Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Free-Range Emotions

One of the most common conversations in my office begins when a client apologizes for his or her emotions: "I know I shouldn't feel this way, but...."  Our lack of control over the way we feel generates tremendous insecurity and frustration; it also opens a large gap between who we are on the inside and how we want to be seen--strong and independent.  In our productive and technologically-focused culture, emotions are an embarrassment.

The Christian church often makes it even more difficult for a believer to deal with his or her emotions.  I often hear Christian leaders denigrate emotions and caution those in their care and under their authority to regard emotions with suspicion, even to ignore them.   A common "word of wisdom" is to make emotions the "caboose" of our faith "train."  I respectfully disagree.

We have been created by an emotional God in His image.  Our emotions reflect our spiritual DNA, and we need not apologize for them.  We do, however, need to take responsibility for them.  It is not our emotions that are a problem; it is our lack of appropriate responsibility for them that exposes our sin nature and gives our emotions their bad reputation.

I would like to suggest that we take a more constructive approach to our emotions, to offer them to the Lord for His purposes and His glory.  If we see our emotions as a gift from God, we have a powerful tool as we pursue spiritual growth.  Emotions enable us to see and understand what is going on inside of us.  And since our God is most concerned with our hearts, it is our emotions that enable us to connect with God's internal work of sanctification.  Our emotions allow us to to move beyond our performance and behavior and examine our attitudes and desires.  Our emotions also allow us to identify hurts and apply forgiveness so that we can maintain spiritual health and promote growth.  Finally, emotions provide energy and vitality so that we can follow our Master with passion and joy.

The core problem is that our emotions are subject to our sin nature.  While they are given to us by God for His good purposes, we often allow our emotions to drive our most destructive behavior and least kind words.  We also allow our emotions to lead us in selfish, unwise, and unproductive directions.  Emotions that are not placed before the Holy Spirit and not governed by our heads are dangerous, indeed.

In order to receive God's gift of emotion with gratitude and to be wise stewards of our emotions, I think that it is helpful to regard our emotions as free-range chickens: to let them see the light of day, to give them fresh air on a regular basis, but also to monitor and tend to them with care and not allow them to run wild.  May we grow healthy flocks of free-range emotions.