I’ve been discussing the question, “What do we do with our emotions?”. Step one was to identify the emotion that you are feeling. Here’s step two:
Should be simple, right? Unfortunately, no. I, for one, have spent a lot of time doing everything but feeling my emotions. I have stuffed them, run away from them, judged them, tried to convert them into something else, attacked them with scripture, ignored them, and lied about them. I’ve begged and pleaded with them, “Please be something else! Oh sadness, please be joy! Oh anxiety, please be peace! Oh anger, please be affection!”
Worst of all, I’ve spent hours upon hours trying to “figure them out”. I’ve filled notebooks and journals asking, “Why, why, why do I feel this way?!?!?”. I’ve dug for reasons for the reasons for the reasons that I felt an emotion, all the while asking, “Where and how can I find the secret logic that will just make it all stop?!?”.
But to no avail. It seems that my emotions demand one thing of me: To be felt.
In fact, I’ve come to think that to resist this is to stand in opposition to reality itself. When I refuse to feel my emotions, I become like a stubborn child, with my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears, yelling, “This isn’t happening!”
Ok, allow me to get metaphysical for a moment:
God is the fundamental reality that underlies everything that exists. That which is in harmony with with reality – with God – is “true”. (Scripturally, we can call this “Shalom“.) That which is not in harmony with that reality is false, broken, and disordered. It is “formless and empty”. It is “Tohu Bohu”.
So, God created the universe, and then he formed it and shaped it towards Shalom. People rebelled, and the universe began to slide away from Shalom, back to Tohu Bohu.
Any movement towards Shalom is a movement towards that which is true. Any movement towards Tohu Bohu is a movement into untruth, into unreality.
To tell a lie is, perhaps, the simplest version of a movement towards Tohu Bohu: When we lie, we set aside the world that actually exists, and invite another into a world of our own creation – one that does not exist.
In fact, all sin can be viewed in this way: It is an attempt to depart from the one actual universe in which God is real and his ways are good.
So, what does that have to do with emotions?
I would argue that the way we sometimes deal with our emotions fits in this category: My heart is designed to respond deeply to the world around me, and this is a little more vulnerability than I’m comfortable with; so I’d rather ignore the way I’m made and enter into a reality of my own creation where I am stronger and have more control. Further, I’m wounded and sinful, and sometimes I get angry inappropriately, or fear things that I shouldn’t fear. When this happens, I’d rather try to clean up my own mess than acknowledge, “This is what has happened, this is what I’m feeling.”
In other words: “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening!”
But the truth is… It is happening. I do feel angry. Or sad. Or afraid. And when I stop resisting that, and let myself feel it, it’s not nearly so bad as I was afraid it would be. It actually feels kind of refreshing; healing even. (And it doesn’t last as long as it would have if I had gone on resisting it, either.)
Ok, so those are the ways we resist feeling. Next time: How to actually feel.