What Do You Do With Emotions?

I think we can all say that the last 6 months have been a bit unsettling. Emotions are controlling so many people right now. It is very scary and frightening for me to see people act and say things with so much anger and hatred in their hearts. I know from first hand experience the damage that is done to those around you when you act like this. The way people are treating each other with so much violence makes me cringe inside.

I wasn’t raised in a “safe” environment. So, all sorts of walls were formed around my heart and my mind. I had so many layers of protection to go through to get to what I was honestly thinking and feeling. Pretending was safer. “Being real” can still be hard for me, but it is the only way my relationship with Christ, my family and my friends is going to be where it needs to be.

I have learned a lot by reading “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. This book is helping me understand that our emotional health is tied to our spiritual health. “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” Scazzero  I know this to be true because I ignored my emotional health for 40 years and it definitely affected my spiritual health. 

I think I had a breakdown of some sort shortly after I turned 40. Panic attacks hit me like a ton of bricks. Now, that I am able to process that time in my life, I realize that my brother’s suicide, two years prior, was the beginning of my emotional unraveling. I wasn’t able to process the impact his death had on me, so I buried my feelings, like I did for years up to this point in my life. I don’t recommend ignoring your feelings. I have learned since then to listen to my body when it is trying to tell me something. Your body doesn’t forget what your mind tries to bury.

Pain is a great motivator. God knew what it would take to open me up so I could move forward. I was really good at doing activities for God. But, being alone with God meant that I would have to face things that I really didn’t want to face, and also face the person I dreaded to face—myself.  When I started having those attacks, I couldn’t leave the house for several days. I was stuck, frightened and desperate. I was in so much emotional pain that it brought me to my knees (literally) and that is where God began to work in me. I knew I needed help and I knew things needed to change inside of me.

One of the first things I had to do was recognize I had feelings that were valid. For some reason, I developed the philosophy that my feelings were sinful. I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way. “It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly. This applies especially to such “difficult” feelings as fear, sadness, shame, anger, hurt, and pain. To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well.” Scazzero

We have to be honest with our feelings and get them out in healthy ways. I lied to myself over and over again that I either didn’t or shouldn’t have feelings over so many things. When you do this, you shut down your humanity. You shut down the core of who you are. You are lying to yourself and others, and most of all, you are shutting down your relationship with God. 

“God speaks to us through the raw material of our emotions. The issue isn’t to blindly follow our emotions-feelings, but to acknowledge them as a part of the way God communicates to us.” Ignatius of Loyola  I was severely impaired emotionally when I broke down. I went through so much abuse and cruelty that I actually thought I didn’t have a right to feel anger or sadness or hurt or pain. To this day, when I am asked how I feel, I really have to pause and process my feelings. I have to go to God and ask Him to help me. 

Acknowledging my feelings has not been easy. I have worked my butt off to move forward in my life. And, yes I still struggle with them. Now, when I get anxious, I go to God immediately because I know that I am safe with Him. I pray and ask for help and clarity with what is happening in my body. If there is something I need to confess, I confess it. If there is something I need to recognize, I recognize it. The other night I was struggling with anger over a comment that someone made, so I went to God and told Him how I felt and asked for help in processing my anger.

Sometimes I still wake at night in a panic. The first thing I do is say the name of Jesus over and over again. Then I tell Him how I am feeling and ask what I need to do. I just talk to Him and eventually it subsides and I am able to fall asleep again. The fact is my body will not put up with me hiding my feelings any more.  

“Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice…However, we often turn a deaf ear—through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.” Allender and Longman

For years, I was the person that “strained out” all the disturbing things that I saw or things that happened to me in order to be in control of my inner world. I was frightened and ashamed of my thoughts, so I tried to bury and hide them from God or anyone else that was close to me. Journaling has opened me up and given me the opportunity to have a voice before God. I have been as honest and vulnerable as I can be, but I know there is more inside that I haven’t gotten to yet.

If you are struggling with your emotions, please consider journaling. It is the best thing I have done to get closer to God. I have to get my feelings out and that has been the best way to do it! It is much healthier than yelling or screaming. You don’t damage your loved ones either. Give those feelings to God and ask Him to help you. 

Life is a process. Each layer I go through brings me closer to my feelings and closer to my Lord. I have learned that He wants my honesty. He wants me to tell Him how I feel. He wants to help me work through my issues and my emotions. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am now and I know I have a long way to go. But, each step brings me closer to where God wants me to be.

Talking to God about my emotions before I speak or act is hands down one of the best things I am learning to do. Who knew that it could be so wonderful to talk to Him first? I don’t always get this right, but when I do, the outcome is so much better than if I reacted to someone with words that I shouldn’t say. Wouldn’t the world be a better place, if we all could do this— especially now?! The phrase from this song just popped up in my head. (“Oh, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly!” from My Fair Lady. This is what happens when you are raised listening to musicals! ha ha!) But seriously, wouldn’t it be loverly if we could learn to deal with our emotions before we open up our mouths? Maybe make this a goal in your life?? I know I am!

Until next time dear friends……

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