One of the story lines leading up to the Super Bowl was the enthusiastic play of Carolina’s quarterback Cam Newton. Every time he scored a touchdown he had a special dance that he enjoyed performing. Some people took offense at his display of exuberant emotions, but others saw it as a part his passionate personality.
Sunday showed a different side to Cam. He barely responded to questions from the media after the loss. He was clearly in a lot of emotional pain and he walked out of the news conference early. He was not the model of what many would call a “good loser.”
I am writing about this not to drawn any moral judgment to Cam Newton, but rather to how emotions can rule our lives. Cam Newton strikes me as a person who rides the roller coaster of emotions to the fullest extent. When he is happy and excited, he revels in the emotion. When he is disappointed or crushed, he let it all hang out.
This is such a sharp contrast to what I learned growing up. I was taught (in both overt and in subtle ways) that to show any emotions was not appropriate. I came out of a stoic Norwegian culture that emphasized staying in-control. It was not appropriate to ride the roller coaster of emotions; keep an even keel and a pleasant smile. Don’t let my highs get too high, nor my lows too low.
What I have come to discover is that neither path works very well. I have at time chosen to ride the emotional roller coaster, but the ride can overwhelm my inner being and good judgment. I have done and said some rash, harsh things to friends and family in “the heat of the moment.” I have allowed self-pity to rule my days in destructive ways.
But to ignore my emotions can be just as destructive. To bury my anger or ignore my disappointments can be just as destructive. They tend to cause internal stress that calls for attention.
More recently I have practiced a middle way. I acknowledge whatever emotion I may be feeling: anger, disappointment, hope, joy, fear, sadness, but I do not let it rule my judgment. I observe how the emotion may be affecting my body, my breathing, my outlook, but I hold it at a distance. The emotion is certainly real, but it is not in control and it will dissipate over time. I step back and observe what my “reactive behavior” might be and discern whether that behavior would be helpful in the long run. It usually will not be. I don’t bite my tongue, but I certainly hold my words for a moment.
This is a practice of mindfulness. I imagine it as part of my dressing myself in Christ.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)
How do you handle your emotions?
Thanks John for your always thought provoking insight. Emotions are awesome (sometime) and powerful (sometimes) gifts from God. If we believe that we are made in God’s image, does God experience emotion?
Thanks Mike for your comment and question. My first response to your question as to whether God experiences emotions is YES, especially if you take Jesus. Jesus clearly had emotions: sadness at Lazarus tomb; anger at the money changers in the temple and joy in seeing his disciples return from their short mission trip. But as for God the Father and God the Spirit, the Trinity, I think we must be careful not to equate all our humanity as being in the “image of God.” I think some of the OT references to God’s anger and acts of retribution appear to be our human projection on to God. I tend to value most highly I John 4:8 “God is love” and love has elements of an emotion, though I do not want to say love is solely an emotion.