Imagine you are walking home one evening, and you are faced with a choice: take a shortcut through a long dark alley to reach your house, or stay on the brightly-lit sidewalk. Which one would you choose?
That twinge of fear we feel as we consider the dark alley reveals something important – emotions have a purpose. They play a role in our lives as they guide us to action. Fear, for example, is supposed to guide us away from danger and help us survive. Likewise our other emotions are just as valuable, but we often have no idea how to manage, understand, and handle them correctly.
Emotions Are Not a Weakness
In order to understand our emotions, we must dispel the myth that emotion = weakness. Think about it – we usually like our heroes calm, cool and collected under even the most perilous of circumstances. We love watching Jack Bauer race through city streets and defeat terrorists, unfazed by fear. And although we may joke about Mr. Spock’s lack of emotion, there is something appealing about his ability to stay cool and make logical decisions, free from the concern of human sentimentality.
But in reality, we need emotions. Emotions reveal where we need to go. Emotions reveal our need for God.
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
God is meant to be a rock. When we tell a person about our feelings, that person will most likely have a reaction. God, on the other hand, is immovable. He can hear anything you need to say and it will not knock him over. We need God because we are not meant to walk alone, confused, and handle the ups and downs of life by ourselves.
However, we often decide to numb our feelings instead of pouring them out to God. When that happens, we become “monofeeling,” where every emotion has the same name. Sometimes anger is the only emotion we can identify, but it usually has a whole range of other feelings underneath it, like embarrassment, fear, disappointment, shame or guilt.
Ignoring our pain can provide some temporary relief, but it will eventually catch up to us. In the words of the great Albus Dumbledore,
“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
What Turns Our Emotions Off?
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
We turn our emotions off when we feel something that we do not want to feel again. Unless we talk about these feelings, we will harden to them and callous to each other.We often experience this in dating and marriage relationships. When we harden to our feelings it’s easy to substitute physical intimacy for emotional intimacy. The problem is that the excitement of physical intimacy will only last a short time; we will eventually feel empty and unsatisfied as we discover we need emotional and spiritual intimacy in our relationships too.
How do you handle painful and uncomfortable emotions? We often harden our hearts by making excuses for ourselves or other people, or trying really hard to stay busy and avoid our emotions altogether.
How Do Callouses Work?
The Bible gives us 4 examples of how callousness can affect our hearts:
Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
One thing we know about paths – they are hard. Hard hearts are numb and beaten down. When our hearts are hard, it is because we have been through pain, and pain turns our emotions off. Having a hard heart doesn’t mean you are evil; it just means that you didn’t know how to handle what you went through and that you didn’t turn to God.
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
People with”no root” are people with unfinished business. Think of a tree – it needs roots before it can grow tall. When we try to grow spiritually without dealing with our past, our family, our hurts, or our sins, we will not last. We will end up trying to “look good” and “get stuff done” without working on our foundation with God, and our faith will be only superficial.
What unfinished business do you still need to deal with? Are there any thoughts, feelings, sins or experiences from your past that you are unwilling to share?
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Have you ever had uncontrolled fears? See if you can relate to any of these thoughts:
- What if I don’t make it at my job?
- My spouse is running late – what if something happened to him?
- What are people thinking of me?
- What if I never get married?
- What if something is wrong with my kid?
- Or what if [fill in the blank with any bad thing] happens?
Unchecked fear turns our emotions off. Like the scripture says, worries choke God out of our life and we no longer have room for faith. Fear makes us desire security, so it can even drive our desires for more money, a better job, or a bigger house.
What are the uncontrolled fears in your life? Deciding to admit them to God and friends will soften your heart and leave more room for God in your life.
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.
Having a clear heart means having nothing unresolved in your life. When you are talking with someone, there’s nothing you are feeling that you won’t say. You don’t feel anxious because everything is out in the open between you.
The scripture also teaches that clear hearts produce a crop – meaning, when our hearts are clear we are freed up to love other people.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
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