Emotions often get a bad rap, especially in the church. Have we forgotten that God invented emotions? What if they are actually a gift, purposed to draw us closer to him and lead us towards living in wholeness?
If so, shouldn't we seek to understand and appreciate them more, rather than dismiss them as irrelevant or untrustworthy?
Here are five commonly held beliefs about emotions that at the very least, should be examined more closely.
Emotions are deceptive and cannot be trusted
Christians seem to have built an entire theology around the words in Jeremiah Chapter 17, verse 9 'The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?'
It is often quoted when advising people on decision-making, or when someone is expressing vulnerability in their emotions.
What seems to be missed though, is that this verse talks about the heart without God. Sure, the heart and the emotions it produces can be deceitful, but only from the places where there are unhealed wounds or unmet needs; the places we have not allowed God's love and light to enter.
The thing is, emotions are often a good starting point in identifying what is going on inside of us. They are like arrows pointing us towards wounds, needs or places of passion and purpose in our heart. By acknowledging our emotions and digging a little deeper, we are able to identify where our feelings are coming from.
Painful, difficult or unpleasant emotions can reveal certain wounds or needs in our heart. Once exposed, we can give our hearts what they need, rather than produce dysfunctional behaviours as a result. Emotions can also help us make good decisions (contrary to popular belief) or discover what we were made for.
When your heart is connected to Love, it is okay to pursue what brings you joy and peace, or stay away from what produces a lack of peace; in fact, these can actually be effective signposts towards your purpose!
Emotions are either bad or good
We tend to categorise emotions as bad or good, positive or negative, destructive or constructive. The danger in assuming that certain emotions are bad, is that we will attach shame to 'negative' emotions like jealousy, anger, sadness or loneliness. Shaming ourselves for experiencing a negative emotion will never treat the cause, as emotions are merely symptoms of what is going on in our heart.
If we can see all emotions as gifts to help us understand what is going on inside us, we will avoid falling into shame and be empowered to move beyond our hurts, as well as getting our needs met in healthy ways. Jealousy for example, may simply reveal a belief in us that who we are is not enough, a lie stemming from wounds of rejection.
Acknowledging jealousy without attaching shame to it will enable us to see where it has stemmed from, and therefore deal with the wound and open our heart to what it needs to move on and be free.
Being 'emotional' is a sign of weakness
In many cultures, including Australian culture, we are expected to 'have it all together'. We instinctively apologise for crying in front of people, hiding our tears in shame. We learn from a young age to put on a smile and pretend to be okay, even when we're crying inside.
People are applauded for being 'strong' when they are able to 'soldier on' through difficult times, or labelled as 'not coping' when their frailty is displayed visibly.
What if I told you vulnerability is strength? Being someone who is able to fully experience and acknowledge grief and joy, and everything in between, takes courage and strength. It means actively staying connected with your heart and embracing vulnerability. This is not weakness at all, but a sign of strength and emotional health.
If I acknowledge and allow myself to feel pain, I will become out of control and ruled by my emotions
Many of us believe that the best way to deal with pain is to ignore it, for fear that we will be swept away in its clutches if we allow ourselves to feel it.
However, it's actually when we don't allow ourselves to acknowledge or validate our pain, or when we try to bury it, that we become out of control and captive to our emotions. If we choose to numb ourselves from our feelings, we might feel that we are in control, but we actually become slaves to unhealthy and destructive ways of coping.
Acknowledging our pain does not mean that we roll around in it for the rest of our days feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead it brings freedom, opening the door to healing by connecting us to our heart and what it is crying out for.
We can then allow God to flood these places with his transforming love. When we stay connected to our heart, in sickness and health, we are able to remain grounded, rather than living in fear of and therefore being ruled by our changing emotions.
Come to Jesus just as you are (but leave all your pain and struggles at the door)
One of the most common phrases to hear from the front of a charismatic church is something along the lines of; 'Forget about the things you're struggling with, or how you might be feeling, and just worship God.' Now, I understand the heart of this to be that God is worthy of our praise, no matter what our circumstances are, and I believe this to be true.
However, its message seems to be saying that in order to worship God, you must disregard your feeling that you cannot worship God from a place of feeling broken.
I don't believe this is true. God wants authenticity from us. He says 'Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest' (Matthew Chapter 11, verse 28). He also says that 'He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds' (Psalm Chapter 147, verse 3).
If we want comfort, we have to offer him our broken heart. If we want rest, we have to bring him our exhaustion. He is the God of the beautiful exchange but can only give us his wholeness when we offer him our brokenness. He is close to the broken-hearted, but only when we allow him to be close and invite him into our pain.
Bonnie loves all things old-fashioned, exploring new places, coffee with friends and being with her family. She is passionate about broken hearts and relationships being restored through the power of vulnerability and honesty with God and others. Bonnie has a Bachelor of Humanitarian and Community Studies and a Master of International Public Health, and hopes to work in developing countries one day. ‘Bonnies Blooms’ is her recent adventure, remarkable florist culminations of bush flowers.
Bonnie Dowie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bonnie-dowie.html
Bonnie loves travelling to experience and understand new cultures, beautiful things (especially flowers), coffee with friends and being with her family. She deeply values authenticity and is passionate about building meaningful community where people feel a sense of belonging and genuine love. Bonnie Dowie’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bonnie-dowie.html