All my life I have been accused of being dramatic, yet I find it immensely difficult to communicate my emotion. When in the classroom or with a group of friends, I am on. My personality is big in those situations, and yet few people are privy to any of the emotions I feel. The accusation of “being dramatic” is one of those tactics people use to dismiss you and any uncomfortable emotion they might be feeling. And for years, those words worked very well to keep me from communicating anything I might feel. In fact, during my years with my abusive ex-husband, I even affected a monotone to avoid him telling me to stop being dramatic.
So when God reminded me this morning of the time I wrote Him a love letter, and how much that outpouring meant to him, I was surprised. Growing up attending a small parochial school in a Missouri Synod Lutheran school, displays of emotion were frowned upon. One based belief on the intellectual and spiritual interaction with God’s word. Emotionalism was ungodly. But one day, I found myself overflowing with love, the emotional kind, toward my Father in Heaven, and so I wrote Him a love letter. It was such an emotional relief. And this morning, He reminded me of it. He loved it. It moved Him.
And I realized that sometimes, emotion gets a bit demonized in the church and in our relationships today.
And I understand. Emotion is hard to control and messy. Some emotions are ugly to witness and feel. But as I began to think and pray about the topic, I received a few revelations about God’s relationship to emotion.
- God is the creator of emotion. Emotions for us are chemical reactions in the brain. They pervade our whole bodies. We are meant to feel, and feel deeply. It is one reason that God gave us free will. I was told as a young girl that the only way to love God was to obey Him. But that contradicts the idea that we are to love God with our whole hearts, as well as our mind and bodies. Obedience comes out of that love. It does not precede it. The principle metaphor God uses to illustrate the relationship between the Church and himself is as bride and groom. That is a relationship filled with the emotions of desire, passion, love, and longing. Relationships do not get more personal or intimate than that.
- God is emotional. We love Him because He first loved us. Sometimes Christians chop up that word ‘love’ to be stiff and unemotional. But God shows passion, anger, betrayal, and grief. God even describes Himself as love, which among other things, is actually an emotion as well as an action. Jesus wept, and He lost his temper in such a way as would get Him arrested today. We are made in His image and that includes a full contingent of messy emotions. The word, emotional, has come to signify someone who is unsteady. But the Bible characterizes someone as unsteady who is double-minded. To feel deeply is to be fully alive. Ignore your emotions, push them down, eat or drink them away, and they will still be there, waiting for the honor that is due them.
- God is not intimidated by our emotion. Sometimes we get the notion that our emotions are dangerous. If you had an anxious parent, chances are that you learned that your emotions could dysregulate your parent. That was your parent’s problem, not yours or your childhood emotions. Read the Psalms. They are filled with strongly felt and strongly worded emotion. My first forays into acknowledging my feelings came in the presence of the Lord. But even now, when I need to let someone know my feelings about situations or confront them about something that affects me, I wrestle with the courage to do it. So I practice with God. And He is never overwhelmed by my anger, hurt, or frustration, though I am.
4. Emotions are not sinful. They are just emotions. Actions are sinful and thoughts can lead us down a treacherous path but even anger, that unChristianlike emotion is given a pass. Be angry, the proverb says, but do not sin in your anger. Notice there is a necessary separation between emotions and actions. Emotions should have a say and so should your thoughts, in determining what you do. But in the end, it is the Spirit that guides us into all truth. We live a Spirit-led life.
- Emotions don’t have to be fixed. Research has found that the best way to dissipate a strong emotion is to express it. Journaling them keeps us from depression. Emotions aren’t broken, nor are they lying to us. Our thoughts about our emotions lead us astray. The feelings are there to let you know something is wrong, really wrong. We may not come up with the right answer about what that is, but your anxiety, your misplaced anger, your desires arise from the depths in your soul. They are not random, but they are cries for help from your soul. So pull them up from the deep oceans inside you, and show them to Jesus. Only he can bring healing to the wounds that caused those feelings.
God is moved by our emotions, just as we are moved by the feelings of those around us.
That compassion you feel when a friend suffers? God feels that too. That grief you feel at the loss of a loved one? Jesus wept at the loss of a friend. So participate in loving worship on Sundays or any day of the week. Worshiping in spirit and in truth suggests to me that if your hear
t is not in it, it isn’t truthful. Those who decry emotion forget the emotionalism in today’s worship music forget David dancing in the streets of Jerusalem. His wife held his emotion in contempt and was judged for it. Cry your heart out if you are sad. To be authentic is to give voice and honor to who you really are, what you really feel. God gave you a voice. Use it.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 1 John 4:7
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
Some useful thoughts on the subject: