Have you ever heard a statement like: “The devil wants you to pay attention to your feelings, Jesus wants you to pay attention to the truth”? Or maybe you’ve noticed that our culture can focus so much on making sure everyone feels good, that it limits our ability to speak truth, causing some to wonder if emotions are something to be dismissed or belittled.
As a counsellor I hear comments like “I got that instability from my mom” or “I’m working on controlling how I feel.” In fact some seem to be so disconnected from their emotions that they can’t identify what they are feeling in a given moment, which is immensely hard on their relationships because they can’t connect effectively in intimate relationships like marriage or even parenting.
Perhaps this is a major factor in why we are straying so far from God’s truth in our culture! We’re trying so hard to shut down a part of us that God has gifted us with, which eventually rises up and takes over if we don’t give it the acknowledgement it needs.
You see, we aren’t supposed to control our emotions, but instead we are to feel them. Yes, we may need to filter our actions and sometimes if we respond to our emotions the wrong way then our actions can become sinful, but usually those actions are sourced in our inability to process the emotion in the first place.
As adults we aren’t the only ones that need to learn to accept our emotions, our children need to learn this too. Even better that they learn now before it becomes a problem later as adults or teens, when they are trying to process their compassion for others simultaneously to their understanding of God’s truth.
My favourite illustration to use when processing and accepting emotions is found in the wave pool; emotions are like the big surges of water, or “swells” that come at you in a wave pool.
When you first see them, you might be afraid or nervous either because of the size or unknown nature of what’s coming. When I first stepped into a wave pool I would see the swell/wave coming and get nervous and try to stand my ground, keeping my feet firmly planted. The result was not good. Slammed by the wall of water and gasping for breath I would have barely enough time to prepare for the next rush of water.
I needed to stop trying to fight the swell. Taking a breath and letting my feet leave the ground, allowing my body to rise with the water and eventually come down the other side. There may be moments of discomfort, wondering how long the wave will last, or how long we might have to tread water, but in the end we find safety and security in riding it out. Choosing to feel our emotions is quite similar. Our emotions are part of our whole being and they tell us something. Have you ever noticed that Ephesians four starts by telling us to “Be angry”? It’s our response to anger that is warned against, but so often we have vilified anger as evil.
Both we and our children need to learn to FEEL our emotions. We need to acknowledge them, face them and ride them out. As we do this we can learn to understand what is motivating the emotion that we are feeling. Anger, for example, tells us that we need something, possibly justice for ourselves or others; it’s a catalyst for change. Responding to that need requires acknowledgement of the emotion and its source, making a decision about how we respond to it happens AFTER we allow the wave of initial emotion to pass, when we are “grounded” with our feet are on solid ground again.
This is a hard lesson to learn, for ourselves, but also for our children. Allowing our children to feel things like helplessness, desperation, grief, sadness, fear, and anger are uncomfortable for us and so often we swoop in to distract them or save them from the waves that they need to learn to process and ride out – it’s our job to show them what it means to see emotions as a gift from God instead of a curse to be worked through, and to show them how to let their emotions inform them but not control them.
So, a more accurate statement could be something like, “Jesus wants us to pay attention to both our emotions and the truth, allowing the truth to inform and guide our actions.”
May you have courage as you ride the waves that come your way, and teach your children to do the same. It’s important to be that emotional safe place for your children so you aren’t triggered yourself (You don’t want to get sucked into the undertow of their wave). If processing your own emotions is new for you, bear the discomfort with God at your side, and if you need help, counselling is always a good option.
Counsellor and Shepherd