This post was written by our friend and local counselor, Kelly Wright. Dr. Wright received her doctorate degree from Northern Seminary and received her master’s degrees from Southwestern Seminary. She was in private practice counseling for 18 years until becoming an associate pastor at Woodcrest where she serves as an Associate Pastor of their Restore Ministry.
If you ever question the small but mighty power of emotions, just buckle up in the passenger seat of the car with your 15 year-old permit driver behind the wheel. An emotional switch instantly flipped inside me every single time. I was a nervous wreck, tense and on guard, fearful and grouchy. My stomach was tight and flip-floppy. It felt as though my child was four rather than 15! Some of you may have seen the movie, Father of the Bride. Remember when Annie Banks tells her dad, George, that she’s getting married? George looks across the table after hearing the news and instead of seeing his 21 year-old daughter, he sees her as a four year-old. Sounds crazy, but emotions will do that to you.
Carl Rainey says, “Emotions are the driving forces of our lives.” Again, may sound crazy, especially when we don’t give much thought or attention to emotions. So how can they be the driving forces of our lives?
Emotions may seem insignificant and something to avoid or ignore, but they are mighty. They are powerful and often a source of many of our behavioral and even unhealthy, sinful responses. These emotional reactions impact our internal state of being, relationships, jobs, how we perceive life and the world around us. Because they are small but mighty, they easily slip into the driver’s seat and become the motivating forces in our lives.
You might also be surprised to know that the Bible has much to say about the power of emotions. We see emotional reactions play out in the lives of biblical characters like the following: when Eve doubted herself and God and ate the forbidden fruit; when Moses was angry and hit the rock too many times; when David was bored and called for Bathsheba; when Hannah was grieved in her barren state and cried out to God in the temple; and most profoundly, when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and cried out to God in His grief and despair. The crux of healthy emotional processing is summarized in Ephesians 4:26-27, which states, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” Breaking these verses down can help us live a life dealing with our feelings instead of our feelings dealing with us.
First, “be angry” is an invitation to be real with what you are feeling as well as a huge reminder that feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. This is significant in our understanding about the power of emotions. Being angry is not sinful, but not sinning in anger (or any emotion) is key. It’s not the feelings, but it is what we do with our feelings that matter. Anger, like many emotions, can lead to a variety of destructive outcomes and can be hurtful if we take it out on others or if we hold on to these feelings internally.
Furthermore, Ephesians 4:26 instructs us to deal with emotions quickly when it says, “…do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Dealing with emotions sooner rather than later is vital to our emotional well-being. Feelings must be processed in healthy ways, such as journaling or processing with a safe person, as they do not go away on their own, but can fester if left unprocessed.
Finally, Ephesians 4:27 gives us a huge awareness of the power of emotions by telling us that when feelings are not dealt with it this leaves room for the devil to have a foothold. When feelings are not processed, the enemy uses that against us – both personally and relationally. Talk about a paradigm shift, especially when we see feelings as inconsequential and unimportant to recognize. Something seemingly so small can actually be the very thing the enemy uses to keep us stuck.
So how can we fight against this foothold and deal with our feelings in practical, healthy, God-honoring ways? One key practice is journaling our feelings daily. I know what you’re thinking, “I hate journaling! There’s got to be another way!” But this three-step process is simple and allows us to identify and process our feelings as well as live in the light of God’s truth. And for those who despise journaling, think of it as going to the emotional gym and trying new exercise equipment. It might seem clunky and awkward at first, but you’ll be so grateful you did it!
The first step in processing your emotions is to name what you are feeling with this phrase “I feel ________” (fill in the blank with a feeling word like happy, sad, mad, scared, confused, grateful). This first step can seem like your first day learning a new language with new vocabulary words. So to help, google a feeling words vocabulary chart. It’s completely normal for it to take some time to identify what you are feeling because many of us learned really, really early on in our lives to push our feelings down and deny them. So give yourself some grace and time to learn this new language and practice this first step of naming your feelings.
The second step in this three-step process is to explore the thoughts underneath the feelings. We do this by completing the phrase, “I feel ___________ because ____________________.” (fill in with whatever thoughts are connected to the feeling). After you have named the feeling, it’s time to explore the “because” connected to it. Like the feelings, the “because” is neither right or wrong, it just is, but it is critical to identify. Recognizing the “because” often leads you to your underlying beliefs and thought patterns, which many times are based on assumptions, expectations, and lies we believe. Our underlying thoughts are also powerful and fuel our feelings. So to illustrate, today in my journal I processed this feeling: “I feel nervous because my annual physical is tomorrow.” My nervous feeling is connected to the concern (and maybe even an expectation) that at my doctor’s appointment tomorrow I may find out there is something wrong with me. If I stay in this line of thinking I will have a miserable day today and this will be something the enemy uses to have a foothold in my day. So to help us (me) get unstuck, let’s explore the third and final step in our emotional processing.
The third step after “I feel _______ because ___________” is exploring what the truth is about the thoughts and feelings. So to complete our journaling process, we add this statement: “The truth about this is ________________.” I call this step “facts versus feelings.” In this step, we explore the facts that help us live in freedom as Jesus declares in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Further, 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive and make it obedient unto Christ. By taking our initial thoughts captive or really looking at what we are thinking, this third step allows us to then make those thoughts obedient unto Christ, or based in truth versus our false thoughts or beliefs. It is important to note that in order for the truth to set us free and to make these thoughts obedient unto Christ, we must do the first two steps before the third. It is tempting to jump right over the feelings and underlying thoughts to the third step because it seems easier and less work to simply think about the facts and move on. But when we just look at step three and what the truth is, the feelings are still there and will resurface because they haven’t been processed. Additionally, if we skip step two, our faulty thinking patterns or the lies we believe will continue to impact our thought life. So what does this third step look like in real life? Going back to the example from my journal, this third step looks like this: “I feel nervous because my annual physical is tomorrow. The truth is I’m healthy and no matter the outcome of the appointment, God is with me and will give me everything I need.”
Final instructions for journaling include doing it daily or as often as you can and journaling three to five feelings a day using the three-step process. Believe me, the more you do it, the better you will feel and you will see a difference in how you respond to life around you. You will be dealing with your emotions instead of your emotions dealing with you. You will be letting God’s truth be the driving force in your life instead of your emotions, even when you are riding in the car with your teen behind the wheel.