A couple of years ago, as I was on a plane to the States, I watched the film Inside Out. I hoped (and expected) it would send me to sleep, but the opposite happened. After just a few minutes, I was hooked by the deep messages communicated through this animated children’s film. Set inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, the film voices the importance of all emotions, highlighting the fact that our emotions are more complicated than we might think.
I’m sure we’re all at least somewhat aware of this, no matter how ‘emotionally stable’ we perceive ourselves to be. The topic of emotions is complex and sensitive. When our emotions are being probed, we can easily get offended, upset, and tense. Why is this? One reason is that our feelings so easily become the core of who we are and can often end up controlling us.
The five main characters in Inside Out are named after what scientists would say are the most common emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. But as we get older and experience more of life, we begin to realise that our emotions are much more complex than these ‘core five’ in Inside Out.
Children, however, tend to describe their emotions in fairly black and white terms. I remember a little girl who once came to me crying, telling me her friends were “making her feel bad inside”. I also remember a time when a couple of young girls were chatting in my car about their experiences with death. One girl said, “My heart is racing because I feel sad. I don’t like death.” The honesty, purity, and realism of her words made me fight back tears. I wanted to shout, “Neither do I!” I was reminded that day just how universal emotions are. They are common to us all. From the youngest child to the oldest granny, we all feel. Some of us are just better at hiding it.
Maybe you come under the “stiff-upper-lipped-camp”—you rarely show emotion and can put on a pretty good poker face. There could be a lot of reasons as to why this is, ranging from genuinely not learning how to express emotion to fearing that showing too much emotion is sinful and self-focused. Or maybe you are too proud to show weakness. You don’t want to be seen as ‘that person’ who is always up and down like a yo-yo.
Or maybe you are the yo-yo, and you’re proud of it. You wear your heart on your sleeve—every man and his dog is aware of your inner emotions. Your emotions consume your everyday life and you can hardly get through a conversation without shedding some tears.
No matter how our emotions are (or are not) expressed, we all have them. And the majority of us are controlled by them to one degree or another.
Emotions can feel unpredictable. One morning, we may wake up feeling great; the next day we feel helpless and depressed. One minute we’re calm; the next we’re overcome with rage. Sometimes these emotional swings are seemingly inexplicable.
But circumstances also dictate our emotions. All is well until that phone call comes, and our world is shaken to its core.
Despair haunts you. Anxiety grips your heart. Grief’s dark pit seems to have no end.
Intense emotions arise fast, and during difficult experiences, it can feel as if they will never leave. There may be moments of pleasure, but then the relentless cycle begins again. Another day, another wrestle.
Your noisy mind longs for peace. Your hurting heart longs for comfort. Your wandering soul longs for rest. But where can such peace, comfort, and rest be found when our emotions rage like a stormy sea?
Peace through Humility
Psalm 131:2 speaks of a quietness and stability we all long for: “I have calmed and quietened my soul like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like a weaned child.”
This inner quiet, calm contentment, and composed disposition of David is not found in stoic indifference, an easy-going personality, or a trouble-free life. King David knew better than anyone what it meant to live in the real world. He experienced pressure, joy, heartache, betrayal, affection, anger, courage, and more. Yet still, he gained this inner quiet in the midst of his chaotic life, which was filled with various stresses and trials.
How is this possible? Psalm 131:1 gives us the answer.
“Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me.”
David chose to consciously distance himself from all the noise that clattered inside him. His heart was not self-absorbed. His eyes were not looking down in judgement and arrogance. He was not getting too big for his boots. Rather, David chose to walk in humility. He was able to admit that he was nothing, and in turn he looked to the One who is everything. “Put your hope in the Lord, both now and forever.” (Ps. 131:3)
What has this got to do with how we engage our emotions? Well, everything! The key to being emotionally healthy is humility. As we choose each day to remember the gospel, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We must daily remember the mind-blowing grace and love which God poured out on us. We were helpless, wandering, rebellious sinners, but “He has not treated us as our sins deserve” (Ps. 103:10).
No matter how you feel today, if you are trusting Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you have a reason to rejoice. Not only do we have peace with God now, but one day we will see Jesus face to face, with pure, perfect emotions.
However, as we eagerly await that day, continuing to live in this broken world, we struggle with the daily reality of messy, confused emotions. Our emotions cannot be ignored, and neither should they be.
But we are faced with a daily choice:
Will you trust your feelings, or the Lord?
Or, to put it another way:
Will you allow your emotions to direct your beliefs and behaviours or will you consciously bring your emotions to God in prayer and believe His word as truth?
We always have a choice between these two competing paths. The first way is natural and automatic, but will turn us inward and lead to despair. The second way, however, requires an active decision and deliberate effort, but will cause us “to decrease and Him to increase.” (John 3:30)
Choosing to trust God doesn’t mean ignoring our emotions. They are a vital aspect of who God made us to be. They give us a glimpse of the triune, relational, and personal nature of God Himself. Our emotions enable us to know and be known by God. Therefore, every emotion has the potential to take us deeper and draw us closer to God.
The Bible also describes our emotions as our desires or passions (see James 4). Our emotions, then, reveal what we treasure. If our hearts are full of idols, and these idols get confronted, our emotional response is often nasty. I’ve become aware that I have a tendency to get self-protective when challenged. Looking at this deeper, I see that it stems from a “proud heart and haughty eyes” (Prov. 21:4). This reveals that in those moments I care most about myself and my own reputation.
Engaging with God in this does not mean ignoring these sinful feelings, but rather coming to God, confessing, and seeking His help to change.
Fear, anger, grief, guilt, shame, joy—whatever the emotions, whether good or bad—will you allow them to control you? Or, will you see them as a blessing, a God-given opportunity to turn to Him in honest, child-like faith?
I’ll end with this quote from the book Invest Your Suffering by Paul Mallard:
Life is about making choices. We can choose to grieve over what we have lost, to complain about our disappointments and grumble about our hardships. Or we can rejoice in the treasures of God’s grace and celebrate His bountiful gifts. We can delight in every good thing He has poured into our lives.
What will you choose?