Apprentice Lesson 4: We often go about emotions the wrong way.

If you were hanging on for the next blog, sorry about the delay.  Contrary to the tricky situation in my last blog, I’ve been kept very busy for the last few weeks.  I found this quite a hard thing to write, but I still think it’s very important.  Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Emotional One.

Another apprentice dubbed me this a few months into the year.  And I don’t disagree with this title.  Out of the ten apprentices that year, I am the most emotionally volatile.  I cried a lot last year, and literally jumped up and down, gesticulated wildly and beamed at good news.  I am probably one of the least restrained when it comes to expressing how I feel.  I’ve known that I am a ‘feelings’ person for a long long time.  Since I was a young child, feeling things deeply, and mulling over many things I heard.  As a teenager, writing lots of poetry about how I was feeling about virtually anything.  And still now, feeling things deeply. Tearing up in films, influenced into a certain mood lasting for hours from just listening to one song… You get the idea.

And I noticed early on that I was different compared to the others.   Whether there was something wrong with me.  I often felt like I hurtled through the day, like a comet with rapidly varying energy levels.  The slightest thing, like a remark or a song on Spotify, would either make me so gloriously happy, or so hopelessly sad.

And I thought that I had no control over this whatsoever.  That I couldn’t help how I felt.  And this became particularly apparent when being given feedback on Bible studies and talks.  Even if they went fine, I’d still take the criticism to heart – which were pointers to help me improve – and cry about it.

And it took me about six months to realize (with the help of one of the female student workers) that there were many lies (which I readily believed) floating around in my head.  Because I didn’t evaluate these thoughts in the first place, I let these lies become like truths.  And these fake truths provoked feelings which had little or no foundation in truth:

I was only accepted onto the scheme because the student ministers felt sorry for me.

I was only accepted onto the  scheme because I was a token person from outside the church who hadn’t been a student there.

That study I just led was rubbish – God, you must have made a mistake in putting me here.

[Insert name]’s talk on the same passage was so much better than mine.  I should just throw in the towel now.

The church don’t want me to stay here after the year’s done – why would they want me to stay?  I’m of no use to them!

I’m rubbish – how can God ever use me for Your work?

People must think I’m so weak, because of my tendency to cry.  No one understands how I feel.  How will I ever be taken seriously… ever!?

And it’s not like I’ve stopped thinking these things now.

During the last Bible study I led, I literally had to push aside really negative thoughts and preach to myself silently in my head that it was helpful for my co-leader to interject, that God is at work through His word DESPITE my weaknesses, and members of my group are supportive.

When I spend long periods of time without speaking to friends, I start to think that they aren’t really my friends, they’re tired of listening to me and want to distance themselves.  Especially if I send them texts or messages or write letters.  And there’s no response.

When I’m worried or anxious, it still takes me a while to turn to God in prayer.  Before I do, there’s often a deluge of negative thoughts and anxiousness which drown my mind in panic, which I feel like I push my way through to gain perspective.

Naturally, my feelings dictate how I think.  They influence my thought processes and actions without even realizing it.

When I realized this was an issue, I started to be vocal about this struggle I was having.  A handful of people recommended reading Emotions by Graham Beynon.  I hesitated for a while.  Then, when I realized I needed to do something about it, I went home to my parents’ house, and read a chapter a day as part of my quiet times.

Before I started reading, I thought it would tell me that emotions and being emotional was bad (For a long time, I assumed all conservative Christians deemed all feelings as unimportant, unecessary, and even BAD, and not to be trusted).  I thought I’d have to change who I was and pretend to be someone I wasn’t.  I thought the book was for people who struggled to express their emotions, rather than those who constantly feel propelled by them.  But I was wrong.  I wrote a review after reading it, and was blown away by how helpful and Biblical it was.

God created our feelings.  They are part of our design and make-up.  And therefore, our feelings matter to God as much as our thoughts and our actions.  But like our thoughts and actions, our feelings can be sinful.  And our attitudes are ultimately shaped by our worldviews.  What we think about life, our world and God.

Because feelings are a natural outworking of our attitudes, they can be sinful or pleasing to God.  So if we have a sinful attitude about something, then our feelings which stem from it will therefore be sinful.  Or equally, if we have the right attitude, our feelings which stem from that right attitude are good and right feelings.  And our feelings help us decipher what we think of ideas we hear. They indicate how much we believe something we hear, or whether we have heard it properly at all.  Especially when it comes to God’s truth.

So when I cried after being critiqued for a talk, bible study or just generally, it was often for the wrong reasons.  Usually it was because I was proud, and it hurt being told that I needed to improve.  Or I was being self-pitying: despairing that I’d messed up and, oh I’m so sinful, and wondering how God could ever use me.

And I realized that I never cried for the right reasons.  Reasons springing from God’s glorious truths.  Yes, I’ve felt elated because of God’s grace and love, but only a few times in my Christian life have I ever shed tears over my rebellion against God, and how all of us are in great trouble because of this rejection.

And gradually, because of these new ideas, I changed the way I handled my feelings.

I didn’t stop being expressive.  I still am.  And I revel in being more emotional than others – which is probably not a good thing when every human being is emotional.  I still cry, but far less.  I’ve managed to control the tears a lot better.

Now, when I feel like I want to cry, my mind blunders through the following process:

1) Oh no, [insert sad thing] has happened.  I feel sad.

2) Stop.

3) Why do I want to cry?  Is it for a good godly reason?  Or am I being self-pitying, feeling frustrated or that my pride has been wounded?  Oh yeah, actually, I want to cry because of a sinful reason.

4) Ok, woah.  Swallow, sniff.  Hold back the tears.  Yep, especially as there are men in the room, and women who feel awkward around crying people.

5) Breathe.  God, please help me not to cry.  Thank you that You care, and please help me see things in perspective!  Preach the truth to myself.  Preach it sister etc!

You may have noticed that at the end of the last three posts, I’ve applied what I’ve learnt to the church today, particularly in this country.  And I’m going to do the same thing here.

I don’t think I’m generalizing when most Christians don’t have a similar melancholic temperament to mine.  And I’ve felt that keenly over the years.  I remember bursting into tears when I was around at someone’s house from church at university, because I was worried about my dissertation.  There were no men there, but only one out of five women there tried to comfort me.  How outrageous! I’m so relieved that one of them sat with me and reassured me for about three hours and passed me tissues.

But it often makes me question if this British stiff-upper lip attitude is godly and good.  Yes, it’s not good to force people to be overly emotional, or act in a way not consistent with their personality.  But still.

I reckon there’s a tendency among Christians who have such an emphasis on examining God’s word, to value those who are more rational, rather than those who are more emotional.  And also to typecast people into either rational or emotional.  But that’s wrong! We’re all rational and emotional.  We all think and feel.  There are extremities, but God thinks this spectrum is beautiful.  He created us to be different from each other, but in his image.  We are made and designed to feel.

If you’re scared of your emotions, or feel uncomfortable about them, don’t be!  Ask for wisdom, and remember that God is sovereign over what we feel.  And if you think like you should feel more, don’t feel pressured to.  Speak to another more mature Jesus follower about it.

And as hearing God’s word is the most important thing, and the bedrock of our relationship with Jesus, let that shape how you feel.  Feast on God’s truths.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always be happy.  On the contrary, it can mean you’ll feel sad.  And let’s not eschew watching films, or listening to sad music or enjoying culture and art.  Mediums with messages contrary to God’s, and which can often evoke ungodly feelings.

But God speaking to us should be the voice rising above our culture’s clamour for our affections.  We must let His voice shape our worldview, thus allowing Him to be Lord of our feelings.

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