I Second that Emotion…

Dear Ginger,

I had a young girl ask me the other day, “What do I do with my emotions?” I told her that it would not be wise to let them be the driving force of our decisions, but rather, they can be the caboose that follows our engine of truth and action. But then, I thought, there they are, still holding up the back of the train – for what purpose? I love what Elisabeth Elliot says about emotions being given by God and for God – simply as more fodder that we may offer back up unto Him in complete surrender. Tim Keller shed some light on the situation in a series on “Praying Your Tears” as an honest confession and cry for help. However, I struggle with what that means on a practical day-to-day basis. For instance,

The boy and I broke up last month.

When people ask me, “How are you doing with that whole boy thing?” here is what goes through my head:

-I am sad because I miss him.
-I often feel lonely because I am no longer living life right alongside someone as closely as we were, and don’t ‘feel’ as known.
-I am resolved and peaceful, though, that the Lord is his God, not me, and accordingly, I choose to rest in His sovereignty.
-Because of the current stage in life and transitions that it has involved, “how I am” is a very conditional, fluid concept.
– But I am FINE. Positionally, I am redeemed! delivered! held, comforted, loved, known, and never alone. So that truth clearly changes the way I view all of my feelings. . .

Then I am left here – a place where I know the truth, but still suffer the feelings of loss. Do I acknowledge the feelings, preach the truth, and act accordingly – meaning I view my day as if the truth were the only reality I knew and trust that the feelings will eventually change?

Basically, I am wondering how we, as Christ followers, properly steward our emotions. How do we simultaneously and appropriately validate their placement, but treat them as simple feelings rather than huge road signs that determine our future directions? -K

Wow. Wow. Wow.  This question and explanation give such a window into your heart… and what a beautiful heart you have!  K, thank you so much for letting us all take a moment to explore what it looks like for us to properly steward our emotions.  You’ve obviously taken the time to study this on your own.  What a great list of resources you already have at your disposal.

First things first.  Change brings grief.  I’ve always enjoyed leaving home and adventuring, I’ve just never understood why I tend to have a breakdown the day before I travel.  I recognize now that I anticipate a change and grieve even in advance.  Is this an area of distrust?

I agree with your quote by Elliot – that feelings are given by God and are for God.  Feelings can influence, but you’re right, we walk into dangerous territory when we let our feelings lead.

Disney would have us “follow your heart” and “let your heart be your guide,”  while Scripture reminds us in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”   Our flesh and the Spirit are opposed.  Galatians 5:16-24 goes so far as to explain why they both can’t lead at the same time.

 So I tell you: Live by following the Spirit. Then you will not do what your sinful selves want.17 Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please. But if the Spirit is leading you, you are not under the law.

The wrong things the sinful self does are clear: being sexually unfaithful, not being pure, taking part in sexual sins,20 worshiping gods, doing witchcraft, hating, making trouble, being jealous, being angry, being selfish, making people angry with each other, causing divisions among people, feeling envy, being drunk, having wild and wasteful parties, and doing other things like these. I warn you now as I warned you before: Those who do these things will not inherit God’s kingdom. But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There is no law that says these things are wrong. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their own sinful selves. They have given up their old selfish feelings and the evil things they wanted to do.

And yet, emotions are a very real part of humanity.  During his time on the earth, Jesus displayed anger, joy and even sorrow.  He felt and experienced emotions deeply when it came to relationships.  C.S. Lewis discusses the cost of living as relational beings.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

So, how do we walk in the Spirit when it comes to our emotions?  How do we keep from becoming hardened by hurt and change?

1.  We recognize that apart from Christ we can do nothing.  (Romans 7:18, John 15:5)  Any ability to continue to give ourselves over to the possibility of being hurt is going to come from the Lord.  He has the power for us to live and move confidently even amidst our changing tides of emotion.

2.  We continue to communicate with God.  Psalm 51:10 in the NCV says: “Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.”  The Psalmist asks that God would give him a pure heart and a right spirit.  He actively pursues health and righteousness even on an emotional level.  The closing of Psalm 139 has become one of my daily prayers: Search me, know me, test me, lead me.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  If we are to find victory even in our feelings, it begins with an open line of communication with the Father.

3.  We rely on God.  We trust in Him.  (Proverbs 3:5)  Certainly we want to discipline ourselves in this area.  I’ll be the first to admit that I often don’t want to change my feelings when I’m having a rough go.  I want to be sorry for myself.  I want to feel hurt and angered.  I want to feel the loss.  I know that He has what I need, but the temptation (at least for me) is to turn to gossip, self-pity, and temporary fixes with food, shopping, and even escape through movies and tv.  The moment I choose to rely on anything else other than God I am denying Him the opportunity to work in a mighty way in my life.  It’s a forceful act of reason sometimes, but in hindsight I know He is the only one who can heal.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, 
   because the LORD has anointed me 
   to preach good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
   to proclaim freedom for the captives 
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor 
   and the day of vengeance of our God, 
to comfort all who mourn…  Isaiah 61:1-2

4.  We must learn to react out of truth.  K, I think you answered much of your own question when you said:  Do I acknowledge the feelings, preach the truth, and act accordingly?  Yes.  I think that’s a huge part of what our response should be.  As C.S. Lewis says in his novel The Silver Chair“Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”   I really and truly believe that sooner or later we have to decide what to do.  In our case, I believe that’s clinging to and reacting to truth rather than just emotion.  We plan ahead.  We have to be proactive and acknowledge that there will be bad days.  There will be crumple to the bathroom floor nights.  And there will be pull up your knees and sob at your steering wheel moments.  Those challenges are coming.  But what we choose to do “sooner or later” has everything to do with where we have placed our hope and if we are grounded in Truth.

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, The Message)

I know God gave me emotions and the ability to feel deeply, but He also gave me a head on my shoulders and oodles of truth in His Word.  As much as I don’t want to admit it or live it- my reaction is my choice.  The feelings will always be there, but hopefully I’m allowing them to be interpreted by a Master translator and guide.

You will keep in perfect peace 
   him whose mind is steadfast, 
   because he trusts in you. 
 Trust in the LORD forever, 
   for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.  Isaiah 26:3-4

Please chime in on this one!  This feels like just the tip of the iceberg.  Share you thoughts for K below.  K- I hope it’s a start to answering this deep and meaningful question.


*A Retro Post from October 4, 2011.