywhere and on everyone.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone whose emotions are out of control? I know you have. I have, too. Have you ever been one of those people and it is your emotions that are out of control? Sure you have. Maybe this is one of the reasons why some of us opt to maintain rigorous control over our own emotions. We have experienced just how bad venting is.
I will say this loud and clear: Venting and spewing is NOT a good thing to do. When someone gives you the advice to let it all out, be yourself, let it rip, they are probably not giving you good advice.
Venting is a temporary relief valve that lets off the pent-up emotional pressure, but it creates its own set of follow-up problems. Like damage control. Like cleaning up the relational mess you have just made. Like repairing your reputation as a safe person who is obviously not safe when you are spewing.
Venting to God is a different matter, but one that is a bit complex, and I am not going to address that here.
FIVE: Make decisions ONLY on the basis of your emotions. And make decisions APART from your emotions.
Emotions are a part of you. One of the major traditions of spirituality, in fact, one of the most substantial traditions of spiritual formation ever designed, are the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. I was trained in that approach. I carefully reframed it to be more aligned to my evangelical theology.
This approach has a rich understanding of how God engages with us at the place of our emotional experiences. This tradition teaches ways of discernment and prayer about emotions. Really, it is what is going on in the Psalms. It talks about spiritual consolation and desolation. It has helped me understand what God is doing in my life and how Christ is leading me in my life.
When you feel guilty, sad, joyful, in awe, angry, peaceful, or whatever, you ask yourself, “What is going around me?” “What is going on inside me?” and “What is God saying to me about my emotional response to my experiences?”
This is the final thing I’ll mention about what NOT to do with your emotions. There are different personalities and there are different histories, and there are legitimately different ways to have a satisfying emotional life. Some people feel more deeply. Others think more deeply. One of the attributes of measurement on a popular tool, the MBTI (or the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator), is the spectrum of Feeling–Thinking. Different.
You are who God created you to be. Some people are more extroverted, others more introverted. Some people prefer structure, while others are much more spontaneous. It is not a right or wrong. It is not even a matter of balance. It is a matter of learning to be healthy and comfortable, and mature about who you are and how you are created.
That’s it for some reflections on emotions. Remember, it is a journey to become aware of emotions and a longer journey to become healthy about them. But there is joy on this journey. You are loved by Jesus. And you should FEEL really good about that.
I am affectionately and sincerely yours,