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The Good and Bad of Emotions

I’m on this super fun emotional roller-coaster these days. And by “super fun” I mean “not fun at all.” One minute I’m weeping at a TV commercial and the next minute I’m dry-eyed at a funeral. 


Feelings are sneaky. They have a lot in common with my roommate’s dog: If you don’t keep them firmly in line, they walk all over you. They become domineering and demanding; insisting that your entire life be one big response to their needs. But, like my roommate’s dog, ignoring them doesn’t help either. You can lock that dog in a crate and pretend you don’t hear all his strange noises, but sooner or later you’re going to have to pay for ignoring his cries for attention.

The problem with people is that we either let our emotions run our lives, or we cast them as villains and beat them into submission until they’re unrecognizable. We become over-emotional or anti-emotional, missing out on what God has for us through our feelings.

The over-emotional

Over-emotionalism is funny to us. My friends and I were laughing the other day at the preview for the new season of The Bachelor. It’s just one long clip of a girl sobbing uncontrollably in front of the camera. She never even speaks. Every time she tries her emotions overwhelm her once again. It’s awful and uncomfortable—and hysterical.

Emotions aren’t bad and tears are not sin. But the kind of desperate insecurity that leads a woman to weep over a man she has known one night in the same way she might grieve over losing a child is certainly not the overflow of a heart that is trusting in Jesus. 

Over-emotionalism is essentially the result of a heart without reigns. Proverbs says that the heart is deceitful above all else, and that the Lord will “try the reins” of our hearts. Did you catch that? Our hearts should have reins. You and I should not be led by our hearts. You and I should lead our hearts with wisdom and reason, training them to respond to truth.

Your heart is constantly moving either toward pleasure or away from pain. Not bad instincts, but unfortunately your heart isn’t great at identifying lasting pleasure or understanding true pain.

What your heart calls pleasure, God may call pain. On the other side, what your heart calls pain, God may call pleasure.

Our friends usually care more about avoiding the kind of emotional outbursts that come from hard conversations. While God also cares about our feelings, He is willing to fight through them to grow us. He is downright eager to push on the hard edges of our hearts and mold them into beautiful smooth mirrors reflecting His image.

The anti-emotional

Before you start mocking the people whose tears fall fast and free, make sure you understand that Jesus is a part of that crowd. You may not have noticed, but our God is a fairly emotional guy. He longs for you and I to reflect that.  

An emotionless life is sinful. That’s right. I used the “s” word, and I stand by it. When I first learned that my heart had the capacity for evil, my response was to despise feelings. I didn’t want anything to do with emotions. I would “obey, no matter how I felt.”

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But that’s impossible. Obedience without feeling is a level of disobedience. God cares about our hearts and He longs to redeem our emotions. Feelings matter. Our feelings testify to what we truly treasure.

As Jonathan Edwards said, “Without holy affection there is no true religion; and not light in the understanding is good which does not produce holy affection in the heart … no eternal fruit is good which does not proceed from such exercises … where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing truly divine in that light.”

Somewhere along the way we began to confuse cynicism with a realistic view of the world. We began to see hope as a symptom of the naive; we began to see joy as a disease of foolishly optimistic people. You know how crazy that girl is on The Bachelor? The one who weeps uncontrollably over a guy she’s never known? She’s about as crazy as the person who can stand in front of the glorious truths of the Gospel with a cold and unfeeling heart.

Pray for a heart that is filled with emotion, but guided by the reigns of truth. A heart like that would surely be one after God’s own. 

Fabienne Harford lives in Austin, Texas, where she works on staff atThe Austin Stone Community Church. You can find more thoughts from Fabsat fabsharford.com.  

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