Ephesians 4:19-27, 31-32
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.New International Version
Last week, I committed to talking about how to deal with my emotions in ways that encourage my Christian growth. I’ve found this to be a dangerous topic, in large part because my strong emotions can lessen my ability or desire to act rationally and responsibly. Additionally, there are harmful social expectations for emotions that are difficult to resist, and many of those expectations are so opposite that it sometimes feels like there is no “straight and narrow” path of how to manage my emotions in a good way.
Let’s take on some of these misconceptions about how to be an emotional Christian. First, emotions are not the opposite of irrational thought, and we should not think we should choose one and reject the other. Paul frequently contrasts emotional responses with thoughtful responses to give insights to both, but I’ve heard many teachers take this to extremes. When Robert Burns wrote “Oh my love is like a red, red rose”, I shouldn’t take this as a command to feed my wife bone meal. We are both emotional and rational beings, and God intends for all parts of us to be used in service to the Kingdom.
Second, emotional responses and rational thoughts do not function the same inside our skulls. Emotions come from deeper in our brains and can act very quickly when triggered. Our thoughts and reasoning happens high in our brain, and responds much more slowly than our emotions. That delay feels similar to how we find a computer runs noticeably slower when it has much more data to process. Wishing for emotions to slow down or rational thought to speed up are not effective ways to manage ourselves.
Third, we need to reconsider what verse 36 means, particularly the phrase that states “do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” This is a quote from Psalm 4:4-5:
Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.
This is a psalm of David, composed when he was running away from his rebelling son Absalom and his army. David felt wronged, and justifiably so, and he was emotional about how the son he loved had rejected that love, driven David from the throne, and sought to take his life. David recognized that the Godly way to handle these strong emotions was to think about them in the quiet times at night when he had time to search his heart. He would examine the urges from these emotions and consider his confidence that God was with him. To give into his emotions and actively seek revenge was to deny that God had been faithful throughout his life. In those moments, David committed himself more to trust God.
With Psalm 4 as our guide, we can embrace this passage from Ephesians. We do not give in and let our emotions control us. We also cannot and must not deny that we have emotions, for how are we to love others as God loves us if we are emotionless? What we do is examine our emotions as we lift them up towards God. When those emotions seek to bypass God’s leading in our lives, we trust in God rather than in our emotions. When our emotions seek to build God’s Kingdom, we trust in God to use and direct our emotions.
Here’s what I find to be the most challenging. To pray with God about my emotions, I first must bring those emotions out of the hidden places in myself into the light where I can examine them. I have to admit those emotions exist. Sometimes I deny they exist because I am ashamed of how I feel. Sometimes I like keeping them hidden because I feel I have earned the right to feel that way and fear that examining those feelings would make me admit how wrong I have been. Almost always, the world my emotions describe is simple, but real life is complicated. To live to my fullest, I need to receive and share God’s grace and love both in the thoughts I choose to develop and in the emotions I choose to encourage.
Maybe I do need that bone meal after all. My honest prayer times with God, sprinkled around my roots, grow me into the rose God created me to be.