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Posts Tagged ‘emotions’


When I taught thru the Westminster Confession of Faith I had to spend some unscheduled time on the topic of emotions when we got the subject of impassibility. The subject of emotions among Christians is often fraught with danger. I was glad to see the release of Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith. They are coming from the same general theological tradition that I am. The timing was also good as I go through an extended season of loss personally and professionally. The last year has been very difficult and a swirling mess of emotions. Or, to borrow their metaphor a paint can of emotions that create a unique color in my life.

The book is divided into three sections: Understanding Emotions, Engaging Emotions, and Engaging the Hardest Emotions. They laid a good foundation for engaging those most pesky of emotions in the early chapters of the book. The book ends with an appendix on the doctrine of Impassibility and what they mean by saying God feels.

Emotions can often get the best of us. They seem to sneak up on us, and control us. They can get out of control as well. It is important for us to understand God’s purpose in giving us emotions. This is addressed in the Introduction and the first section.

“… we hope three different kinds of people pick up this book. First, we are writing for those whose emotions tend toward extremes. … Second, … if emotions baffle you. … Finally, we are writing to you if you want to love and care for people whose emotions, for one reason or another, have them over a barrel.”

Each of us probably find ourselves in at least one of those categories, if not more.

Their initial premise is that emotions are a gift, essential for how we bear God’s image. Jesus, as God Incarnate experiences emotions as God and man. He alone among us lived in perfect relationship with emotions. We see Him expressing sorrow, anger, compassion and more. These emotions, unlike ours, are not in control but under control. So, as they lay out the scope of the book it isn’t “about how to change our emotions but to bring them wisely to God and other people.” In this sense there are shades of Ken Sande’s Relational Wisdom which focuses on God-awareness & engagement, other-awareness & engagement, and self-awareness & engagement.

The authors want us to know that even bad emotions aren’t always or necessarily bad. Jesus wept. Jesus was angry. “God made us to respond to things as they actually are.” And in a fallen world there is plenty to be sad and mad about, sometimes at the same time. We were made in His image to see the world as He sees it, and respond as He responds. Unfortunately as sinners, we don’t see it as He does, nor respond as He does. Nevertheless emotions are a gift and like all other gifts can be misused.

They then move into what emotions actually are. Philosophically they are generally understood as arising from the body or the mind. Theologically, however we are a body-soul union. Such theories don’t quite fit. They involve our bodies (bio-chemical) as well as our thoughts. But emotions do communicate what we value or love. They function as signpost revealing what is important to us.

“Your emotions are always expressing the things you love, value and treasure, whether you understand them or not.”

Emotions also help us relate or connect to other people. Because they reveal what we value they communicate who we are. If you want to know what a person loves see what makes them sad or angry.

Emotions also motivate us into action, to put our values into action. They are also an expression of worship, the valuing of God Himself. Our love for God should shape all else that we love.

With all that in mind they enter into the complexity of our emotions. They don’t enter “single file.” They are streams of color filling the can of be base that create a single color. When I worked at Ace we’d get the right base and set the machine to put in the right amount of each main color to create the precise color you want to stick on your wall. Except, of course this is not precise and you don’t necessarily want the world to see.

Sadly, people oversimplify emotions. Some ignore them and focus on action, while others obsess over them and find someone to blame. This fails to identify emotions that are helpful, if unpleasant, and those that aren’t or are expressed in destructive ways. “Mixed emotions are the right response to a mixed world.” Jesus experienced both sadness and anger with respect to the death of Lazarus.

They move into the bodily aspects of our emotions. We have bodily reactions: chemical surges, skin changes and more. Our bodies are messengers of emotions too. Our soul communicates through the body God has given us. Made good by God, our bodies do experience corruption due to Adam’s sin, and don’t always work properly, including emotions. They mention that they can be too slow or too quick to respond, too long or too short of a time as well.

“Your body is the vehicle through which the passion of your soul flows.”

The shift into the process of connecting or relating with others through emotions. This is the sharing of the heart, and emotions flow from the heart and all that it loves. This is not about changing the other person, but discovering who they are. Some of what we discover will need to be forgiven, but love covers these things even as it prays for change.

We don’t change our emotions. Emotions are instinctual. We “listen” to them and take that message to heart. We listen to what we love and how we love it and that is where our repentance needs to be. Faith won’t grant us control over our emotions.

“Rather than selecting our emotions on a whim off a menu of ways to feel, God gave us emotions that are actually designed not to change unless what we love changes or what is happening to the thing we love changes.”

Change happens by changing what we love, and that happens as we engage or emotions. This is the second part of the book. They warn us to avoid the two extremes: letting emotions run everything or ignoring them completely. You don’t emotionally vomit each time you feel something, letting it all hang out. Neither do you stuff them until you implode. To engage them is to identify them, examine them, evaluate them and act. One problem they seemed to over look is that when we are highly emotional, it is difficult to evaluate due to flooding- we stop thinking and acting rationally because the amygdala takes over for instinctual action. But we can do this after the fact and begin to address our loves as necessary.

We then begin to engage God with our emotions, pouring out our hearts to Him. Talk about the strongest emotions in the mix. They also address why God is trustworthy to talk to about our emotions. As we do this we are able to bring our emotions into our relationships in a more healthy way. We begin to be more aware of other’s emotions as well. We talk together about what we were each feeling during a conflict: “I was scared because other’s hoarded the items we we didn’t have in sufficient quantity. The lack of control made me feel angry, and then left alone due to what I thought was a lack of support or concern on your part.” It is a sharing of what you learned in the earlier “steps”. You can also talk about how to begin doing things differently, the loves that need to change.

“Therefore, as a mixed person, living in a mixed world, with other mixed people, you may well respond to the complexities of the people and situations around you with complicated and mixed emotions.”

