Monday, April 30, 2007

Bittersweet Emotions

How do you publicly address the topic of human emotion (from a Biblical worldview) in a succint way, without the potential of someone responding or reacting in an emotional way to something you've said - or haven't said? I don't think it's possible really, but I'm going to attempt it anyway and hope for the best.

I'm sure there is nothing I could possibly say on this topic that hasn't been said before, so I have no intention of trying to reinvent the wheel - and at the same time - I believe it's important to revisit topics like this to keep ourselves in a right balance, a proper perspective on the whole issue so that we don't make the mistake of leaning toward one extreme or the other. Especially for women, since we have the tendency to do this for various reasons.

While emotions can be a good thing, and have been given to us by our Heavenly Father, they are also just as corrupt as any other part of us. Just as our physical bodies are fallen and begin to deteriorate the moment we're conceived, just as our logic and reasoning skills are limited - our emotions are also corrupt and often at the mercy of our own pride, and often dictated by a self-centered perspective.

Emotions can be deceptive, and further can often be destructive in both a spiritual sense and a practical sense. They can lead us to say things we shouldn't have said, think things we shouldn't have thought, and feel things that aren't even real. We have to be so careful not to be led by our emotions and yet at the same time understand where those "feelings" come from and keep them in check, so to speak.

Depending on a wide variety of circumstances (such as stress, joy, good health or poor health, weather, good relationships or bad ones, and yes girls, even that time each month when our body/brain chemistry does the rollercoaster loop-de-loop), on any given day we can easily experience a broad range of emotion, such as:

Feelings of... being overlooked, left out, disregarded, unimportant or useless. Feelings of failure, regret, sorrow, frustration, anxiety, fear, anger or jealousy. In the very same day (even in the very same hour) we can easily experience the sensation of the opposite kinds of feelings such as feelings of joy, peace, contendedness, success, pride or accomplishment.

For most of us (I think... if we're honest) we don't always gauge accurately whether all of these kinds of feelings we experience are good, and/or coming from a Biblical view - or if they're sinful and coming from a "me first", self-centered view.

I'll use jealousy as an example - this is something we all deal with whether we want to admit it or not.

The other day Kev and I were joking around about the kind of sloganeering that goes on in advertising. Ad agencies know that the average consumer is self-centered, so they design their campaigns around that truth. In various forms there is always one kind of ad that works every time, and that's the ad that tells you if you buy this/use this/wear this that others will want to look like you, walk like you, even BE you. It feeds into the pride in man that says "I want to be noticed", and it works quite well. At the same time, it fuels the jealous streak in men & women that says "I want to be/look/sound like that person".

Obviously, this is sinful jealousy that leads directly to covetousness and discontentment and should have no place in a Christian heart. But it's just one example among the countless kinds of examples of how emotion can subtly creep in and lead our thoughts, feelings and in this case even our buying dollars.

Being led by emotion is something that can potentially happen in a wide variety of situations. There are entire Christian denominations that have been affected this way, whirlwind romances are started this way, cut-throat divorces are fueled this way, and abusive relationships are kept abusive, for this very reason as well. In some less extreme situations, even the difficult job of Christian parenting, marital relationships or even on the job relationships can be adversely affected by allowing emotion to lead, rather than wisdom and prayer.

Have you ever experienced (or heard or read someone else say this) that "feeling" that you could burst into tears at the drop of a hat, and you really don't even know why? It could be that there isn't really a legitimate trial going on in your life, but for some reason you feel weepy, or melancholy. I can't pretend to understand why we sometimes feel that way other than to say that it can be a physical, chemical/hormonal imbalance, but I can say that we (especially us women) need to be so very careful and guarded with our words and thoughts when we are feeling that way. Even the smallest or most innocent thing can set off a cascade of thoughts or emotions that aren't really based on anything real, but we just took it the wrong way at the time because we were already feeling despondent, already prone to receiving it the wrong way. This is when we let emotion lead - and it's never a healthy thing either spiritually or as it pertains to our relationships with others.

There are a million other kinds of examples I could give, all very real, real-life examples that we all deal with at one time or another. More important than giving these examples (I think) is pointing to Scripture to deal with them, however extreme or subtle they may be. Just for the record, I do go through this too, so please be assured this isn't finger pointing - it applies to myself as much as anyone else.

The one verse that always comes to mind whenever this topic of emotion comes up, is this one:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

A corresponding verse for this is here:

He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)

It should grab your attention that the heart, the seat of emotion in a human being, is described as deceitful, above all things. What Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden, the purity and joy of unfallen, uncorrupted emotion – is something that no other human being has ever experienced. No matter if its joy, sorrow, anger or contentment, any emotion we experience is in some way touched by sin, and by selfish pride. Our emotions are corrupt because we are fallen people.

Secondly, in the verse in Jeremiah the heart is described as being desperately wicked. Not just wicked, but desperately wicked – that’s important to note. Another way to say that is that the human heart is incurably weak, frail and sick without hope of getting any better. If you think for a moment about a person who has or has had a terminal illness, the first image that comes up for your in your mind should give you a good visual image of what condition the human heart is in. Not only is the heart above all things deceitful, leaving us prone to subtle, shifting, insidious mood swings and emotional over-reactions, it is also the very source of our weakness and our frailty.

The second verse from Proverbs spells it out quite clearly for us. Putting your trust in your own heart makes you a fool. By stark contrast the message of the world will tell you to “follow your heart” or to “listen to your heart”. A quick google search on just those two little phrases yields over 2 million hits. It’s a pretty popular sentiment, but it’s also what the Bible says renders you a fool, dull of mind or even arrogant.

Knowing all of this, and keeping it all in proper perspective is very important but its not even the most important way to approach our own emotional responses or reactions.

The second part of Proverbs 28:26 is the key:

“but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered”

As I considered writing about this over the last few days, I made it a matter of prayer that the Lord would use me to deliver this to those who needed to hear it the most. Truth be told, I am among those who need to hear it the most so I wanted to make sure I indeed addressed this Biblically. One of the most important things I believe we could ever do in our walk with Christ is to routinely and purposefully humble ourselves before the Lord in prayer and pray that He reveal any wicked way, any flaw, any issue within our hearts or minds, just as David did, when he said “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts”.

It should be a constant in our prayer life that our emotions, motivations and intentions be guided by wisdom from above because left on our own, we simply do not have it in us, to bring God the glory. Especially is it pertains to how we deal with emotion and emotional response, we would greatly benefit from an intentional "pause" of thought and seek the Lord for His wisdom, rather than our own emotionally charge reaction.

I do pray that this has blessed you and encouraged you in some way today.