Whether we choose to feel them or not, our souls are filled with emotions. We may think we’re not supposed to have them, then we don’t know what to do with them.
Let’s put emotions in context:
- Emotions don’t know fantasy from reality. When you watch a stressful movie, your heart races. But your emotions don’t know that the movie’s not real.
- Emotions don’t know the difference between past, present or future. You’re triggered in the present…but your emotions don’t know that it’s actually not the current event upsetting you, only the painful memory connected to it that is causing you to overreact.
- Emotions act like bullies convincing us that they define ultimate reality.
- Emotions reveal what we actually believe deep down.
Emotions suffer from a serious lack of intelligence and understanding, don’t they? But we know that when they are given too much power, they can surely wreak havoc in our hearts and lives.
~LYING TO OURSELVES
Unfortunately, as a result of sin, some of our well-meaning cultures and religions, teach in the vein of shame, guilt and “being strong” that certain emotions are acceptable and others are not. Thus, we often grow up telling ourselves, “I shouldn’t be angry about that” or “I can’t cry” while our guts silently shudder and our eyes hold back tears. The irony of the “being strong” mantra is that regardless of how many tears we hold back, denying our emotional truth is lying to ourselves. Denial can never make us strong, only phony.
We must admit that we have been trained to lie to ourselves about our emotions.
Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
Question: How can we “pour out our hearts to Him” if we refuse to acknowledge and feel certain emotions? Hmmm…We can’t.
Conclusion: Denying emotions prevents us from obeying Scripture.
~MADE IN HIS IMAGE
Imperative it is for us to know and believe that God gave us all of our emotions! We are created in His image and experience the same emotions He does, although ours can be tainted and distorted by sin. God experiences emotions and Christ did as well while He was incarnate (Heb. 4:15-16). Sorrow, abandonment, agony, rage. (See verses below)
Christ is not surprised or offended by any emotion we have, especially when we bring it to Him in honesty and vulnerability for help and healing (Heb.4:15,16). Did we forget that He was tempted in every way and can fully relate to whatever we may bring to Him? Not to mention, He knows it all before we even admit it to ourselves. He desires us to submit our wounded and distorted emotions to Him so He can heal them and restore our hearts to live in His reality.
Ken Nair (Discovering the Mind of a Woman) calls emotions “the voice of the spirit.” Our emotions were designed to be acknowledged, felt and expressed in a safe and accepting environment. However, the ever-broadening and deepening effects of sin on mankind all the way back to Adam force us to choose wisely who we share our emotions with. Dumping emotional baggage in a safe environment is therapeutic and healing, allowing us to grow closer to God (Rom. 12:15, Js. 5:16).
Remember in the movie, Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan screaming on the mast of the shrimp boat in the storm? He raged at God! Ironically, by unleashing his rage toward God for allowing him to lose his legs on the battlefield, he “made his peace with God.” That’s how it works.
Rage out. Peace in.
On the contrary, stuffing emotions does just the opposite.
When emotions are stuffed, over time they collect, infect and cause illness in spirit, mind, and body. The laws of physics, designed by God, dictate that the old substance must exit from an organism to make room for the new substance to enter; that’s the inflow-outflow balance of everything, including emotional health.
We cannot heal that which we refuse to recognize and process. In our refusal to recognize and process, we stay locked in an internal division. We divide ourselves inside, constructing a civil war within our hearts. In other words, part of us turns against ourselves in agreement with a lie which harms us. Stuffed emotions are toxic and can shake us to our foundation. No wonder Jesus said,” A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Luke 11:17).
Graphic example, but can you imagine refusing to release your bladder and bowel for a day, a week, a month or longer. How would you feel? Would this refusal lend itself to health or illness? Rhetorical question. But this ridiculous example illustrates our emotional refusal.
God-designed a common sense principle that applies to our bodies and our emotions: “Out with the old, in with the new!” Our emotions are invisible and intangible but serve as a foundational gateway to the heart. Even though they hide “buried alive” inside of us, we witness their powerful reality as they randomly burst forth stealing center stage of our hearts.
Waste out. Nutrition in.
Each emotional denial is a heavy chain wrapped around our hearts and minds. When we live with emotional chains binding us, we live lying to ourselves about our emotions. We do this subconsciously to please the people who taught us those lies. This binds us to the fear of man which is idolatry. As a result, we lose the ability to be truthful with ourselves, God and others. This toxic habit fashions us as Pharisees. Most importantly, emotional self-deception occurs in the heart. And a heart packed with lies can never feel close to God.
