FREE TO FEEL
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, May 17, 2020.
Part 1 of UNTANGLING EMOTIONS. Various Passages.
Several summers ago, we went camping in Bar Harbor, Maine. One afternoon, we took a whale watching cruise. I was so excited and full of anticipation. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the sea was calm and we all expected to see whales in the wild. We took our seats at the front of the boat and we were joking and laughing as we cruised through the harbor. Then we hit the open sea. And the boat began to roll and so did my stomach. I knew what was going on; I was getting seasick. Things got worse and worse. I threw up over the side, but that didn't solve anything. Now, instead of excitement, I was experiencing total despair. I wanted to die - seriously.
I look at that awful experience as a picture of life. Life is filled with so many emotions. We can feel great in the morning and furious at lunch time and sad in the evening. Sometimes all three at the same time.
Feeling is part of life. No one has to teach us to experience emotions. And yet, they seem totally out of our control and often unexpected and sometimes embarrassing. They help us enjoy life to the full. And they also keep us in bed, tired, discouraged, and unmotivated.
My goal today is to help you feel free to feel. I want you to embrace all of your emotions - the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I also want to help you handle those emotions in healthy and godly ways.
Today, let's explore the answers to three questions: what are emotions, why do we have emotions, and how do emotions work?
WHAT ARE EMOTIONS?
Emotions are complicated and debated by experts, but let me give you a very simple way to think about your feelings.
Emotions are what we feel about what's happening.
Our Lord Jesus knew all about strong feelings and he was comfortable expressing them. One day, he had a run in with some religious leaders over whether he it was lawful for him to heal someone on the Sabbath:
(Mark 3:4-5) Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts ...
Why was he angry and deeply distressed (or grieved)? Because that's what he felt about what was happening. The man needed help and he wasn't getting help. In the name of God, these leaders were defaming God who is full of compassion. Jesus got mad and rightly so.
Have you ever been embarrassed about your strong negative emotions? Maybe you shouldn't be. Sometimes the right thing is to be good and angry. Have you ever thought that there are times when it would be a sin to feel happy? Think about that.
WHY DO WE HAVE EMOTIONS?
We have emotions so that we will represent God in the world.
The Bible tells us that God made humans in his image and likeness. We represent God in the world.
(Genesis 1:26, 27) Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule ... 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them ... subdue ... rule.
One way to represent God is to express his feelings about what's happening. Again, Jesus shows us the way. One article reads,
The gospel writers paint their portraits of Jesus using a kaleidoscope of brilliant "emotional" colors. Jesus felt compassion; he was angry, indignant, and consumed with zeal; he was troubled, greatly distressed, very sorrowful, depressed, deeply moved, and grieved; he sighed; he wept and sobbed; he groaned; he was in agony; he was surprised and amazed; he rejoiced very greatly and was full of joy; he greatly desired, and he loved.
When Jesus' friend, Lazarus, died and his sisters were full of grief, Jesus revealed God's heart with his emotional reaction: He was deeply moved in spirit and be cried. The onlookers said, "See how he (Jesus) loved him!" (John 11:33-36). They knew Jesus loved Lazarus because Jesus expressed his feelings. He revealed God's heart of love.
Jesus shows us that our emotions can help us represent God in the world. Now let's look at how that works.
WHAT DO EMOTIONS DO?
1. Our emotions show what we think about God.
God designed us to love and worship him. But we tend to love other things in his place. Our emotions tell us who or what we love.
The other day, I lost my TV clicker. I felt panic. I felt annoyed. I grieved. My feelings revealed that I worship my TV or control over my TV.
The New Testament letter of James includes a dramatic example:
(James 4:1-2) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill.
If you find yourself raging or sulking, that's your emotions telling you that you love and worship something that is not God. It's an invitation to refocus your life and get back on track. Love God and worship him only (Luke 4:8).
On the other hand, our emotions can express great love of, praise to, and dependence on God:
(Psalms 18:1, 6) I love you, Lord, my strength ... 6 In my distress (anguish) I called to the Lord; I cried (plead) to my God for help.
(Psalms 32:11) Rejoice in the Lord and be glad
(Psalm 37:4) Take delight in the Lord
I'll stick my neck out and say that we must engage our emotions in order to worship God.
2. Our emotions show what we think about others.
When we love and care about people, we enter into what's happening in their lives. We reflect their emotional state. The Bible says this:
(Romans 12:9, 15) Love must be sincere. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
If we don't do that, it makes us seem cold and uncaring. What if Jesus had arrived at Lazarus' grave and shrugged. What if he had turned to Mary and Martha and said, "Got any chips and salsa?"
We show our love for a hurting friend by expressing hurt or sorrow or grief. In a similar way, we show our love for someone experiencing good times by celebrating with them.
Sharing emotions with each other strengthens relationships. Husbands, you can build your marriage by sharing your feelings. Your wife will feel so close to you.
Now, I've got a case study for you to think about.
In Acts 16, we find the apostle Paul sharing the gospel in Philippi. As he teaches, a demonized girl keeps interrupting him and distracting his audience. Listen what Paul did and ask yourself, did his emotion of annoyance represent God's feelings about what was happening?
(Acts 16:18) Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
Let's wrap this up with a homework assignment.
I was watching a new cooking show on Netflix and the host made a beautiful chocolate mousse out of Nutella and whipping cream. O my, my, my! I downloaded the recipe and Kalie made it. It was so good. I felt so happy.
I'm so happy God gave me emotions. But I admit it, I sometimes don't like what I feel. Sometimes I try to hide my feelings because I'm ashamed or embarrassed. I was raised in a 'real men don't cry' culture.
However, our health depends on being emotionally honest. Our mental health, relationships, and our ability to represent God all depend on it.
You are free to feel. That's how God designed you.
So ... here's your homework for this week:
Instead of ignoring or stuffing your feelings as they rise up, take a moment to observe your emotional state. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling it? What is it telling you about what's happening in your life, or what you think about God, or what you think about others? Maybe keep a journal about it and use it in your prayers for help and change in your life.
Try it. Your feelings will be revealing.
I hope you'll join me next time for another look at our emotions. We'll try to answer the question, why can't I control my emotions?