Who’s Driving Your Emotions?

God gave us emotions to serve as brakes. Not the gas pedal. But there seems to be a growing epidemic of emotional pedal confusion1 in our world. Then, unironically, people are surprised by the carnage and chaos that results.

Watch out for those who are constantly pressing the gas on your emotions. They are not trying to help you. They are using you. Controlling you. And you should ask yourself why you let them.

What’s worse is those people are doing you a disservice and spiritual harm. When others use our emotions either against us or for their own goals, they are not trustworthy sources of counsel. I will grant that not all people who do this may have malicious or nefarious objectives, but the end will be the same. We have to become more discerning in who we allow that kind of influence in our lives.

This happens in the church. At your workplace. On the news. In your family. And especially on social media. It’s going to happen anywhere two people interact.

But, learning to be a steward of your own heart is the key to becoming free from these tactics. It can be challenging to set up healthy barriers. But doing is so is an essential part of growing emotionally and spiritually.

One of the most important disciplines we can cultivate is reflection. Taking the time to think about what is happening in and around your life. Slowing down long enough to make sure you are going where you planned and doing those things that are healthy and good.

When we reflect on those moments and events that caused us emotional frustration, we begin to discern how we respond to different stimuli. This is how we grow.

It’s one thing to be passionate. But it’s quite another to have your passions enslaved. And even more dangerous when our passions are used for the purposes of another’s agenda. We can be so passionate about something we can’t actually change we lose sight of who we are in the process. This is a recipe for being deceived and misled.

It’s one thing to be committed to a cause. But it’s quite another to give blind allegiance to anything. Particularly anything that does not provide a path toward forgiveness and reconciliation.

Too many people can no longer tell the difference. Why? Because they have invested too much of themselves into what they are promoting. And no one wants to admit they are wrong. That they may have been misled. Or even manipulated.

When our identity is subsumed into another’s or into a cause, no matter how noble its purported aims, we will become cogs in someone else’s machine. This is not how we are to live our lives. We should not surrender our personhood to anyone or anything. Who we are is a gift from God. To give ourselves in a way that only rightly belongs to God to anyone or anything earthly is a form of idolatry.

Good intentions are not good enough. Good intentions are the internal reasons for why we act. And it’s important to have them. I will not deny that. Wanting positive results can be and is commendable.

The challenge is recognizing whether or not those intentions actually produce the intended results. If they don’t, and we continue to do those things that are inflicting obvious harm, then we have become the very thing we were trying to oppose. Our intentions have to be evaluated by the results they produce. Otherwise, we will give ourselves, and others, a pass on their actions when the results are negative.

Judas had good intentions. But he ended up betraying the Son of God. And Peter had good intentions, but when confronted with his association with Jesus he denied Him three times. One could not forgive himself, the other found forgiveness he didn’t deserve.

Our intentions should not be the metric we use to evaluate what we do. What results from our actions should be. And the results must be under constant evaluation.

Steps for Reflection

Because learning how to reflect on our lives and our responses is so important, I’ve asked my friend and contributor to this site to provide us with a simple pattern we can use. There is also an example below. When you find yourself feeling like you are not clear about a reaction you had to an event or situation go through the following steps.


1. What emotion do I feel the strongest right now?

(If you’re having trouble identifying it, use a feelings wheel – you can find one fairly easily on Google)

*Express your emotion to God, be specific about why you feel that way.

2. What might God want to say to me in the midst of that emotion?

(It can be helpful to use the Psalms in this case – Google the emotion you feel and the word “Psalm” and see if you find one that you identify with)

*Pray, listening to what God might say about that emotion to you.

3. What is a healthy way to express that emotion to those around me?

(This might be the step that requires you to talk with a trusted mentor in the faith – despite a culture that wants you to react immediately)

*Act on the emotion in a Christlike way that displays empathy and humility.

Example:

Someone shares an example of injustice in the world that is horrible.

1. What emotion do I feel the strongest right now?

Anger. Specifically frustrated and infuriated.

*God, I am angry about this injustice. Why would such a thing be allowed?! Do something!

2. What might God want to say to me in the midst of that emotion?

I see examples of anger about injustice in several Psalms, so I read those Psalms.

*It seems like God is saying it’s okay to be angry over such things, to trust Him that He will enact justice, and to seek Him on how to participate in His justice.

3. What is a healthy way to express that emotion to those around me?

I think about a humble and empathetic way to respond in my context. I seek the advice of trusted mentors.

*I commit myself to on-going prayer and periodic fasting concerning this injustice. I decide to start a petition to change the laws and I contact lawyers and politicians to begin making changes.


Footnotes:

1 Pedal confusion is the phrase used to describe when a driver presses the wrong pedal while driving. Usually leading to an accident.

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