Throughout our lives, we are trained to listen to a vast multitude of voices. Voices that have a powerful influence upon us. These voices can come from parents, siblings, family members, friends, and co-workers. Depending on the household in which we were raised, those voices determine in many ways the path we find ourselves on in our adolescent years all the way through becoming an adult. Some are incredibly healthy and life-giving while others can be destructive.
This month, I want to switch gears just a little bit and talk about a different voice. One you may not be totally familiar with: The voice of your emotions. Yes, believe it or not, your emotions have a voice and the real question is this: Are you listening?
As a young boy, I was loved by two wonderful parents with all the intentions in the world of caring for me the best they could. And they did. Unfortunately, there were things I lacked as a child, a teenager, and even as a young adult. I don’t blame my parents at all for this. They did the best they could with what they knew and who they were at the time. One thing I felt like I lacked is the focus of this post: A fundamental understanding of my emotions and how to process them in a healthy way.
You may be asking yourself, “How do you really teach someone to understand their emotions?” Trust me, I don’t have all the answers in this article. As a parent to an 8 year old and a 6 year old, I feel like I’m in training every single day! Some days I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in my own life. But for the last 13 years, I’ve been on a journey to better understand my heart (i.e. my desires, my feelings, and yes my emotions).
Emotions are tricky. They are beautiful servants hard-wired into us by our Creator. Conversely, they are horrible masters. For the longest time in my life, I was enslaved to how I felt in the moment with very little understanding over what I was feeling. This led to a long addiction to pornography, fantasy, masturbation, and acting out in relationships. I was chasing the white rabbit. Something to bring relief from loneliness, pain, anxiety, fear, and anger.
I didn’t understand what my emotions were trying to tell me. Because I wasn’t listening. I didn’t know how to listen.
Recently, I stumbled across a post from Soul Shepherding (@soulshepherding on Instagram):
It would have been a miracle if I had even known how to name the emotions I felt as a young person. And yet, I believe that was the problem I faced for so long. Instead of knowing what action to take upon emotions that have the potential to quickly spiral me in a dark place, I would instead try to numb the emotion, stuff the emotion down using porn or some other kind of fantasy.
Obviously, this never worked.
Learning to listen to what your emotions are trying to tell you isn’t easy. I would even venture to say it’s an art. But as we learn what powerful feelings like anxiety, fear, emptiness, and anger are trying to tell us, we will discover what our souls are actually craving.
It’s been said that for an addict, pornography (or alcohol, drugs, etc.) isn’t the sole problem, but only a symptom of a deeper problem. If that is the case, then running from emotions is also a sign of some kind of fracture in our heart.
It’s 100% guaranteed we won’t get out of this life without experiencing something painful. So what are we responsible for?
I’m responsible to both listen to my emotions and be led by the Spirit of God. They must both accompany each other for health and wholeness to take place. The old saying, “Follow your heart” couldn’t be further from the truth. Embrace your emotions. Listen to your feelings. But don’t make unhealthy choices based out of emotion.
It’s a balancing act for sure. And it takes work, but we can become emotionally mature human beings. People who aren’t controlled by their emotions and also not detached from them. There needs to be a middle ground where we listen the voice of our emotions but also make choices that are healthy and lead to life. You might be asking, “Where do I begin?” Here’s a few places to start:
- Journaling — Writing may not be your favorite thing to do, but keeping a journal isn’t about length. Even if you were to write one sentence a day detailing how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, that’s a great place to start. What does the state of your heart look like from day to day? Try it today. Here’s a prompt to begin: “Today, I am feeling…” The goal of journaling isn’t to write a book or make it sound scholarly. It’s a space where you can be completely honest with yourself and the Lord.
- [Healthy] Friendships — Notice I didn’t just say friendship. Who are the people in your life who you would consider healthy and in turn care about your heart? Don’t mistake health for perfection. One is possible in life and the other isn’t. We’re all in process, but perhaps there are some individuals at church or small group who you should make contact with and arrange coffee or lunch together. Finding a place you can thrive in community with others is one of the greatest things you can do.
- Counseling — It’s become a very normal practice for people to spend time with a counselor solely for “maintenance”. Spending a season with a therapist doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. There’s no shame in in giving your heart the attention it deserves. A person who is specialized in working with people can help you target areas in your heart that need work and attention.
There may be a step you need to take today that’s not on this list. The point is this: Don’t ignore your emotions and what they are trying to tell you. Just like the lights on our car’s dashboard tell us what’s going on underneath the hood, so do our feelings often point to something happening in our heart. People work so hard on their physical bodies and yet ignore what’s going on on the inside. Become a student of your own emotional health. Years down the road you’ll look back and thank yourself that you did so.