Emotions are vitally important to us as human beings. They are a God-given part of our personality, providing a richness, colour and depth to our life experience that can be a source of great pleasure. But of course, things can go wrong with our emotions. Negative emotions can be alarming at times and if we are dominated by them it can lead to a miserable existence. Emotional pain is very real and can be extremely severe. Sometimes, emotional pain is even more unbearable than physical pain because there is no evident cause for it. With physical pain you can pinpoint a problem and seek the appropriate treatment, as with a wound or a broken bone, but it is vastly more difficult to pinpoint the cause of emotional pain.
Most people, to a greater or lesser degree, suffer from fear or anxiety. They experience unexplained feelings of melancholy at times, uncontrolled feelings of anger, hurt, resentment, or, in extreme cases, hatred. Sometimes our emotions can be so turned in on ourselves that we are filled with feelings of dread, of self-loathing, guilt and condemnation. One of the greatest obstacles to overcoming negative emotions like these is the problem of denial. We commonly ignore negative emotions because society has told us we are not supposed to feel that way. This is a double-edged problem for Christians because the Church has been effective in teaching believers that we are supposed to feel happy, blessed and full of joy all of the time; it is how we are meant to feel, they say, because we are Christians! Therefore, if a believer is not feeling happy and blessed, they tend to hide their negative emotions. If there is something else going on inside of us we tend to deny it, push it down and say it doesn’t exist. We come to church on Sunday, we smile, we’re nice to people, we tell everybody we’re fine and we go home feeling as miserable as when we came. That’s not reality! We need to be honest, open with our feelings, and understand that at times, even as Christians, things can go wrong with our emotions.
Charismatic Christians are often castigated for being over-emotional, yet God has made us with a personality that comprises three major elements – the mind, the will and the emotions. We should live before God whole and complete in each of these dimensions, utilizing each aspect in our worship of Him. Our thoughts should be renewed; our emotions should be in line with and reflect the spiritual realm; our choices should be in line with God’s will.
It is interesting to me that, even though we live in a feeling orientated world, many people still find it extremely difficult to identify and express their emotions. Sometimes we are not really aware of what we are feeling, or indeed the strength of the emotions that lie just under the surface of our personality. Often we have no clue as to why we are feeling what we are feeling or where these emotions originated from.
Have you ever been in a situation where you feel something strange and you don’t know why? Maybe you are feeling very angry or frustrated, or perhaps you’re feeling very low and you can’t put your finger on why? Often it is because we are simply “out of touch” with our emotions, but deeper than that, we have no idea what it is that actually triggers those emotions. Fundamentally, many of us don’t know how our emotions operate and so we have no means of controlling them.
Our education system, especially in the west, teaches us how to think, but it doesn’t teach us how to feel. Education is mainly concerned with pumping the intellect full of ideas, but it does not address our emotional development at all. I imagine there are few, if any, who can say that at school they were taught to feel. Rather we are taught to think, to focus on ideas and concepts, to evaluate and process information.We are not taught to appreciate what is going on inside ourselves.
Just because you are a Christian, it doesn’t mean to say that your emotions are perfectly in line with what God intended for you. Believers are just as prone as anyone to carry all kinds of emotional baggage around with them. But we must learn, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to be aware of those things and ask God to deal with them.
Something that feels good at the time isn’t necessarily good for us and won’t carry on producing feelings of wellbeing for very long. But as long we believe our needs are going to be met by a certain activity, no matter how short-lived the good feelings are, we will keep on doing it. If you believe that your needs are going to be met in a certain direction, you will be motivated to go in that direction, even if your needs are not fully met.
We are motivated to go in the direction where we believe our needs will be met. In other words, the direction that makes us feel good. Sometimes as Christians we have to admit that the feel good factor is a little elusive. I remember an evangelist who came to our church many years ago and was leading a young girl to Christ. At one point the girl informed him: “I want to keep sleeping with my boyfriend because it feels good. Your kind of Christianity that says you can’t do that kind of stuff, and that makes me feel bad!” I thought the evangelist would immediately get on his high horse and lay the law down to her, but instead he said, “You know, you’re right. Going God’s way feels miserable at times! But it’s still the right way to go.”