We all have feelings that run wild. Some of us are stoics and we don't like to admit our rampant feelings. Whenever one tries to break loose and reveal itself, we squish it down again. Others of us are emoters. We don't just embrace our feelings: our feelings control us.
Both extremes are wrong.
God has designed humanity to have feelings. These feelings are thermostats to the condition of our hearts, to the state of our relationships with God, and to the state of our relationships with each other. Those of us who are stoics are denying how God has made us, and we are refusing to use a valuable tool He has given us.
However, because of the Fall and the subsequent depravity of man, we cannot fully trust our hearts or the feelings that come from them (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). Our emotions will lead us astray if we allow them to control us. Those of us who have a tendency to be controlled by emotion, need to temper that emotion with truth.
So, how do we use emotions correctly?
Identify the Feeling
First, we need to identify the feeling, whether it is anger, hurt, sadness, fear, anxiety, etc. Feelings are no use to us if we do not identify them. These feelings are a thermostat of what is going on around or inside us, or at least, what is perceived to be going on. These feelings are not wrong. However, these feelings can lead to sin. As Paul writes: "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:26-27). Any feeling, if left unchecked and unresolved, can be a tool of the devil to cause us to sin.
So, we need to identify what the feeling is. By doing this, we are slowly bringing that feeling into control of Truth.
Race to the Root
After identifying the feeling, we can then explore why we have that feeling. Feelings do not happen in a vacuum. They come because a situation, whether in the present or in the past, has prompted them. Someone did, said, or insinuated something, or a circumstance happened that affected us in a specific way. This situation prompted in us a feeling and a reaction. If we don't understand the situation, the feeling, and the reaction, we cannot use the tool that God has given us as a thermostat.
Growing up, I would get angry at my siblings a lot. Sure, this is normal. However, I would sin through this anger. I allowed my emotions to control me, instead of using it as a tool. Looking back, I can see that my anger was due to not feeling heard by my siblings. I was the youngest. I wanted to be valued. Because I did not feel heard, I became angry. I would act upon that anger (yell, blame, make their lives miserable, etc.) and sin.
After identifying the feeling, we need to understand the situation (the root) that prompted the feeling.
Weigh the Truth
After identifying the feeling and racing to the root, we need to weigh the truth we are believing. Feelings are thermostats to what we believe. Often times, we are not believing truth (see Jeremiah 17:9 again). Our emotions are responding to a lie that we happen to believe. Other times, our emotions are based upon truth, and they prompt us to act righteously. Either way, the emotion is not the problem. What we believe is the issue.
When I got angry at my siblings, I was believing that my identity and value were based in my siblings' attention. If they listened to me, I would have value. This is a lie. My value and my identity is in Christ.
After we have identified what we are believing, we can then speak truth. This is an essential step. If we are believing a lie, we can preach truth to ourselves, furthering our maturity. If I had followed this process earlier in life, I would have understood my identity in Christ much sooner, and I wouldn't have sinned against my brother and sisters. My emotions wouldn't have controlled me: I would have used them as God designed them.
If we were believing truth, we should act upon our emotions correctly to speak truth to those around us. There is such a thing as righteous anger. But, that is another blog.
No matter if our emotions are based on truth or a lie, we should let our Christian community know what is going on. Even if we are believing a lie, our Christian friends need to know the feelings we are working through, especially if our feeling stems from what someone else has done. This is part of the process of reconciliation.
May we all use our feelings correctly, not stuffing them or allowing them to control us. May we use them as thermostats for what we are believing in different situations so that we can grow in maturity and so that we can build up the Body of Christ.