Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Just Have a Lot of Feelings... and Why it Matters

You're welcome for that clip from 2004's "Mean Girls," in which a high school Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set up in a context of bullying.  The girl in question is much-needed levity to point out how absurd a ten minute reconciliation process can be, but brings up a great question:  Do we all have a lot of feelings?  And what do we do with them?

In my recent contribution to That Reformed Blog, a post called "That Could Have Gone Better," I called out the controversies around the Noah film and World Vision as being more about emotional processes than theological processes.

But does it matter?  Do feelings matter in cases of justice and injustice, morality and immorality?  Absolutely.  All of our thinking comes from core values, core desires, systemic/relational pressures and emotions.  Emotions give us drive and passion.  They help us respond to potential threats, and release us to experience joy.  Lest we join the world of Equilibrium, we want to keep our feelings.

We also need our emotional processes to stay in their place.  When emotions drive the bus, they steer it toward suppressing negative feelings or achieving positive feelings.  Emotional immaturity typically doesn't consider core values, it focuses on the (potential) threat.

Reflective people will see emotional processes for what they are- the check engine light on a dashboard.  Something is wrong.  What is wrong? How do I respond?  If the check engine light on a car is blinking or the oil light comes on, you do not put tape over the light and expect that the problem is solved (and if you do... good luck on keeping your engine).  Instead, you get the car to a shop and fix the real problem.

I look at Jesus when I consider emotional maturity.  Here was a fella who could eat at a Pharisee's house, denounce the injustice of the same Pharisee and remain connected.  Even the moment where it looked like Jesus lost emotional control (the cleansing of the Temple) is muddied by ambiguity in the Gospels- did Jesus respond to injustice right away, or did He go home and sleep on it?  Either way, Jesus remained in control of His emotions, certainly feeling them and acknowledging them, and also using them to fuel His core desires and not distract from them.

And so what leads to emotional maturity and emotional control?  Certainly, we need to admit and affirm our emotions.  There is no room for "Man up!" here.  We certainly need to share our emotions (re-denounce "Man up!" and "You're just being too emotional").  We certainly need to lift our emotions before God (Read Psalm 139 carefully).  And most importantly, we need ways of regularly affirming that there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to respond to those emotions.  Hopefully we can all help each other walk the path of emotional maturity together.