Emotions are the Language of the Soul

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.

10 Warning Signs of Approval Addiction

  1. Your heart sinks when you have to say “no” to something that someone has asked you to do.
  2. You often feel trapped, in a kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” circumstance. Whatever choice you make, you feel guilty.
  3. You are more aware of what other people want than what you want.
  4. You will make your day much harder (often at the expense of those closest to you such as your kids and husband) in order to make someone else’s day a little easier. You draw on the help of those closest to you so that you may go far out of your way to help people you barely know. You tell people your service is “really no problem”, when really you went way out of your way, disrupted your whole day, and even had to call in reinforcement to help cover for you.
  5. When you do an act of service for someone and they seem less than grateful, you either flat-line emotionally or blow up aggressively.
  6. You do a lot of negative or even hateful self talk when you feel you have failed to live up to someone else’s expectation of you.
  7. You lie awake at night obsessing over things you said that may have hurt someone’s feelings, came across wrong, or sounded stupid.
  8. You would not dare say “no” to your boss, even if you dread the extra workload he or she has asked of you.
  9. You are not really sure what you enjoy doing.
  10. You care a lot more about what others think about you than what God thinks about you.

Approval Addiction

I am an approval addict in recovery.

Sometimes, the most difficult addictions to identify are the ones that do not come in the form of pills or needles.

I lived most of my Christian life as an approval addict. I didn’t realize it until it was almost too late.

As an approval addict, my whole sense of worth as a person came from my husband, my church leaders (one of whom is my dad), and a few other key people in my life. My addiction was no fault of theirs.

I spent my evenings devoted to discipleship and outreach. Any spare moment was spent trying to keep up on the house or get the laundry caught up on. I was running myself into the ground, and all for the approval of people.

As our family grew, I was becoming more and more and more tired. I was growing more and more frustrated. I was unable to keep up with the demands that I placed on myself and the demands that I felt others had placed on me.

As my demands grew, my stamina diminished. I would often let people down, and then beat myself up about it. I would forget an important meeting or fail to get the house in order.

The more I tried, the more tired I became and the more tired I became, the more I fell short. The more I fell short, the more I hated myself. The more I hated myself, the more tired I became.

This went on in an absolutely viscous cycle that left me disoriented, unsure of who I really was, and far away from the love that God intended me to experience in Him.

One fateful night, it all came to a screeching halt. My thought life had become so dark, that I was genuinely convinced that everyone would have been better off without me, even my small children. I would not have attempted to end my own life, but I remember calling out to God,

“God, why am I even still here? What good am I doing? Why can’t you just take me home to be with You? I can’t understand why I’m here. I don’t want to be here anymore.” 

I meant it from the darkest depths of my soul.

It was in that moment that I realized that there was something very very wrong with. I realized I needed help. My life was not working for me anymore, and finally the fear of living the rest of my life that way became deeper than my fear of what people would think of me.

Looking back, the night that I realized I desperately needed help was the turning point. The worst night of my life turned into one of the best things that ever happened to me, because out of that darkness, I finally realized that I was not okay.

I began to see a Christian therapist. When I walked into the office for my first visit, I had no idea that those once a week visits would help me to completely turn my life around.

My therapist helped me to identify things about myself that had long been buried under the demands of others and my desperate need for their approval.

They say the biggest step toward recovery is to admit that you have a problem. That was true for me. As soon as I admitted that there was something desperately wrong with me, I took the steps necessary to get help, admit that I had an approval addiction, and start healing.

I began to truly believe in my heart that Jesus already approves of me and that nothing I do or fail to do will change His love for me. I began to enjoy life again. I felt that I had the freedom to say, “no” when people asked something of me. I felt that I had a right to enjoy the things that God placed within me for me to enjoy. I started writing again. I started running again. I started getting out into nature again. And most importantly, during all of these activities, I began to practice the presence of God. No longer did I feel like I had to meet every single need that crossed my path. No longer did I feel a sense of guilt whenever I was not helping someone, sharing the gospel, or engaged in a church event. I began to experience God in every little beautiful detail of life. I began to experience the joy of His presence in my children’s laughter, the sunrise, the smell of rain after a hot spell, the feeling you get in your lungs after a long hard run. I felt Him everywhere and in everything. I never could have regained that sense of myself and that sense of Him if I had not first admitted my approval addiction and sought recovery.

It was not as easy as I make it sound. It seems easier now that I have been practicing my new way of thinking for so long. But at first, it was an uphill battle. My brain was already trained to seek the approval of others. Getting their approval was like a drug. It felt good. I felt I needed it to survive, to feel a sense of purpose. Saying “no” or letting someone down felt bad at first. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was letting everyone in my life down. I felt ungrateful and sometimes even selfish.

But the real act of selfishness had always been my relentless pursuit of approval from people. You see, I was never really doing any of it for them. It was all for me. I wanted them to make me feel like I was worthwhile. I loved the feeling of martyrdom that I got from making a huge self sacrifice in order to serve someone else.

Saying “no” and making time for “self” was really just putting a stop to my drug of choice. I had to stop getting approval in order to really cleanse my mind of this addiction. I knew that at some point in my life, I would go back to serving and helping people as Christ called me to do. But I also knew that during this cleanse, I had to take time away. A sabbatical if you will. An extended Sabbath. I had to stop putting that drug into my system long enough to re-train my brain not to seek the approval of others but to bask in the approval of God, which was unconditional.

