By Jenny Fulton
“Don’t mind me,” I say. “I’m just feeling really emotional.”
“Don’t allow your feelings to dictate your reality,” we say.
“Are you a thinker or a feeler?” we ask.
“I don’t cry much. I’m just not an emotional person.”
“We need to think about this from a logical perspective and not allow our emotions to get in the way.”
“Calm down. Don’t be angry.”
“Cheer up. Don’t be sad.”
Have you ever thought about how much our speech reveals our perspectives on emotions? When you think about and listen to your words, as well as the dialogue around you, what values do you hear regarding feelings?
To be honest, I’ve always struggled with embracing my emotions. I saw them as being unsafe, unreliable, and a nuisance. Any feeling other than happiness got shoved away, pushed down beyond anyone’s reach. If the unwelcome emotion was too intense to be forced away in the moment, I’d turn my attention to some kind of physical or intellectual exertion to give those feelings a more “acceptable” outlet. However, there’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs when you attempt to avoid your emotions – they don’t actually go away. Instead, they lay silent in the cavern of your heart and mind. And then they build and grow and expand until the pressure of all those exiled feelings gets to be so great that they burst forth all at once in a volcanic explosion.
After years of bottling up those feelings I deemed unacceptable, I’m finally learning to see them in a new light.
Here are some of the things I’ve come to understand so far. I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments below.
Everyone has their own path to growth and understanding. For me, the path to embracing my emotions began with coming to terms with and understanding the origin of our emotions.
God Has Emotions
Have you ever realized how much God’s intense emotions are described in the Bible? I’m only listing one reference for each emotion, but there are many more.
- He intensely loves His people. I Kings 10:9
- He feels pleased and joyful. Psalm 37:23
- He grieves. Genesis 6:6
- He gets angry. 2 Chronicles 25:15
God is a person. He is a spiritual person with thoughts and feelings. He is good. If a good, spiritual God has emotions, then there must be something spiritual about them and there must be something good about them.
God Gave Us Emotions
When God made us in His image (Genesis 1:26) He gave us the ability to feel on an emotional level as well as on a physical one. After God made man, He pronounced His creation good (Genesis 1:31). This “good” evidently included the emotions. If God has emotions, and He created us with emotions, then those emotions must have value, and they must, at their core, be good.
Emotions Can Be Tied to Sin (but aren’t sin)
Like many of the other good things God created, emotions became subject to corruption when sin entered the world. These feeling that were meant as a good thing are now vulnerable to manipulation. They have become potential avenues for sin and reveal sinful desires and motivations. They can be sinfully used to deceive, manipulate and control others.
But are emotions themselves sinful? I don’t see in Scripture that they are.
Genesis 4:6-7 reads, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (NASB). God knew Cain was angry, and He confronted him about the reason for that anger. However, the language suggests that Cain hadn’t yet sinned. His anger wasn’t a sin. Instead, sin was nearby, waiting for its opportunity, waiting to prey upon the anger if Cain failed to get it in hand.
Jesus was human like us but was without sin (Hebrews 4:14). As part of being human, Jesus had emotions. He felt sadness (John 11:35) and anger (Matthew 21:13). It seems that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus may have even felt scared (Matthew 26:39).
Though the Bible is full of examples of people who sinned in the height of impassioned emotions, the emotions themselves were not the sin.
Emotions Can Be Tied to Righteousness
If a thing can be corrupted, it must first have a point of good from which it began, a place of righteousness from which it’s still capable of operating. Here are my ideas as to what some of the good and righteous benefits of emotions might be.
Sadness/Mourning. Sadness reveals that we care. We have loved and lost; we have been hurt. In a similar fashion to how physical pain alerts us to a problem in our body that needs attention, sadness (emotional/spiritual pain) may bring attention to an emotional and spiritual injury that needs some tender loving care. Crying is an especially healing treatment for sadness. Hugs go a long way as well.
Fear. There are plenty of legitimate fears. These fears keep us safe. They prevent us from foolishly walking into danger or remove us from danger with their “fight or flight” response. They can propel us to call out to God for help. Some fears highlight deep wounds from the past while others may reveal values and priorities. For example, we may be afraid of losing people we care about or fear the idea of not being in control. When appropriate, fears can help us recognize areas in which we are being called upon to submit to God, are in need of healing and growth, or are simply weaker in.
Anger. Anger can thrust us into action. It can drive us to stand up for righteousness, to stand against oppressors and unrighteousness. God’s greatest anger seems to have been displayed against unrighteous leaders who were hurting those in their care. The prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) display this anger. Jesus was angry with those in the temple who were taking advantage of the people who had come to worship God. It’s apparently possible to be angry and take a stand against unrighteousness without sinning. However, much of our anger is not that noble. Instead, it often reveals the selfishness of our own hearts. I may get angry because my rest was interrupted, or my desires were not met. If we can identify the source of our anger, we can either repent of any unrighteousness and take it to God, or seek His will to discover if there is any further action He would have us take for the sake of righteousness.
