The reliability of emotions

Phase 1

During 1980s, I would have described myself as essentially unemotional. I made decisions by surveying the various options and choosing whatever made the most sense.When people talked about being led by the Holy Spirit’s promptings, I had no idea what they were talking about: either a choice made Biblical and rational sense, or it did not. If someone asked me how I felt about something, I always had to stop and work it out; it wasn’t something I was normally even conscious of.

Phase 2

In the early 1990s, God challenged me to live more emotionally. I tried to be more aware of my feelings. I tried to grow grow in feelings of compassion for other people. I looked for a way to understand the promptings of the Holy Spirit through my emotions that was consistent with my theology about living Biblically. I started paying attention to my intuitions about things.

Phase 3

In the mid 1990s I went into a fairly deep depression for a few years. It undid my emotional moorings. Eventually, I learned to “white-knuckle” my way through life; that is, I ignored my feelings and just operated on will and reason.  My emotional energy came from a kind of slow-burning angry rejection of anything hopeful or positive. If I kept reminding myself I’d given up, it was easy to just do whatever needed to be done.

Phase 4

In the late mid 2000s the anger gradually faded and I rediscovered hope and purpose. When I lived hopefully, though, I lost my ability to live a disciplined life. It was a dilemma. I could live hopefully and sloppily, or I could be determined and bitter. I could get lots of things done with a bad attitude or very little done with a cheerful heart.

Phase 5

These days I’ve figured out how to balance positive feelings with strength of will, but, oddly, the trustworthiness of my emotions fluctuates in predictable ways.

Every few days, for a few days at a time, the emotional part of my walk with God just flows. I’m aware of my feelings about things, and they serve as reliable guides for me. If I feel concerned for someone, it’s a sign that I should start praying for them; if I feel guilty about something, God is probably convicting me to change it; if I sense that a certain Scripture is important for me right now, it probably is. I make a lot of my decisions based on my intuitions about what would be best to do, and it all works out well.

Then, a few days later, my emotions become unreliable for a while. If I act on my concern for someone, I just make things worse; if I feel guilty, it’s usually false guilt that just becomes a burden; if I sense that a Scripture is important, I discover in hindsight that I misinterpreted it. My intuitions are ambiguous and misleading. When this happens, I revert to functioning by reason and will-power alone. I’ve also noticed that certain events in my life trigger this kind of emotional unreliability. I’ve learned to discount whatever I feel God is showing me during those periods, because I’ll get it wrong.

So that’s where I am currently: the first thing I have to do is to discern what stage I’m in, and emotional or a reason-alone stage. Then, I respond in kind.

What about you? Feel free to comment.

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