Remember, God is all about the heart (Matt. 5:28, Matt. 15:8).
~HONESTY AND TRUTH
My remedy for emotional constipation begins with giving yourself “official permission” which is ordained by God (Ps. 62:8) to feel anything toward anyone, including God. Open the floodgates of honesty and truth! The truth is that emotions aren’t necessarily bad or good. They are often neutral indicators of deeper issues. But they always cause trouble when stuffed, neglected and denied.
Gradually, open the floodgates of honesty and truth, firstly with yourself, then with God, and eventually with others.
Two of our class students I recently helped to pass over the intimidating threshold of emotional denial to the peaceful meadow of honesty and truth. Scary it was to allow their hearts to feel for the first time what they were never allowed to feel growing up. But oh, what relief and clarity they are finding!
Read the Psalms. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you time and space to allow your heart to come to light and experience your emotions naturally. Ask Him to reveal the lies you believe that block them from surfacing.
As strong emotions surface, always use internal boundaries being careful not to hurt another (especially children) just because they happen to be nearby. Save the feelings and journal them in an “Emotions Notebook.” Purge your emotions from feeling them to writing them down, from invisible to visible, from intangible to tangible. When you externalize your emotions, they become easier to process.
Pour out your heart to Him in your time alone. Bare your soul. Bawl. Rage. Sit in emptiness (Ps. 62:8).
The more you feel and express your emotions,
- the more room you make for the Holy Spirit to heal and dwell in those places
- the more you will walk yoked with God, not in your head but in your heart
- the more truth you will live in spirit, mind, and body
- the more you will live in authenticity
- the more sin patterns will fall by the wayside
- the less your emotions will control you
In this way, God wants us to learn to be good stewards of our emotions (Matt. 11:28, Rom. 8:1, Heb 4:15,16).
Pain out. Comfort in.
Our subconscious mind remembers everything we’ve experienced throughout our lives. Everything we’ve experienced carries corresponding emotions, good and bad. The good emotions we tend to remember less because they are benign. The bad emotions we remember well because they hurt.
Current events can trigger the hurt of bad memories which feel similar. Triggers catch us off guard. The triggered bad emotions that hurt serve as blinking lights on the dashboard of our souls. When you see a blinking light on the dashboard of your car, do you cover it with a sticky note? Of course, you don’t! You take it to get serviced to fix the problem.
But stuffing emotions is the equivalent of covering the car’s blinking light with a sticky note! Like we care for our car, we must care for ourselves and address the underlying heart issue that the blinking light of strong emotions alerts us about.
We each have an emotional scale of 1-10. Emotional reactions that register 1-5 generally indicate that we are reacting only to the current circumstance. However, when our reaction jumps from 6-10 (or higher), we are overreacting to the current circumstance while it is being fueled by a painful memory which feels the same. The memory is the gasoline fueling the circumstantial flicker causing it to explode and feel like the current situation alone.
Our emotions behave this way because
1) God designed our brains to connect and categorize similar incidents from our past to our present for our protection and understanding
2) God designed memories naturally to attach to strong emotions
Let me share a personal example.
One damaging experience includes me being bullied as a child. At age five, the bullying began, lasting one full year, and then randomly recurred thereafter through age eleven. During this time, my emotions repeatedly imploded by shutting down psychologically and emotionally to survive.
Later on as an adult, whenever someone would speak to me in a bossy or dominant tone or I witnessed an argument, I instantly overreacted. I didn’t usually show it, but I spiked internally to an emotional 10+, feeling like I was about to be berated or punched, and later unable to remember the incident. This pattern, along with other damaging circumstances, impaired my brain and my health and made some relationships excruciatingly difficult for me.
The pattern continued until I learned bravely to acknowledge and express my emotions. I finally gave them a voice. Now that I have experienced significant healing with that development and various modalities, I no longer get triggered by someone’s tone of voice and I am learning what it means to relax.
Keep in mind that in the process of learning to express emotions, you may venture through a “balancing” period to cleanse and regulate your emotional self. You may start at one end of the bell curve (expressing no emotion) and swing to the other end of the bell curve (expressing every emotion). Be encouraged, though, that as you progress in your growth swinging back and forth you will eventually settle in the middle of the bell curve. In this new more balanced place, you learn to express and process emotion more naturally and appropriately to the situation.
Emotions can interfere with life or they can enhance it. This all depends on how we choose to view and handle our emotions.
