The books I cherish the most are those that have profoundly impacted my life. True Feelings: God’s Gracious and Glorious Purpose for Our Emotions by Carolyn Mahaney & Nicole Whitacre has been that kind of book.
For many years I struggled with knowing how to deal with emotions. I hated that my feelings often felt like a roller coaster. Why was it that one day I could feel like I was doing great, but the next day be in the “depths of despair?”
There seem to be two extremes in how to deal with emotions.
Dealing with Emotions
The phrase “follow your heart” describes the first. Recently I came across a Christian devotional that equates following the Holy Spirit to following your heart. This is not Biblical! Scripture is clear that the heart is “deceitful and wicked above all things” and “he who trusts in his heart is a fool.” (Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 25:28) The stories of people who have chosen to follow their hearts, even when it contradicts Scripture are plenty. Every time it has led to ruin, if not eternal judgment and separation from God.* Just as it says in Proverbs, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way death.” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25) I wonder how many of these choices have been encouraged by the seemingly harmless advice to “follow your heart?”
Yet, there is another extreme. Perhaps in reaction to the danger of “following your heart,” we can instead view emotions as evil. They can be ignored (at least you can try), and repressed. This was not God’s design! It is instead reminiscent of the Buddhist goal of nirvana. A state in which there is no suffering, desire, or feeling. Emotions have been created by God, and like everything before the fall they were created good. They have been given to us by God as a good and perfect gift. (James 1:17)
Neither option has been satisfying (or Biblical). While I am learning to live dependent upon Christ rather than my emotions, I still desire to feel as God feels. I want to have His hatred for sin, love for the lost, sorrow over suffering, joy in every situation, peace beyond understanding, etc. But it has seemed so unattainable! I think I also believed that it was unimportant. I believed that as long as I do the right things it doesn’t matter how I feel, because I can’t control my emotions anyway.
That’s why a review of True Feelings immediately piqued my interest!
The book is full of Biblical Truth and practical application. It begins with discussing the problem of emotions, which is really the problem of sin. God requires obedience, not only in every action but in every emotion. This is impossible! The solution is found in the Gospel. Jesus came to save us and conform us to His image entirely, including our emotions. It is not self-dependence that can put emotions in their proper place, it is Jesus alone.
Emotions flow out of what we believe and value. As our minds are renewed by the Word of God we will be transformed. (Romans 12:2)
Since reading this book I haven’t done anything spectacular. What I have done is pray specifically. After realizing that God desires and is able to conform my emotions to His Word I began to pray that He would do so.
- When tempted to respond with irritation and frustration I pray for grace to respond with His heavenly patience.
- When tempted to fear or worry about tomorrow I pray for His peace beyond all understanding.
- When tempted to despair and discouragement I pray for His joy.
- When tempted with selfishness I pray for grace to respond by serving those around me.
- When tempted to be introverted I pray for grace to go out of my way in showing love.
- When tempted to go numb and close my eyes to suffering in the world I pray for His sorrow.
- When tempted to excuse sin I pray for His hatred for sin.
- When tempted to live for the pleasures of this life I pray for His agony for the lost and dying.
Amazingly He has begun to change me! He who is able to subdue all things to Himself has begun to conform my emotions to His Word. (Philippians 3:20)
If this struggle with understanding the purpose and place of emotions is something you relate to I highly recommend this book. You might find that it changes your life.
*What I am not saying here is that decisions to follow your heart are irredeemable. The Lord can and will work all things to together for good, even the consequences of our poor decisions! (Romans 8:28) The point I am making here is that a life lived according to your heart will end in death. This is the essence of sin. If you find yourself in this position, I encourage you to repent (which means a change, like a U-turn, you are going one direction and turn around to go the other way) and trust in Christ. If you confess your sin He is ready and willing to forgive you and cleanse you. (1 John 1:9)