Many Christians have emotional problems.
Or maybe I should say it this way: Many Christians have problems with emotions. (We may also have emotional problems, but that's above my pay grade!)
When was the last time you heard someone say something like, "Oh, I'm not mad. I'm just frustrated"? Hm. Then why is there steam coming out of your ears?
Or maybe you've overheard this , "Yes, she's really doing so well since her husband died." (What they mean is, she doesn't appear to be feeling deeply sad at all.)
It seems to me like the only good emotion, the only one Christians are supposed to feel is happiness. If we're feeling anything else, then we're not really living up to our Christian credentials. This not only misunderstands emotions, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on people to deny what they feel and to pretend that everything is okay when it's obviously not. Doing this turns us into hypocrites.
Emotions are a gift from God. They are part of what it means to be made in God's image. They each serve a unique and important role in our lives. When we deny, suppress, or ignore our feelings, we short-circuit God's intended purpose for our emotions and miss out on his blessing.
There are really only four human emotions: mad, sad, glad, and scared. All the other descriptors we use are simply synonyms. But, many of us use synonyms because we want to downplay how we feel. We aren't mad (which seems intense), we're just frustrated (which seems more mild). We aren't sad (which is unambiguous), we're simply down (which seems safer). The first step to experiencing God's purpose for our emotions is to tell the truth -- to ourselves and others -- about how we feel.
Once we're honest about our emotions we can truly feel them. After all, that's what they are for. If you're mad, feel mad! Nowhere does the Bible say, "Don't get angry." Rather it says, "Be angry and do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26 ESV). Do you feel angry? Are you mad? Then feel the anger, but don't sin.
Emotions are like the lights in your auto's dashboard. They are there to let us know something deeper is going on in our hearts.
"Emotions are like the lights in your auto's dashboard. They are there to let us know something deeper is going on in our hearts."
Anger's purpose is to motivate action. That's why when you get angry you typically raise your voice, wave your arms, and stomp around. Anger is the natural human reaction to injustice. God gave us anger to indicate that something is wrong in the world and we need to work to fix it. When you feel mad, check to see what you're perceiving as an injustice, either to yourself or someone else.
A friend was recently confronted by his boss for a problem in their department. Though the issue actually had nothing to do with my friend or his work, his boss yelled at him in front of the whole team. Was my friend mad afterwards? You betcha! Why? Because his heart felt that it was unjust for his boss to single him out in front of the team for something that wasn't his fault. To pretend otherwise would have been both untrue and unhealthy. Did that anger cause him to sin? No. Did it motivate him to action? Yes. After a couple days he approached his boss and let him know his side of what had happened.
Of course, there are times when our emotions may not be based on reality. If I get mad because I believe my wife is having an affair, the feeling is real. My heart is telling me I've been treated unjustly. But, the facts may be false. My wife may not be having an affair. I may have been jumping to inaccurate conclusions. It's appropriate, then, to inform our emotions of the facts. What's not helpful, however, is to ignore, suppress, or deny them.
Next time you feel an intense emotion remember that it's a gift from God. Ask yourself what your heart is responding to. Investigate whether or not the emotion is based on reality. Take some time to just sit with the emotion and feel the feelings. Then ask God how he wants you to respond.
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