It feels like summer is in the air already! I awoke this morning to a radiant glow of bright sunlight bursting through my window. I was immediately energized for the day! I hope your day started off with as much gusto as mine. If not, here’s to an improved day beginning RIGHT NOW!
This week’s email is really personal for me. Over the past 10 months or so, I’ve been dealing with the issue of appropriately managing my emotions. As I have been dealing with this issue in my life, God’s word has been really rich and instructive. I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned during this time.
I believe emotions are gifts from God. In their proper places, emotions enrich our lives and can be very constructive. However, because our emotions can be so intoxicating many of us fall prey to the temptation to overindulge in them. God’s word gives us instructions about this - instructions that hit home for me.
Most of us know that the book of Proverbs is a treasure trove of wisdom. I try to read through the whole book every year or so just to revisit the richness of it. In this book we find the issue of emotions revisited a number of times. One particular verse that underscores the general sentiments of God’s word toward our emotions is this one:
He that trusts in his own heart is a fool: but whoever walks wisely, he shall be delivered.
- Proverbs 28:26
The Bible often refers to the heart as the center of emotions and feelings, (as it does in this verse). It also warns us over and over again that our emotions are unreliable and we do well not to let them take over our lives. In another book, Jeremiah, we find out exactly why trusting in our own hearts (or trusting in our emotions) is dangerous:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
- Jeremiah 17:9
Why is it that our emotions are so unreliable? Why is it that they lead us this way and that, often leaving us in states of confusion and distorted reality? Why are they so deceitful? What is this sickness of our emotions that Jeremiah is speaking about?
I think the basis for Jeremiah's warning is the fact that our emotions (aka “the heart”) are a part of our flesh. They don’t operate on faith, or God’s word. They respond to what we experience based on the experience itself - without logic, wisdom or discernment.
In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul lays out in great detail why relying on the fleshly impulses of our emotions is dangerous:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
- Galatians 5:16-23
One of the things I’ve learned in my own personal journey with my emotions is that walking with God often means sidestepping emotion. It doesn’t mean we ignore them. It does mean we recognize them for exactly what they are - responses; not realities. We are only able to sidestep them when we can see them and recognize them. That's why it is so important that we don't just ignore them. Ignoring them often means we fall into them unknowingly. No, we must acknowledge our emotions and our feelings and consciously move past them.
Emotions call us into ourselves - how I feel, what I want, what's been done to ME, what I deserve, what is best for ME. The fact is, living an emotional life is also living a largely selfish and self-absorbed life. Walking with God always calls us to look away from ourselves. Walking with him always calls us to look to him and others. We can’t live this kind of life when we are drowning in self-oriented emotion!
So as we set out into this week, let’s be conscious and intentional about living our lives with emotions in their proper places. Let’s pray that God will draw us out of ourselves and our selfishness. Let’s pray that he will teach us how to religiously look to him and our neighbors.
As we get deeper into these warm days of May, let’s rest on God to take care of us and protect and balance us so that we can recognize and experience emotions in their proper places. Let’s ask God to open our minds and take control of our hearts so we can relish life in the fullness he intends. Let’s ask God to help us to get out of our feelings!
Let’s consider this week’s questions:
What sorts of things trigger my emotional flares?
When I experience these flare-ups, how likely am I to give in and respond based on what I feel? Am I pleased with the outcomes when I do this?
How would I rate the reliability of my emotions? Do they provide me with a reliable basis for decision making and interacting with others?
What is the proper place for emotion in my life?