How God Uses Our Emotions
One of my favorite ways to begin middle school small group is to have students name their “high, low, and buffalo of the week.” What was the best part? What was the worst part? And what is something random you’d like to share? This is a helpful (and occasionally hilarious) way to catch up on the week. This small group tradition also has become a helpful practice in my own life of identifying what has brought joy and delight and what perhaps brought hardship or sorrow. Yet sometimes, if I’m honest it can be hard to remember, challenging to identify, and complex to articulate when the week has brought a roller coaster of both highs, lows, and in-betweens. God has made us to be a people who feel and experience the world through emotions, as he himself feels. Yet so often, we aren’t sure of what we feel, we don’t know how to make sense of what we feel, and we respond to our emotions by either dismissing them altogether or making them an idol.
On one hand, we dismiss our emotions entirely. We treat our emotions as if they are something to hide. We stuff them out of fear of being really known or fear of seeming dramatic. In the famous Frozen song, “For The First Time in Forever,” Elsa says “Conceal, don't feel, put on a show, make one wrong move and everyone will know.” In many ways, this is so often what we blindly walk in as we deny what we feel. We think things like “My faith is weak if I grieve or worry,” “I can’t handle people finding out that I’m not ok so I’ll pretend like I’m ok,” and “I don’t want that person to be mad at me, so I can’t express how what they said made me feel.” We say “I’m fine”, suppressing what we feel and never really asking ourselves the hard questions of “what do I feel and why?”
On the other hand, we also so often overidentify with our emotions. We act as if what we feel is who we are therefore we can trust what we feel to make our decisions. Overidentifying with our emotions often plays out by us acting out irrationally to our surroundings. Someone cuts us off in traffic, and we explode. We feel afraid, and we’re paralyzed. Something “feels right,” so we do it. But if you’ve lived out this “follow your heart” mentality, you know that your emotions can be a terrible guide. So often we place our emotions on the throne as the ruler of our lives, leading to misguided responses and actions.
Our emotions cannot be treated as something to stuff, but also cannot be idolized as the end all be all of how we are to engage in the world. But what if there was a better way? What if rather than seeing our emotions as a threat or making them an idol, we perceived them to be a gift from God as to how we might engage with him & know him more deeply?
In Matthew 26:38-39, on the night that Jesus is betrayed, he says in the garden to his closest friends, “my soul is very sorrowful even to death.” Jesus then goes a little further, falls on his face, and cries out to his Father saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He doesn’t try to distract himself and minimize what he is feeling nor do his feelings lead to an irrational decision. Rather, he acknowledges what he feels and then he speaks honestly to his friends and to his Father. The honesty of Jesus in his darkest hour is a reminder to us, that as we face fear, anger, sadness, and joy that all these emotions are a means for us to engage with our Father who stoops low to hear the cries of His people.
Psalm 62:8 tells us ”pour out your heart before him, God is a refuge for us.” He promises to be a safe space where we can honestly acknowledge and process through all of the many things that we feel. As we walk through the many highs and lows of life and everything in between, may we look to God in faith. He invites us to pour our hearts out to him because He cares for us.
If you are interested in learning more about how God designed emotions for our good, check out Untangling Emotions.
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