Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Emotions: Guides or Companions?

If you've been around me much and heard me talk about spiritual formation and how we grow in Christ, inevitably the role of emotions in the life of the believer comes into play.  And inevitably, I bring up a statement I heard from Dallas Willard:
Emotions are great companions but terrible guides in life.
You don't have to think very long about that to see the truth in that statement.  Let me try to give a brief word picture.

I have a "check engine" light on my car.  It comes on when something is wrong with the engine.  The problem is, I have no idea what's really going on under the hood.  It could be my oxygen sensors are on the fritz (happened once).  It could be that a fuel issue is in play (happened once).  It could be that a wire came disconnected (happened once).  Or it could be a hundred other things because the engine of my car is pretty dang complicated.

Emotions are like the warning lights on the dashboard.  They tell us something is happening in the engine of our soul - whether it's good or bad, something is happening.  The soul is a complex system and there are lots of dynamics at play.  Just looking at the light on the dashboard does us no good in analyzing what's really causing the problem.

But emotions are the layer right underneath actions in our personality.  Thus, often we spring into action before we realize what's really going on.  Living with them as our guides in situations like this causes friction between ourselves and the outside world, especially relationally.  Words get said.  Actions get taken.  Offenses are taken up.  And off we go...

The better play is to see them as a great companion, letting you know something is happening in your soul and going from there into the engine diagnostics.  Why do I feel this way?  What's happening to me?  You can't always do this quickly or easily.  But it's almost always worth doing.  I say "almost" because some emotions can (and should) be put away depending on the event that caused them - like entitlement.

And like my motor, I need help in diagnosing the issue sometimes.  So a good conversation with a friend, mentor, or even a professional is a wonderful tool God has provided for us.

Remember:  great companions, terrible guides.  You don't have to be ruled by your emotions or defined by them.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

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