I love watching sailboats skim across the water as they are propelled by the wind. When the sails catch the wind just right, the boat smoothly glides across the water and is a beautiful sight. But, if the wind is really strong the force can capsize the boat and cause danger to all in the boat. I recently heard Ken Sande (RW360.org) compare our emotions to the wind and the power they can have to move us to good or bad. I wonder if you have ever noticed the power your emotions have to move you? They move us in many directions, some good and some not so great and they have the power to capsize our relationships and even our lives. Sailors learn how to read and navigate the wind well and safely.
Have you noticed that sometimes in emotionally charged situations you feel like you cannot hold your tongue and you say or do things you regret and you wonder ‘what was I thinking'? In moments like this, the emotional part of our brain (the Amygdala) is hijacked, stress hormones flood our bodies and we fight, flee or freeze out of fear or panic, before the rational and logical part of our brain (the neocortex) which controls our impulses, has a chance to catch up and respond. As followers of Christ, with His help, we can learn how to read our emotions accurately and navigate life and relationships. We can become more self-aware and self-engaging.
II Timothy 1:7 says “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” (Amplified Version)
Do you see the contrast in this verse? Timidity, cowardice and fear are not what God gives us. Instead He gives us a spirit of power, love, sound judgment and personal discipline. What a contrast and what a gift from God! What does it mean to be calm, have a well-balanced mind and be self-controlled? How do we not get hijacked emotionally, but learn to READ ourselves accurately?
Recognise and name your emotions
Take a moment and pause, take a deep breath and ask the Lord to help you name what you are feeling. To help you name them, remember this link from back in April?! If you find it difficult to name your emotions, the next time you watch a film or read a novel, try to name what the character might be feeling. As we learn to read emotions in others, we will be more able to read our own emotions. As we name our emotions the intensity of the emotional response reduces and the response from the logical and rational part increases.
Psalm 42:5 “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become restless and disturbed within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”
Matthew 14:30 “But when he saw [the effects of] the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.”
Evaluate the source of your emotions
Ask the Lord to show you why you are feeling this way. As we ask why, this helps our thought processes to move from the emotional to the logical part. What are my thoughts, values, desires, experiences, circumstances? What is driving them? What heart idols do I have? God often uses situations to show us that we are worshipping something else in place of Him. Let's repent and ask the Lord to forgive us for not having Him as number 1 in our heart.
Psalm 73:2-3 “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Proverbs 20:5 “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
James 1:13-15 “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
Anticipate the consequences of following your initial feelings
We are continuing to try and move from our emotional brain to our reasoning brain by asking further questions. What happened in the past? Where have I seen this before? What is the likely result of following through with this emotion? Am I loving others and God or hurting others and offending God?
Proverbs 22:3 “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.”
Proverbs 15:18 “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.”
Colossians 3:5-6 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”
Direct your emotions on a constructive course
Lord, what do I value and trust? What is going on inside of me? Am I in conflict with myself? Are my outside behaviours matching what is going on in the inside? As I focus on Jesus and how His gospel impacts every area of life, how will I act differently? What Biblical truth will I call to mind and rejoice in? How would I act right now out of deep faith in Jesus? Is it time to act the complete opposite of how I want to act?
Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Colossians 3:12-14 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Emotional hijacking can be pretty instantaneous, but we can learn to pause, pray, breathe and give ourselves time to respond graciously and lovingly. May the Lord help us to be honest as we look at our emotions and responses and how to really, truly love others.
Adapted from Ken Sande at Relational Wisdom 360.