Motherhood has revealed that I’m not the calm person I once thought I was. One minute, I’m upset with my son for not cleaning up his toys; the next, I’m laughing as he pats his crayons to sleep. Joy, frustration, delight, exhaustion, empathy, impatience, excitement, sadness—it’s a daily rollercoaster of emotions.
As a result, I now better understand the volatility of emotions, and the risk of being pulled and pushed in many directions if I act based simply on what I feel in a moment. Experiencing such a full range of emotions on a daily basis has led me to muse whether there’s a better way to respond to these feelings.
It’s not wrong to feel; feelings were created by God. But as in all things, emotions can and should glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Bible always addresses the person as a whole, as when Jesus issued the following call in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (emphasis added).
The question is in the how. What does it mean to glorify God with intangible things like feelings?
One of my favourite life verses, quoted here from The Passion translation, goes like this: “So above all, guard the affections of your heart for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
The image that comes to mind when we think about “guarding” our hearts is putting up barricades to keep what we don’t want out. But I’ve learned that in order to ensure our heart flows with “the wellspring of life”, we should also look intentionally within those barricades, to inspect how what’s on the inside—in this case, emotions—stand in light of God’s truth, and to respond to each in a biblical way.
This is in no way an exhaustive list on “handling” our emotions, but three truths I am currently learning to apply to my emotions in a bid to guard my heart better.
1. Confess and surrender your emotions to God
It’s easier to glorify God when we’re experiencing positive emotions. The struggle is when we don’t. For a long time, I believed it was not okay to feel negative emotions. Whenever I was hurt or angry, I would bury these emotions instead of addressing them.
This is partly due to my natural disposition, but my past experiences have also played a part in my response. But as the Bible shows, especially in the Psalms, it’s alright to acknowledge our feelings. In fact, King David came to God with all his negative emotions: Fear, sorrow, loneliness, anger, pain.
This was a lesson when I struggled with anger last year. Triggered by the littlest thing, I initially fought to ignore the issue. But the more I ignored it, the stronger it grew. When I came clean with God, He opened my eyes to see that my anger stemmed from my perception that I had failed my perfectionist ideals as a homemaker. Only then could God minister and set me free from the chains of anger.
I learned what David had known all along: Confessing our feelings to God is not weakness. Instead, when we do so, we admit our need for Him and allow Him to be as honest with us as we are with Him. With that, we declare that God is greater than the control our emotions have over us. And by allowing God to be the strength in our weakness, we are glorifying God. That is why, no matter what he was going through, David could give praise to God at the end of it all (Psalm 43:5).
2. Speak to your emotions with Scripture
There have been seasons when I was gripped by fear. Fear of loved ones dying. Fear of safety. Fear of injuring my baby. Fear of losing my sanity. It came in various shapes and sizes, but fear gripped me nonetheless.
That is, until I started declaring Scripture whenever I felt afraid. Verses like Romans 8:15, or 2 Timothy 1:7, which states that, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (NKJV) have helped in my battle with fear. It was convicting and liberating to pray them over myself as I didn’t allow fear to direct me, but instead used the life-giving Word of God to speak to it. My fear did not disappear immediately. But as I kept at it, slowly but surely, the fear lost its grip on me.
That’s not to say that I no longer feel fear, or even anger. But I can now see better when my feelings are clearly being used to turn my direction away from God, and can fight the battle better with weapons given by God. And in doing so, I am glorifying Him.
3. Turn your emotions into actions
While feelings are mostly signposts to our inner wellbeing—signaling to us what’s really going on inside our hearts—they can also be signposts to how God Himself feels and how we can walk out His purpose for our lives.
Reading news about trafficked children makes us angry. Hearing about a friend’s personal loss makes us sad. Witnessing the social problems in our city causes us to despair. Instead of wallowing in those feelings, bringing them before God also helps us understand how He might be directing us to act upon it.
Jesus had wanted some quiet time alone; but He had compassion on the hungry multitudes and so ministered to them (Mark 6:30-44). After hearing about the ruins of Jerusalem, Nehemiah turned his grief into action by initiating the rebuilding of the city’s wall (Nehemiah 1).
Fighting for social justice, comforting a friend, or kneeling in intercession—there are many times when the Holy Spirit nudges us forward into God-directed actions through our emotions. To be sure, we need to pause and be certain that the nudge is indeed from the Holy Spirit. But if it is, then our response is simply to obey. That’s when that spark of emotion can transform into an act that gives glory to God.
Since I’ve been on this journey of coming to terms with my emotions, I’ve found that it’s a useful “tool”, if you will, of measuring the welfare of my innermost being—and I’d like to encourage you to do the same. In understanding our hearts better, we may be better able to take the right steps that honor God. From surrender to empowerment to obedience, our feelings may just spur us to nurture a “wellspring of life” overflowing with God’s love, goodness, and grace.
May the outflow of our hearts glorify God in all things.