Happiness/Joy. Happiness and joy add beauty to our everyday lives. They can lift our hearts and our thoughts to rejoice in the God who has given us such good gifts. These emotions testify to the goodness and beauty of the God who made us.
Love. Yes, I’ve heard that love is a verb, that it’s more than a feeling, but it’s also an incredibly beautiful and powerful feeling. It fills our hearts and propels us to action. It can move us to serve and give of ourselves for the sake of others. “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). Love for God and others can push us to see beyond ourselves and to act to our own detriment for the betterment of someone else. It drives us to keep trying, to keep going when we’re tired and want to give up. It can also reveal where our priorities are. What do we love? Who do we love? To what extent do we love? Is our love misplaced or is it indeed directed to that which God would have us love? Yes, love is many things, including a feeling.
Emotions add depth and meaning to our life experiences. They motivate and propel us to action. They reveal our thoughts, priorities, motivations, and injuries. They remind us to turn our hearts and minds toward God.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of other benefits? Other detriments?
Emotions are Inseparable from Thoughts
Emotions are inseparably linked to our thoughts. There is no such thing as a fact without an emotion. Even colors are connected to an emotion. Yellow makes me feel happy. Red may make us feel either loving or angry (hmm… interesting….). Blue often brings a sense of peace and calm. Numbers are connected to all manner of feelings. Depending upon the nature of the number, we may feel excited or depressed, at peace or anxious.
The whole idea of the thinker or the feeler is, in one respect, a false dichotomy because every feeling has a thought behind it, and every thought is connected to an emotion. The difference, why we make this distinction, may have more to do with how in-tune people are to their thoughts and feelings. Some, like me, may have learned to shove their emotions away and focus more on the intellectual elements. Others may be so fixated on the intellectual that they honestly don’t recognize and/or can’t identify the emotions attached to all that logical thinking. Some people are infinitely more aware of their emotions. They recognize their feelings long before they are able to identify the thoughts behind them. These individuals are not thoughtless or illogical, and their emotions aren’t coming out of nowhere. There is always a thought pattern behind the emotions.
We need both kinds of people. We need those who are more sensitive to their emotions to help those who are more intellectually-minded connect to their feelings. We need the more intellectually-aware people to help bring understanding to those who are more in-tune with their emotions. Thanks be to God that we are different and can help each other in these areas!
Thank God for Emotions
I love to watch my three-year-old daughter, Sophia. Her face is a constant display of ever-changing emotions. Every thought seems to have its own expressions. She hasn’t learned to hide or sensor any of her feelings. Anything she feels, she feels deeply and often to an extreme. As beautiful as this is in all its unfiltered purity, it has also proven a challenge, especially in regard to her anger. Rather than try to squash her anger entirely, we’ve been trying to teach her appropriate ways of expressing it. Nevertheless, watching her full-on expression of emotions is teaching me to be more cognizant and accepting of my own. My husband is as emotional as he is intellectual and has also been encouraging me in this area.
I’ve come a long way in my journey with my emotions but still have a long way to go. I still have a hard time allowing myself to cry or acknowledge when I’ve been hurt. Now that I’m allowing myself to feel anger, the challenge has been to take it to God and manage it in a beneficial way that won’t bring harm (physical, spiritual, or emotional) to others. I thank God for these opportunities to grow, for being with me in this process, and for surrounding me with others who can help and support me. I thank God for giving us both thoughts and emotions.
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Other Articles in this Series:
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*Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay
Great post, Jenny.
Yes, God feels emotions, including jealousy (Exodus) when we turn to other ‘gods’ and place those ahead of him.
I’m sure it is interesting to watch Sophia’s full range of emotional expressions.
As parents, our role is to help our children identify, moderate, and tolerate their emotions . 🤗🌷
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Thank you reading and commenting. I hadn’t thought about jealousy, but that’s true, God does talk about on more than one occasion. I wonder how that translates in a godly way for us. ???
They say you learn the most when you teach something, so maybe that’s another reason God gave us children — to help us learn more through teaching them than we could without them. 🙂
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So true, Jenny. Children also teach us humility…
And, we keep teaching them, even as adults, and they keep teaching us too. 🌷😊
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[…] Other Articles in this Series: The Essential Workings of the Body Part 2 — The Value of the Emotions […]
I always try to remind myself that God gave us emotions but only when we are walking in the Spirit can we assess and properly use them. I like your thought that we can take them to God and they can show how much we have grown!!
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Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂 That’s a good point about how walking in the Spirit helps us better understand and utilize our emotions. It’s good to remember that it’s God who gives wisdom and proper guidance.
This is spot on. So many times we neglect our humanness to remain religious. That’s not God’s desire.
During this time period, I’ve done several workshops to address grieving, fear, anxiety, etc., and so many people in the African American community struggle with expression and knowing it’s OK to feel.
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Thank you for reading, commenting, and helping those who are suffering. This has definitely been a rough stretch for people all around. It is hard, sometimes, to break through this idea that to be a good Christian you are only allowed to feel and express that which is happy, but so freeing to yourself permission to be more than happy. 🙂 Lots of love to you and the community you’re ministering to during this time!