We’re often bullied by our emotions. We’re bullied because we think we can’t overcome them. We can’t overcome what they’re telling us. We can’t overcome the dark feelings that surround us. “I can’t forgive.” “I can’t stop eating.” “I can’t stop lusting.” “I can’t stop wondering what others think of me.” “I can’t pull myself out of bed.”
I am a slave. Because my emotions say so.
But is this true? Take forgiveness, for example. Is it true that we really can’t forgive a transgressor? If forgiveness is a feeling, then yes. But it’s not. Forgiveness is a verb. It’s a deliberate act committed repeatedly and relentlessly by Jesus’ disciples no matter how they feel about a person. Jesus-people do this because they recognize that their transgressors are still image-bearers of the living God no matter how broken they are. They also recall what the gospel says about us all - that we all are transgressors against God. Consequently, none of us have the moral high ground to withhold grace and forgiveness from anyone. So even though the feeling of anger may linger, it should not stop us from extending the sincere hand of friendship to those we despise. (And when you do this, just watch as your anger gradually dissipates.)
What I have personally found helpful is to call out my emotions when they manipulate me. You see, we tend to interpret emotional feeling as absolute truth. “I can’t eat right because I can’t say ‘No’ to breaded, highly caloric, fat-filled foods.” I’m learning to recognize such thinking as the lies they are. So I tell myself, “Chris, you don’t really need fried catfish for lunch - even though everyone else is enjoying it. Your emotions are telling you that you can’t live without it during this meal. But you know it’s not true.” Yes, catfish is a lot tastier than grilled salmon, but I know that I’ll be alright with the salmon. (And when two o’clock rolls around I won’t feel groggy and disengaged from my work.)
As a follower of Jesus who is seeking to live a life that brings him glory, maybe you can include this exercise in your fight against the idols of your life - idols you think you need:
“I am feeling depressed today. I recognize that. This does not mean that I have lost power over my faculties. I can get out of bed, put on a hat, and take a walk, bathing in the sun. The last time I did this it felt so good and I had a great time of fellowship with God.”
“I really don’t have to take another look at that beautiful woman. I will live without staring at her.”
“Of course it’s not a valid thought that I need to know what people think of me. And it’s silly to think that I can change what they think of me. Let the chips fall where they may, I’m going to be myself.”
“I recognize that I’m probably addicted to social media. It’s silly that I check FaceBook dozens of times a day. From now on, I will not allow this to be an impediment to my relationships and work ethic.”
“Why do I allow myself to get pulled into relational drama and chaos so often? I don’t like it that I feed on negativity like a school of piranha on fresh meat. I know that negativity is bad for the soul and quenches the Spirit in my life.”
Call out your emotions. They’re lying.