There is an illustration of a train, which anyone who grew up in western evangelical society has probably heard more than once. That train has obedience as the engine, facts as the middle car, and emotions as the caboose. This tells us that we are simply to obey. Our obedience is backed up by facts, and then feelings, the caboose, will magically follow. At least, that’s what I always thought. The only problem was that the feelings never seemed to follow. My life consisted of two cars…..the engine of obedience and the caboose of facts. There was no room in my life for emotions. I prided myself on being an intellectual, a philosopher, an apologist. I didn’t need emotions. Emotions were not to be trusted. They were fleeting, irrational, and would lead me astray. Besides, if I really were to pay attention to my emotions, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to handle it.
Through a series of events, a perfect storm so to speak, Jesus forced me to acknowledge a part of my being that had long been neglected- my feelings. In the face of pain so deep I could not ignore it, I came to realize that feelings are not just a nuisance to be stuffed and ignored, but an integral part of what it means to be human. I realized that I was made in the image of a personal and emotional God, and that this very personal God wanted to know me. But how could I open up my heart and emotions to God, when I didn’t even know how to look at them myself?
Emotions are the language of the soul. With them, we connect to ourselves, and to God. Emotions have been given a rather negative connotation in Western Society. We hear that word, and we immediately think of verses such as Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” And we do not apply the context of the rest of the Word such as the Lord’s answer to Hagar’s desperate emotions in the desert, David’s deeply emotional cries to the Lord in the Psalms, or Jesus himself as He wept and cried out to the Father. We take verses such as Jeremiah 17:9 out of context of the rest of the Bible and wrongly conclude that our emotions are not important to God.
The fact is, Western Christianity has done a very poor job of communicating the importance of emotions. While it is true that we are not to be led around by our emotions, being tossed about by them as a rickety raft by the waves of the sea, we are also not to ignore them. They are not to lead us, but we are to acknowledge them and care for them. We are to present them to God in order to hear from Him. Our emotions are an essential part of our communication to the God of the universe. He did not create us with emotions by mistake. Emotions were not a part of the curse at the fall. Rather, emotions were present from the beginning, and they were good, and they were a means of communication and connection to God. But somehow, in Western Christianity, we have made emotions themselves out to be the enemy, especially negative emotions. In doing so, we deny ourselves a vital part of the human experience. And not only that, but we leave ourselves hollow and empty. When we ignore our feelings, we are left with nothing more than what we can do or produce. It is this very type of performance oriented life that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. When we have no value for ourselves in Christ apart from what we can do for Him, we become harsh and critical toward ourselves, judging ourselves based on our performance. When we treat ourselves that way, we will always treat others that way as well. Thus, not taking care of our emotional needs leaves us empty, hollow, and often harsh human beings. I believe this has greatly contributed to the negative perception of Western Evangelicals. We are guilty of being a “get things done” group of people, thinking that things like emotions and feelings merely get in the way of getting God’s work done. When in reality, God wants to use our feelings and emotions to draw us closer to Him, to move us out of our brains only and into our hearts with Him. He wants to connect with us emotionally, in a way that is so dynamite that everyone around us sees our love for God and others. People feel love in our presence when we are connected to God this way.
It is possible, then, to devote our entire lives to God’s work, and to completely miss God Himself. All the while, turning people away from the gospel with our harsh and critical natures which will eventually become too difficult to hide.
When we pay attention to our feelings, not being tossed about by them, but bringing them before God in communication with Him, we will experience revolutionary change, heartfelt love for Jesus and others, and a sense of wholeness in Him that cannot be shaken.
It is a time for a revival in Western Christianity. We need to be shaken out of our performance oriented religion and into emotionally charged, heartfelt communication with God as He intended when He created us as emotional beings. We need to do away with the negative connotations that being emotional makes us less rational or trustworthy, and accept the truth that being emotional is a vital part of the human experience, and a vital part of our connection with God.
End Note Citation: These themes and ideas were planted in my heart by Peter and Geri Scazzero and their Emotionally Healthy Spirituality ministry.