The Emotional Heart
As of the time I write this, more than 80 people have been killed in protests in Egypt as people attempt to wrest control over the nation from one another. Locally, a young man pulled a knife on a streetcar and ordered everyone off, only to be shot dead by police. Of course, there is also the latest inanity from Anthony Wiener and his seeming inability to stop foolish sexual exploits.
On the other side of things, my wife was just encouraged to keep on making more friends while waiting for things at the cancer center. A friend of mine just commented on Facebook about the joy of fresh vegetables. A pro golfer just walked (bolted?) away from what could have been a million dollar win when he got the call that his wife went into labor. And I just killed an hour this morning playing a video game because it amuses me.
Anger. Fear. Lust. Bonding. Pleasure. Love. Amusement.
There is a tendency in our culture to say that we are rational creatures, and we are. But the reality is that our emotions are enormous players in the game of life. Our emotions provide the motivation for us to move one direction or another, to do this or that, to think about X vs. Y, or even to believe one way or the other.
There is also a tendency in our culture, and I find this particularly strong among Reformed-influenced protestants, to label being so influenced by our emotions as dangerous, and we need to think rather than feel.
Here’s the problem:
Unless somebody’s severed the right parts of your spinal cord or damaged certain parts of your frontal cortex, you do not have the capacity to go about life, disconnecting your emotions from your thinking (unless you’re talking about straight-up analytical functions like mathematical operations, and even those can be tinged with distaste or satisfaction). Every other thing we do is dripping with emotion whether we feel it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Oh, some people might believe they have been trained to think in such a way that they are rationally analyzing things without emotions swaying them one way or another, but all that really does is separate off emotions from awareness. Those emotions are still there, tugging and nudging in unconscious ways. Neurologically speaking, you can’t escape them, just convince yourself that you have.
We may be rational creatures, but we are not purely rational creatures.
We are also highly emotional creatures, and we need to accept this.
This isn’t a bad thing. It’s how God designed us. We’re emotionally driven people. The problem comes when we let twisted emotions drive us or when we deny that our emotions drive us at all. Many of those people in Egypt are surely letting their anger drive them in excess, unconcerned in the moment whether those emotions are appropriate or whether the actions they are driven toward are commensurate with the circumstances. George Zimmerman and Anthony Wiener, on the other hand, are likely denying that their emotions are playing any part in what they did, not just to the world, but to themselves, and they may just as likely be denying how much their anxiety is playing into how they’re defending themselves.
No part of life, no part of the decisions you make, is unaffected by emotion. But we hand control over to those emotions when we deny the sway they have over us, when we tell ourselves that our emotions aren’t a factor in what we’re doing and choosing.
This being the case, the so often stated maxim that we shouldn’t let our emotions factor into important decisions is fallacious. Even damaging. The better move is to ask what emotions are already in play and how are they affecting your decisions and actions.
Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Surely emotions are part of that good and bad, and if things are being brought out whether we like it or not, surely it’s wise to be attentive to those emotions, to be aware of them and consider how they play into our thoughts, actions, and character.
How much do we recognize just how emotional we are? (Even and perhaps especially us “unemotional” types!) As persons? As churches? As the church? As humanity on the whole?
What would change if you were to recognize and accept how much emotion plays a part in your life?