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4 Crucial Things that Confusing Emotions Can Tell Us

  • Ashley Hales
4 Crucial Things that Confusing Emotions Can Tell Us

It was finally a Saturday morning where our family of six didn’t need to be out the door bright and early for a morning soccer game. Before the alarms would go off on a school day, that Saturday I was awoken by loud children a floor away. I stomped downstairs. How dare they wake up early when every day it’s a struggle to get them out of bed on time? What kind of gratitude is this when they’d been allowed to stay up late the night before? Couldn’t they just obey?

I rushed into the room, seething with quiet fury (so as not to wake up anyone else still sleeping). I unloaded all the complaints on them and sent them to their rooms. Their behavior was annoying, challenging, and too loud. It wasn’t time to wake up, true, but what was this level of anger about?

Emotions can hold a tricky spot in the life of faith. Some of us run from them and don’t know how to express them. Some of us run from the harder emotions like fear, sadness, or anger; suppress and wallow in melancholy or rage; or passive aggressively seethe with anger. Others of us seem to wear our emotions freely for everyone around us to see in physical displays.

Emotions are God’s gift to us, they were present before sin entered the world. But like all things, they’ve been twisted and broken by sin. What is the role of emotions? How do we know if we can trust our feelings? We long for honest and emotional connection with our families, friends, and God; but most of the time, we’re unsure of how to get there.

As we navigate being complete bodies, souls, and minds; here are four things our emotions are telling us as Christians.

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1. “Negative” emotions clue you in to your desires.

 When we’re tired (or when the dirty laundry puts us over the edge), we respond emotionally because we are emotional creatures. But more than just a simple reaction, emotions clue us in to our desires. What desire has been upset when we fly off the handle or stuff our anger? Are we needing help with chores? Are we feeling overlooked and unseen? Are we wanting affirmation? Do we feel life is unfair?

If we spend a moment before blowing up, hiding out, or blaming others when we feel more “negative” emotions, we’ll get an important clue about how we see the world. 

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What are you desiring?

Emotions show us our desires. When we’re quick to get angry, suppress our anger, or move away from people when we’re hurt; we’re often feeling out of control or offended. We can deal with those feelings by getting angry, feeling ashamed, or hiding in fear.

When those feelings come up, realize your feelings are windows to your desires. Rather than simply working at not getting angry, recognize your emotions tell you about good desires gone awry. They show you how you want to be loved, your desires around connecting with other people, and what you value.

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2. "Positive" emotions show you what brings you life.

When we cry after the closing of a beloved book, laugh at the antics of our children, or sigh contentedly after a good meal; we’re experiencing joy and gratitude for God’s good gifts. Some of us may be drawn to a particular painting or piece of music, while others experience joy on a hike or in a conversation. In all these experiences, positive emotions show us how we’re wired. 

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How are you wired?

Take note of when you experience happiness, joy, gratitude, or peace. What experiences draw you towards praising God? What makes you happy, gracious, or kind? When we pay attention to these positive emotions, we’ll begin to learn how God made each of us. We can be thankful for how he’s made us each unique. We can look for ways to love others, too, when we pay attention to what brings them joy.

Our positive emotions allow us to practice gratitude, to proactively look for ways to bring joy to others, and to practice delighting in God and his good gifts to us.

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3. "Neutral" emotions show your paths of growth.

Sometimes we’re too bogged down by the cares of the world or too frightened of our own desires and emotions to deal with them. So we choose to distance ourselves from emotional reactions. Sometimes we’re just...numb. We all go through periods like this, but consider situations when you’re not experiencing either positive or negative emotions. When we’re stuck in neutral, this can be a clue about how we need to grow in our relationships with God, ourselves, and others. 

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What emotion are you blocking?

Are we afraid of joy or sorrow? Remember that we can’t selectively numb our emotions; to experience life-giving joy, we also need to open ourselves to sadness. We need to experience both compassion and anger in healthy ways. Emotions are gifts; they allow us to be intimately connected to others.

As you read the Psalms and the Gospels, seeing the range of emotions that David and Jesus display, remember we are welcomed into a life of full humanity, which includes not just what we think and do, but also what we feel. When you find yourself in a neutral space, consider how opening yourself up to feeling an emotion before judging it could allow you to grow. Notice what’s going on in your body. Pray through your desires and ask God to sanctify your feelings, so that they would be given in worship to him and service to others. 

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4. Emotions are opportunities to connect.

As you start to pay attention to your emotions — negative, neutral, and positive — you’ll begin to see how God has uniquely wired you and what you value.  You’ll see your emotional reactions as an opportunity to connect with others and move towards them in empathy when they’re experiencing emotions like sadness, fear, shame, and anger. As you start asking good questions about your desires, you’ll grow in understanding your desires, expressing them, and seeing how God can grow your emotional life to honestly explore your desires, doubts, fears, and ultimately love him more. 

Ashley Hales is a writer, speaker, church planter’s wife, and mom to 4 littles in southern California. Ashley has written for places such as The Gospel CoalitionBooks & Culture, and ThinkChristian and is writing her first book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs (IVP). Be sure to connect with her at her blogFacebook, or Twitter. Subscribe to get a free booklet on how to practice sustained attention and chase beauty right where you are. 

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