- Instead of seeing them as enemies, we can choose to befriend our emotions.
- Instead of ignoring them, we can give them a voice.
- Instead of fighting them, we can learn to express them in healthy ways.
So, in dealing with emotions, what’s the solution that honors God, ourselves and others?
In Psalm 51:6, God says that He “desires truth in the innermost parts.” Truth is the opposite of lies and self-deception. Innermost means “covered, dark hidden spaces.”
These “hidden spaces” are the recesses of our souls that hold our painful emotions. So in Psalm 51:6, God reveals the solution for how to deal with emotions. He wants us to acknowledge, feel and express to Him our deep, hidden personal truths.
Expressing honesty and truth is the first step toward developing the emotional expression and regulation we desire. After expressing our damaged emotions, we exchange them for God’s eternal healing truth.
Layer by layer as this happens, His truth replaces the emotional pain we’ve expressed. Over time, this process of expressing and receiving results in emotional regulation. Because this process transforms our emotional self into the image of Christ, we know that it is God’s will.
Layer by layer, as we become more and more honest with ourselves and with Him, His eternal truth remains constant while our emotional releases free us to walk more in agreement with Him.
This happens over time, one genuine emotion at a time.
Emotions out. Holy Spirit in.
Have you been taught that certain emotions are unacceptable?
While growing up, were you free to express all of your emotions?
Do you fear emotions?
What emotions do you tend to stuff or ignore?
Are there situations that trigger you, leaving you without emotional relief?
Do you believe God fully understands every one of your emotions?
Do you believe God puts limitations on what you can share with Him?
Do you acknowledge your genuine emotions freely with yourself? With God?
Do you journal your emotions and in them ask God to reveal His truth to set you free?
Do you have a safe person(s) to share emotions with regularly?
Are you open to get healing for your damaged emotions?
Will you ask God to teach you to be a good steward of your emotions so you can grow in Christlikeness and live in authenticity?
Psalm 51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Hebrews 4:15,16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Luke 11:17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.
Matthew 5:28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Matthew 15:8 These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to keep silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
John 11:35 Jesus wept.
Matthew 27:46 (Psalm 22:1) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud [agonized] voice, My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?
Luke 22:44 And being in agony [deeply distressed and anguished; almost to the point of death], He prayed more intently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down on the ground.
Matthew 23:13-36: The Eight Woes
“But woe (judgment is coming) to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven in front of people; for you do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow those who are [in the process of] entering to do so. 14 [Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you swallow up widows’ houses, and to cover it up you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation.]
15 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte (convert to Judaism), and when he becomes a convert, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears [an oath] by the sanctuary of the temple, that is nothing (non-binding); but whoever swears [an oath] by the gold of the temple is obligated [as a debtor to fulfill his vow and keep his promise].’ 17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the sanctuary of the temple that sanctified the gold?18 And [you scribes and Pharisees say], ‘Whoever swears [an oath] by the altar, that is nothing (non-binding), but whoever swears [an oath] by the offering on it, he is obligated [as a debtor to fulfill his vow and keep his promise].’ 19 You [spiritually] blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 Therefore, whoever swears[an oath] by the altar, swears both by it and by everything [offered] on it. 21 And whoever swears [an oath] by the sanctuary of the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells within it. 22 And whoever swears [an oath] by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
23 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you give a tenth (tithe) of your mint and dill and cumin [focusing on minor matters], and have neglected the weightier[more important moral and spiritual] provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the [primary] things you ought to have done without neglecting the others.24 You [spiritually] blind guides, who strain out a gnat [consuming yourselves with miniscule matters] and swallow a camel [ignoring and violating God’s precepts]!
25 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and robbery and self-indulgence (unrestrained greed). 26 You [spiritually] blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate [examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts], so that the outside [your public life and deeds] may be clean also.
27 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 So you, also, outwardly seem to be just and upright to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets and decorate and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have joined them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the [allotted] measure of the guilt of your fathers’ sins. 33 You serpents, you spawn of vipers, how can you escape the penalty of hell?
34 “Therefore, take notice, I am sending you prophets and wise men [interpreters, teachers] and scribes [men educated in the Mosaic Law and the writings of the prophets]; some of them you will kill and even crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues, and pursue and persecute from city to city, 35 so that on you will come the guilt of all the blood of the righteous shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah [the priest], the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I assure you and most solemnly say to you, [the judgment for] all these things [these vile and murderous deeds] will come on this generation.