So I took an extended period of time in which I did not do much for anyone. I said “no” more often than I said “yes”. With the help of my therapist, I learned to recognize the warning signs of slipping into my approval addiction. When I noticed those signs, I prayed through my emotions to uncover the truth. I did this multiple times a day. At first, it was really difficult. Every part of me cried out for approval from my husband, my extended family, even my kids. It felt like death to deny myself of seeking their approval. But what resurrected out of that death was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

I never imagined that life could feel this good. Even in the tough times, God is there, an everlasting source of peace and the only approval I will ever need.

I have been able to move back into serving again, but it comes from a totally different motive. I noticed that other people’s ungratefulness no longer has an effect on me. When I serve now, it is because I genuinely believe that it is an act of service to God, and something that He has specifically placed on my heart to do. So I am able to do that act of service out of a genuine love for God, and it matters nothing whether anyone else notices or not.

More importantly, however, I do not feel that I need to meet every need that I am made aware of. I do not feel that I need to do everything that everyone else asks of me. My heart does not sink when I decline. Instead, it soars, knowing that I now have the power and the right to decline, and God’s love for me does not change one bit when I do so.

An excellent source for further reading on this subject is The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero.


Faithful are the Wounds of a Friend

Let’s talk about reproof. Yeah, I know, not a very popular topic, but it merits discussion as the Word of God talks about it. I will attempt to answer some common questions about why it is important that a church actively practices biblical reproof.

When should I reprove someone?

Go for restoration, not revenge.

When someone has wronged you, and your heart is right toward that person, reproof is the next step. How do you know if your heart is right in reproving someone? Ask yourself, “Do I want to speak to this person for a sense of revenge and justice? Or do I genuinely care about this individual and want to see her free from entrapment in this particular sin?” If you can honestly answer with the latter, then the next right thing is to go to that person in love. If you attempt to reprove someone out of anger or a need for revenge or the desire to put that person in her place, it is likely to go really really poorly, leaving more hurt feelings and bitterness than before. The goal of reproof should always be restoration and never revenge.

What if that Person does not Respond Well? 

If you have already spent time praying for this person, and you are certain that your motivation in talking to this person is coming out of a love for God and for them as well as a desire to see them grow, change, and benefit, then you have no business worrying about how they will respond. How you reprove someone is your deal. How someone responds to it is their deal. The only time that there is an exception to this general principle is when someone has a stacked history of blowing up in response to loving rebuke. In such cases, perhaps it is better simply to pray for that person. I’m not claiming to be an authority on this. This is just my thought. If you find yourself wronged by someone and with a heart that genuinely has that person’s best interest at heart, but that person has a history of blowing up in the face of loving reproof, I might consider talking to a pastor or elder before you make a decision about what you are going to do.

What if someone reproves me, but I really don’t think I did anything wrong?

This can happen. Perhaps you did something wrong, perhaps you did not. But either way, this person is coming to you saying that you have offended or sinned. The first thing to do is to remain calm. Give the person coming to you the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are coming to you out of love and genuine concern for your well-being. Then ask yourself, “Is there any morsel of truth to what they are saying?” If there is, acknowledge it and commit to bring that area of your life before Jesus. If you believe that what you have done was the right choice, at least commit to praying about it and asking God to search your heart. Always thank the person for being concerned for your well-being and for your spiritual life and growth. Even if this person came to you with an angry and vengeful heart, they will likely be taken aback by your humble response, and you will have helped move the relationship toward restoration.

Lack of Reproof leads to Gossip

Gossip usually doesn’t happen because someone wakes up one day and decides they are going to slander someone and turn people against them for no reason. Gossip usually happens because someone has felt hurt, maybe even violated. It happens because people want to feel validated. They want someone to hear their side of the story and to sympathize with them. It is rarely as malicious as you might think. Gossip usually comes from hurting hearts- hurting hearts that have not been restored to the person who hurt them. When someone is hurt and prays to God for help in forgiveness, makes his heart right toward the person who hurt him, and goes to the person in love, gossip has no chance. It is stamped out before it even begins. A church free of gossip is a beautiful thing. But even when gossip does happen, you can still apply all of these same principles of reproof and go to that person. Otherwise, you will end up gossiping about someone who was gossiping. A bit hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t like confrontation. Why should I bother?

Because if you don’t, Bitterness has opportunity to rule in your heart.

Without active reproof, churches will fall apart as bitterness festers in hearts. Members will come and go, but few will remain and see the fruit that comes from lasting relationships. When people wrong us, we have a few choices. We can try to forget about it and act like it never happened. But even if we forgive the person who hurt us, we will not have the opportunity for a deeper relationship with them, and all of our friendships will remain surface level.

We can let it fester and grow bitter. Now, this is obviously not the right choice, but unfortunately it is the one many people choose because it just sort of feels good to hang on to that resentment. Too often,  people intend to forgive and move on, but they never actually forgive. As much as they intended to forgive….as much as they wanted to forgive….when they hear that person’s name, they cringe. When they see that person in the lobby at church, they look the other way. A person who leaves enough bitterness to fester in his soul will, when once enough people in the church have wronged him, eventually leave and start the whole process over at a new church, thinking there will be better people there when the truth is, the problem was in his heart all along. The only real solution to deal with someone who has wronged you is reproof. Reproof, when done in a biblical manner, restores and deepens relationships, builds trust, and keeps a church  functioning together for the long hall.

“Faithful are the Wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6