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.
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.
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.
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.
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.