I was raised to handle emotions very differently. My dad is a firm believer that a good sweat can remedy any funk or fever, while my mother preaches the restorative power of crying it out. Whether or not these theories are backed by science is completely irrelevant; the history of my lineage whole-heartedly believes that when you’re feeling funky, you just need to either sweat it out or cry it out. You can guess which one I gravitate toward in times of emotional distress.
Any time I feel an overwhelming surge of feels that I can’t quite articulate, my mother insists that I just need a good cry. Bad day at work? Cry it out. Confused? Let ‘em flow. Frustrated? Don’t fight it. Impending existential crises? have a good cry. Crying has always been likened to vomiting— once you get it out and you’ll feel better. Ew? Yes. True? Also yes.
Thus, I was raised to believe that it is my God-given prerogative as a woman to cry it out. My mother coined these emotional occurrences “feeling like a woman” and was not shy at all to announce to family and friends that I seemed off because I was simply “feeling like a woman.” Is this phrase horrifying? Yes. Is it politically incorrect? Probably. But she’s southern and a mama. So say somethin’ bout it.
Whether or not it has to do with my gender or hormones or the fact that I’m a feeler on the Myers Briggs or whatever else, I have always appreciated feeling the freedom to cry it out for no reason whatsoever. I have always felt the permission to feel whatever feel was there and to purge it through tears. Crying it out is not necessarily a cure all, but this frequent prognosis communicated to me that my emotions are normal. The compassionate nonchalance of my mother communicated a few things: Feels are part of life, but they do not get to have power over me, and the certainly do not get to ruin the event or my day. In short, I’m not a slave to how I feel but I had darn well better acknowledge it and feel, or cry, it out.
The purpose of the To Steward series is to try to get some practical action steps for loving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we read that verse, it sounds great… but I’ll speak for myself, I haven’t the slightest clue how to practically do these things. I’m realizing that to love the Lord with my heart, soul, mind, and strength, is to steward each of them well. To identify what they are and how each plays itself out on my day to day. Last week we talked about how to steward our gifts and personalities, which I feel are part of our souls—what makes us who we are. Today is about our hearts and stewarding our emotions well.
As we consider what it means to steward our emotions, there are a four things to keep in mind.
Emotions are given to us by God and God feels too
We are made in his likeness (Gen. 1:27) and God is a feeler. We see him feel compassion, anger, sadness, despair, joy, delight and more. To feel is not only normal, but in a way to connect with God on an emotional level, experiencing (to some degree) emotions that He has also experienced. And since we have a high priest who was made like us in every respect (Heb. 2:17) and therefore is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, we can approach him with our emotions confidently (Heb. 4:15-16).
Responding vs. Reacting
There is a difference between reacting to an emotion and responding in an emotion. There is a difference between feeling something and operating out of that. I can feel irate on the highway, but that does not mean that I am bound to respond from that place, speeding by flippin’ birds. Scripture addresses this in Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” There is a distinction between feeling angry and responding in anger. We can feel afraid, but operate in courage (cue: Daniel, David, JESUS for crying out loud). We can feel anxious, but be at peace like David in Psalm 23. It’s a matter of acknowledging the emotion and not letting it take control.
Feeling vs. Fixating
It’s important to recognize that our feelings do not have power over us and operate from that place. “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). There are certain things that trigger anxiety and sadness in me, one of them being grey skies (seasonal affective disorder is super cool y’all). Can I tell you that I am so tired of looking at a weather forecast and writing off a week before it’s even started? I can feel blue on those days and still know that sadness does not define me. Likewise, I can feel anxious, and not be afraid to feel anxious, and still simultaneously recognize that it is just an emotion. I know that it is easier said than done, and I know that I am not a doctor, and, for whatever it’s worth, I do believe in the power of medical intervention when needed, but as one who has battled sadness for years I can say from experience that I believe in the power of renunciation too. What is this you ask? It sounds like this, “I see you sadness, anxiety, worry…. I see you trying to act like you’re the boss. I see you and feel your presence, and I am not afraid of you. You do not have power over me, you do not define me, and you sure as heaven are not about to spoil my day. I have hope (Heb. 6:18), peace (1 Pt. 4:7), and joy (Ps. 30:5) in spite of your presence. You do not get to dictate my day. So if you think for a hot second that you are steering this ship, BYE FELECIA! You call no shots here.”
Feel free to get sassy with your feels if they are trying to take you down. If nothing more, it might lighten the mood. If in Christ we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37) then we need not fear the feels. Our circumstances and emotions do not define us. It’s important first to think on what is true (Phil. 4:8), then acknowledge the emotions. Feel them out. Put them in their proper place and go about your business.
Give yourself permission to feel. One of the most common things for people to do is to stuff their emotions (hello, this is my knee jerk). Whether it’s to function or save face, it is not a good long-term solution. Be free to feel. If you aren’t sure what you feel, I highly recommend writing or talking it out with a trusted friend or journal. “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33) so take that to the bank. Feel it out, process what you feel, and let others into that process. It’s unrealistic, and annoying if we are being honest, to think that Christians should be happy all the time. Showing people Jesus is not saying don’t have emotions, but rather teaching them how to navigate the emotions as they come. How to steward them well.
So how do you steward your emotions? Do you feel enslaved to them? Do you feel power over them?