God made us emotional beings. It is unrealistic and unkind to impose upon ourselves an emotionless objective when we navigate life or interpret Scripture. It’s also contrary to Scripture, which is based on the most beautiful emotion of all — Love.
I sometimes struggle with unwanted emotions, including depression, fear, or sadness — even though I am very blessed, feel loved, and have a meaningful relationship with Christ. When that occurs, it makes me wonder whether my faith in God is flawed or whether my relationship with Christ is as strong as I believe it to be.
But there is another possibility. I’ve learned that emotions are playing an essential role in my spiritual journey. When I use them constructively, I become stronger; when I succumb to them, I suffer.
How I choose to experience my emotions says much about my spiritual beliefs. How I choose to handle myself when my emotions are strong often uncovers something hidden within me that God wants me to see so that I may grow and learn. The key is not simply identifying the emotion itself, but in realizing there are good and bad ways to handle emotion. Learning to handle emotions consistent with Christ’s teachings is important to our spirituality – and to our well-being.
There is a new book called, “Untangling Emotions: ‘God’s Gift of Emotions”, by theologians Alasdair Groves and Winston Smith, that concludes emotions can be a gift. Groves writes, “Our emotions are one of the most common and commonly misunderstood opportunities in our lives to grow in maturity and love.” In the simplest terms, the authors conclude that our emotions can teach us about the nature of God, as well as the priorities of the things we love. They suggest ways in which we can respond to our emotions in a manner that allows us to reflect upon the things we value and love – and to determine if we need to realign our priorities, reinforce them, or challenge the things we value.
Stated differently, author Jon Bloom wrote in 2012 that, “God designed your emotions to be gauges, not guides. They’re meant to report to you, not dictate you… (emotions) are wired into what you believe and value – and how much.” The Apostle Paul alludes to the role of emotions as informational experiences, not something that should control us, when he stated, “Do not let sin control your puny body any longer; do not give in to its sinful desires.” (Romans 6:12)
When I find my emotions flowing in the wrong direction or taking me off-course, more often than not, I find that I have chosen the wrong priorities or let my emotions dictate my choices. On the other hand, when I approach my emotions as an opportunity to learn and grow, I’m presented with opportunities to become closer to Jesus through prayer, reflection, and faith. Further, it’s easier (though not necessarily “easy”) to view life experiences in a spiritual context when I don’t let emotions dictate my actions. This is especially true when I am faced with challenges of great distress, of which I’ve had my share. It’s helpful to remember that the situation can be used constructively in a spiritual sense.
“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner strength in the Lord is growing every day. These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
With God’s grace, recognizing the link between what we feel and what we value may become an important step towards having a deeper relationship with God.
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