I want to start this post by pointing out that nowhere in the Bible does it say that we need to take our emotions captive. And yet, the scripture that tells us to take our thoughts captive is often misinterpreted to mean just that. The reason why lies in the fact that we are rarely taught to differentiate our emotional life from our thought life. Though they are two sides to our soulish coin, the difference between thoughts and feelings is profound.
You see, we don’t choose our emotions. We can choose what we do with them, but emotions arise from bodily reactions to events. In fact, I am not sure we can control our emotions, though we can surely control what we do with them, at least most of the time. We often avoid them because we cannot control them easily. But our emotions, though they feel quite terrible sometimes, are not broken. We don’t have to fix emotions. We just have to feel them.
Our thoughts are a different matter. The problem stems from the fact that we typically have emotions and automatically attach thoughts to it. We commonly mistake how we feel for how we think. Once we attach a thought to a feeling, our minds and bodies run with the misinterpretation and a downward spiraling pattern will emerge.
Before I give you a specific example, I want to call attention to how the Old Testament characterizes the mind. The Bible refers to the mind as both reins and kidney. The metaphor of reins is an easy one to parse. After all, where you point the reins, the horse will go. The directions your thoughts take is the direction your life will follow.
Kidneys are a little less obvious until you realize that they filter the bloodstream. Our minds filter our experiences in the same way. Kidneys are supposed to filter out the waste, and so are our minds. But when the kidneys don’t work, we get toxic. When our thought filters don’t work, we get toxic, both to ourselves and others.
An emotion that many struggle with today is fear. Fear is a basic human emotion that I think is clearly universal. Notice I don’t say the word ‘anxiety’. Anxiety is what happens when this primal emotion of fear is connected to a thought pattern. Typical thoughts that arise when people feel afraid run something like this: Something bad is going to happen. If I fail, no one will love me. I am all alone. I’m not safe.
Now if you ask a person suffering from anxiety how they feel, these kinds of statements often surface. But here is the misinterpretation. Those are not feelings. None of those are emotions. Those are thoughts.
Our minds want to make connections. In fact, part of the important job our brains must accomplish is to connect experience with meaning. We experience an emotion and our brain roots around until it unearths a statement that matches the experience. In the case of anxiety, the thoughts usually project some dire consequence in the future. The problem is that rarely are those thoughts true, which is why they need to be taken captive.
If our misinterpreting thoughts are not taken captive, then a loop between our minds and bodies becomes established over time. The longer the loop makes its circuit, the harder it is to interrupt the false internal narrative.
So let’s take the first fear thought that usually surfaces. The idea that something bad is going to happen reinforces the original emotion of fear. It actually adds to it the added emotion of dread. If something bad is going to happen and you don’t know exactly what that is, then you are in a dire predicament indeed. Obsessive thought patterns begin as a result of this loop as your brain tries to find solutions to prepare for the unknown future catastrophic event.
So we try to take our thoughts captive. But here is the kicker. Unless you understand the underlying emotion and separate it from the thought, you are going to find it a rough haul. I used to try to memorize scripture to combat my emotions, not realizing that I was not making the best use of the power of God within me. I was fighting the wrong battle!
The key is to understand how emotion works. Emotion is a visceral reaction to stimuli that is sometimes conscious and sometimes completely unconscious. Some days I feel sad. Now I have a lot to feel sad about. Instead of jumping to a conclusion about why I feel sad, I accept the emotion without judgment. I don’t have to afraid because emotions come and go like the tides. Sometimes my sadness arc is short. Thirty minutes of allowing myself to be grieved and it is done for the day.
Other days sadness sticks around for a while. I know that for me, hormones influence my emotions as does physical health, lack of sleep, or too much sugar. I can accept the fact that sadness is a normal experience for humans in a fallen world.
But sadness turns into a lengthier depression if I connect a negative thought to it. My life is a wreck. Everything is a mess. I’m not worthy of love. I’m being punished for my mistakes. Those thoughts can seem true in a blue moment. And the spiral starts.
Taking each thought captive requires the ability to dispute those thoughts. If you can separate your emotions from your thoughts, then you can weed out the negative thoughts with any number of techniques. For me, prayer works. I submit each thought to God and He pretty much points out the lie in each one. My life isn’t a wreck. He sees me as justified and whole. I am not only worthy of love as His daughter, I am deeply loved by Him and any number of people. I am forgiven, and God has taken my punishment on Himself.
For my husband, disputation works well. He uses his logical mind to weed out the lies because the lies that pollute our minds are pretty obvious. When anxiety hits him, he thinks about the fact that nobody knows if something bad is going to happen or not. He doesn’t know the future and therefore, can’t really predict it. He isn’t alone. He is safe at the moment.
And once you begin to dismantle the thought structures threatening to send you down the river of endless fear and regret, then your emotions become less frightening. I feel sad becomes an observation. If you treat yourself with some compassion and simply express the truth of your feeling, then you will find that it dissipates pretty easily. But if you take that fear or that grief and turn it into a self-denigrating idea or a threatening statement, you have just made an agreement with the enemy of your soul.
Our fallen minds naturally gravitate towards the negative. But the power of the Holy Spirit in us comes with the promise of a sound mind. We no longer have to go on the neurological merry-go-round. Emotional health does not mean that we only feel good things. Emotional health means that we can be compassionate towards ourselves at the same time we discern the truth from a lie.
Not sure if it is a thought or an emotion? Look it up on this list of emotions!
If you have not read this Christian classic, you are missing a weapon in your arsenal!
Have a kid who struggles with their thought life? Joyce Meyer has one for children too!
Want something more specific? This book is a primer for detaching those thoughts and emotions.