Recognizing and Wisely Handling Our Emotions, and Submitting to God’s Truth
Every person is an emotional being, yet some Christians have been taught that strong emotions are categorically sinful and therefore unacceptable. In and of themselves emotions are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Questions of right and wrong relate to how we handle our emotions.
Feelings aren’t part of the Curse; they’re part of how God made human beings from the beginning. Our present emotions are bent by sin, but they will forever be straightened again when God removes the Curse. (Some Christians have also been taught that God has no emotions; more thoughts on that here.)
Denying that your emotions exist compounds stress. Feeling guilty about your emotions magnifies stress. God created us as rational and emotional beings. We feel because He made us to feel. So give yourself permission to feel as He made you to feel.
Accept Responsibility for Your Feelings
“I can’t help how I feel.” Not directly, perhaps—you can’t make worry and anger and fear disappear just by wishing they would. But you can focus on the right thoughts and block out the wrong ones. You can do the right things and refrain from doing the wrong ones. And if you do, your feelings will eventually change, or at least come into control.
If you disclaim responsibility for your feelings and let them dominate your thoughts and actions, you will be out of control. And no one feels stress like the person who has surrendered control.
Jerry Bridges wisely counseled, “We must not allow our emotions to hold sway over our minds. Rather, we must seek to let the truth of God rule our minds. Our emotions must become subservient to the truth.”
Express Your Feelings
Have you ever noticed the safety valve on top of your hot water heater? It’s there to release excess pressure. If it wasn’t there, the heater could explode.
Expression is our safety valve. The inability to express emotions leaves us bottled up, ready to explode and, in the process, ready to damage not only ourselves but those around us.
Everyone needs a few close friends to talk to openly. When sharing emotions, it’s appropriate to share fears, hurts, and even anger, as long as you are careful not to blame or incriminate others. Journaling your thoughts and feelings can also be helpful.
Studies confirm that crying can be a helpful release of pent-up emotions. There is often truth in the old saying, “I’ll feel better after a good cry.” Some women—and most men—have an unfortunate stigma about tears. But remember, God—not Satan—created those tear ducts. Crying is a natural stress reliever. Use it.
Do What Is Right, and Embrace God’s Truth, in Spite of Your Feelings
We don’t have to feel a certain way to do what is right, and to love God and others.
Maybe you struggle with resentment toward a friend. Send her an encouraging note. Your feelings will eventually follow the path blazed by your will. Have a hard time with a particular person? I did, with someone I felt had wronged me. But when I prayed for them regularly, eventually my attitude toward them changed. I came to truly seek their happiness and desire their success.
John Piper writes in Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again?:
My feelings are not God. God is God. My feelings do not define truth. God’s word defines truth. My feelings are echoes and responses to what my mind perceives. And sometimes—many times—my feelings are out of sync with the truth. When that happens—and it happens every day in some measure—I try not to bend the truth to justify my imperfect feelings, but rather, I plead with God: Purify my perceptions of your truth and transform my feelings so that they are in sync with the truth.
We should let our feelings—real as they are—point to our need for the truth of God’s words to guide our thinking. The paths to our hearts travel through our minds. Truth matters. Believe Christ and meditate on Scripture, not on how you feel, and eventually God will change how you feel.
Some recommended resources for further reading: You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions by Tim Chester, and Untangling Emotions by Alasdair Groves and Winston Smith.