Monday, October 18, 2010

Life with Emotions


A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.
Proverbs 29:11

Emotions play an important role. We already know they are not to dictate the direction of our day-to-day decisions, but feelings remind us we are alive. They add color and texture. Our reactions let us know how life impacts us. Some situations make us sad; others excited. Life without emotions would be flat and joyless.

Some emotional reactions are also a warning. Anger, jealousy, guilt, and embarrassment tell us that we need to pay attention. These feelings inform us something is wrong. They urge us to consider making some kind of change. We should not ignore these feelings. They are like a STOP sign along the roadside. If we pay attention to the underlying cause(s), we will be able to make appropriate adjustments which should reduce our internal tension.

Negative emotions are misunderstood. Many people believe all feelings should be acted on. If we feel anger, then we have permission to act angry. We have no choice but to be angry. This is a false assumption. Our rational mind is able to stay in control of our behavior. Maintaining such control does take practice. And, some of us may not exercised that kind of "muscle" much. We, however, are never at the whim of emotions, unless we choose to be.

During my first graduate internship, I encountered a difficult situation. My supervisor was an odd woman. She seemed suspicious of others and began to isolate me. I remember feeling frightened and trapped. Instead of reacting, I used my emotions as a guide and contacted the school official overseeing my work experience. The school coordinator acted on my behalf and asked the mental health agency for a change in supervisors. I was very relieved. The rest of year went great. I contacted the previous year's student who had had the same experience. Instead of using her sense of alarm to seek help, she fled the situation and dropped out of the graduate program.

Emotions are wonderful. I love laughing at a funny movie. Emotions are also helpful. They inform us when something is wrong and needs addressing. They, however, do not dictate our actions. Feeling angry does not mean we have to act aggressively. If we act out of anger it is because we have made a decision to behave that way, not because we simply felt an emotion.

Jesus experienced emotions. He wept at the news of a friend's death. In anger he overturned money-changers' tables when he saw the system's injustice, and he sweated blood as he faced his upcoming death. His example gives us permission to be emotional people, as along as emotions are not the driving force in our life.

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