The next two chapters are on nourishing healthy emotions and starving unhealthy ones. It is much like vivification and mortification when we speak of sanctification. They begin by pointing us to the means of grace, so the parallel continues. The Scriptures also give us examples of a healthy way to express negative emotions, lament for instance. There is also a good emphasis on corporate worship as a place to express emotions in a healthy way. In terms of putting unhealthy emotional patterns to death they address the lies we often believe causing us to spill or stuff them.

“Instead of developing an either-or perspective on the world, develop a both-and perspective. There are absolutes in God’s universe. But our experience is sandwiched by both-ands. So reject black-and-white thinking. More often than not, it obscures truth rather than fortifies it.”

Inside Out: about a child learning about their emotions.

In the final section on managing the hardest emotions they address fear, anger, grief, guilt and shame. I found their interaction with these to be quite helpful, even though they were not long. In each chapter they walk you through their engagement process. The chapter on anger was more helpful to me and the questions that have nagged at me for the last couple of years: discerning righteous from unrighteous anger. Seeing grief as loss of connection was very helpful for me as I go through a season of loss. I’m losing my connections with my childhood as older family and extended family members pass away.

In the final chapter they address our eternal state. We will no longer experience negative emotions. Nor emotions negatively. But, they argue, we will remember the pain and sorrow, and not just the good God worked from them. We see this in Jesus, who is known by His scars, as Michael Card sang. Jesus’ trials and suffering were memorialized not white-washed. Our tears matter to God who stores them in a bottle. We won’t lament, but we will remember.

As I noted above, the book ends with an appendix on Impassibility and emotions. They develop the distinction between passions an affections. God values things too, and His affections are a response to their circumstances. But they don’t control or change Him, like they can control or change us. I used to work at a men’s shelter and heard many stories of how tragedy changed men, negatively. God’s affections reflect His unchanging character. His affections are important if He is to be a God who relates to His people or just another mute idol. Or a robot.

“God is energetically enthused and emotionally invested in creation by his own free will and consistent choice, but God’s emotional life does not compromise his character or change his essence.”

I found this to be a very helpful book. I think they were sound in their theology, and there was plenty of it. They concluded with Deuteronomy 29:29 to indicate we have true knowledge of God in what He has reveal, but He hasn’t revealed everything. I believe they were sound in their application of theology as well. I found it personally helpful, and will recommend it to some people in my care who struggle with emotions. There is much wisdom in this.

 

 

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Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You by Andy Stanley is a pretty good book.  Andy is a great communicator.  That means, for the most part, the book is interesting, easy to read and potentially impactful.  It is an updated version of It Came from Within.

His premise is that most of us are controlled by guilt, anger, greed and jealousy.  I would agree that these sins- I have a hard time calling greed an emotion- make war on our souls and flow out of our hearts.  His theology, as a pastor he should have a theology, is fuzzy at times.  He’s a bit inconsistent as to whether they flow out of our sinful hearts or attacking our hearts.  It does matter.

Andy seems to be writing for unchurched or newly churched people.  This, it seems, is his niche.  He avoids theological terms, which is perfectly fine.  At times, however, it is shorter than it need be on theological concepts.  So, while it is far deeper than most self-help books, at times Andy doesn’t go far enough.

First he identifies each of the 4 in order.  Then he cycles through them 2 more times in how to confront them and how to put on new habits.  He is typically clear and practical in his orientation.  I found a fair amount of the book pertinent to my own life and struggle with sin.

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There are some new books out that have piqued my interest, and are now on my wish list.

And looking ahead…

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I was pondering counseling yesterday.  It was a nice, quiet morning at the house.  I was considering why I was foolish enough to not pursue a license after getting my Master of Arts in Counseling.  I was single at the time, and it would have been easy to spend my day off seeing clients.  Such a license could possibly provide additional income while I am between church positions.

But then I remembered that counseling is for those with extra cash, and lots of people don’t have extra cash these days.  So, perhaps my little counseling practice wouldn’t really help.  This got me on a different train of thought.

I had a phone interview this week.  We were discussing my experience with leading small groups.  One thing I learned during my counseling coursework was about processing thoughts and feelings.  Some people who “talk too much” in a small group process thoughts externally.  They are not necessarily sinfully trying to dominate the discussion or show off (though that is a possibility).  They might have to “think out loud.”  Similarly, those who process information internally, tend not to talk in a small group.  It is painful when you’re leading a group of people who process internally.

Those who process ideas externally tend to process emotions internally.  Likewise, those who process ideas internally tend to process emotions externally.  I think out loud, which can drive some people nuts.  I have a need to talk through what I’m studying.  This is on reason I blog- not many people here in Winter Haven enjoy talking about the books I’m reading.  But I need to be alone to process my emotions.  After a disagreement, I often need to be alone to figure out what I’m feeling and why.  Drives CavWife nuts.

This connects, trust me.

Those most likely to seek counseling are those who process emotions externally.  Most counselors will look for affect- emotion- and most people go to a counselor to work through emotions they have not been able to process.  They have tried, but their friends were unable to walk them through the process.

Of course, there are cognitive-behavioral therapists.  They will attract those who process thoughts externally. The counselors will probably be uncomfortable with lots of emotion, preferring to help people process thoughts & actions.

This makes so much sense now: counselors choosing a theory or style based on how they process information & emotions and counselees choosing a therapist, in part, based on the same principle.

Why wasn’t I told this?  Am I the only one silly enough to think about this?  Perhaps I just have way too much time on my hands. 

This also explains why I’ve felt like such a lousy counselee.  I’m thinking I should be processing my emotions with the counselor when I actually process my thoughts.  I thought I had to be someone I was not in order to make the counselor’s job easier.  How’s that for neurotic?

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