Tag Archives: emotions

The Super Bowl of Emotions

Cam Newton dab

SEATTLE, WA – OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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.

Cam Newton sulking cmp

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?

Myths About Emotions Part Two

There is a  myth that emotions are irrational and uncontrollable. Certainly emotions are powerful and can be corrosive, but they are not uncontrollable. Grief, anger,  fear, love,  or gratitude can be cultivated and directed in a variety of ways and for distinct purposes. Today I will explore the myth that emotions are good or bad, positive or negative.

Our culture tends to see emotions in black and white terms. We think of joy, love, hope, peace as good or positive emotions while we categorize anger, guilt, resentment, envy, jealousy, grief and fear as negative or bad emotions. We think that to be angry is wrong and to be in love is right. But such strict categories does not reflect the reality of emotions as expressed in scripture.

In my last post I wrote about anger and an experience I had in a parking lot. I now see my angry reaction in that circumstance as a misuse of my passionate energy. However I don’t see all anger as wrong.

Years earlier I had a different kind of experience of anger in a parking lot. My wife and I had stopped at an A&W drive-in where root beer floats were served in large frosty glass mugs. The delicious drinks were brought to cars by the hard-working wait staff and then the mugs were picked up afterwards. As my wife and I enjoyed our floats, I noticed that a neighboring car was preparing to leave. As they finished their root beer, they placed the mugs on the floor of their car and the driver then quickly set the empty tray on the ground beside the car.

I felt a surge of anger swell within me. I thought, “They are trying to steal the glass mugs!” I yelled for a wait staff person, “Hey, that car is trying to steal your mugs.” I was upset that my neighbor was stealing and I wanted to prevent it. The waitress quickly returned and retrieved the mugs and I received some very dirty looks from the exiting driver.

Now in this situation I believe my anger was justified and my actions purposeful. I could have simply ignored the situation, “not my business,” but my sense of justice motivated me to act. The anger served as an energizing motivator to seek justice in this small situation. I think peaceful passivity would have been wrong in this situation while properly directed anger was more helpful.

There is a time and place for what I call “righteous anger,” when some injustice or unfair system needs to be confronted. Confrontation does not require violence, but rather the purpose of making things right. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in our nation was an expression of such righteous anger towards the injustice of racism.

Jesus demonstrated such anger when he confronted the merchants in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). The temple’s purpose had been subverted by this interchange and Jesus worked to make things right. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, not a marketplace of exchanged good.

Emotions are God-given gifts that need to be cultivated and directed towards God’s purposes.

Lord Jesus, harness the energy of my anger for your purposes.

Spiritual Emotions?

I am reading Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues by Robert C. Roberts, preparing for a preaching series this summer. Twenty years ago I read his book, The Strengths of a Christian, which continues to shape how I look at the virtues of self-control, patience and perseverance. I posted on Strengths previously.

In Spiritual Emotions, Roberts asks the questions, can Christians shape or tend to our emotions? Or are they simply electro-chemical reactions in our brains that we have no control over? Can emotions be something that we cultivate and link to our Spiritual lives?

Roberts proposes that emotions are concern-based construals, a framework for interpreting a situation and responding  to it. I am reminded of an example of this in Stephen Covey’s classic, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, Covey described riding on a subway car and becoming very irritated with a father whose young children were acting out. The children’s behavior was loud and disruptive and Covey became more and more irritated, even angry, with the father for not intervening. Finally Covey confronted the father about the obnoxious behavior of his children. The father, who seemed preoccupied, looked over at his children and then responded, “Yes, I guess they are being unruly. You see, we just came from the hospital where their mother, my wife, died today.”

Suddenly Stephen Covey’s understanding (construal) changed from one of anger to one of compassionate understanding. At first he interpreted the situation one way, “an inattentive father,” that fostered anger within him. But his interpretation or construal changed when he realized that the father was inattentive due to grief, fostering compassion.

Now, according to Roberts, Stephen Covey had some choice in how to respond to the new information. He might have stayed angry, thinking that his subway ride was still being interrupted by these disruptive children and that it did not matter what the reason was. Most of us would see such a construal or interpretative framework as being selfish and un-Christian. Or Covey might have become embarrassed and upset, again focusing more on his own needs. Instead Covey made a choice (perhaps out of habit) to respond with compassion and offer assistance.

Emotions are not just feeling that arbitrarily hit us and we have no control over them. Neither can we automatically dictate what emotions we will have. They are fruit of the Holy Spirit, which we help cultivate and grow over time, practice and attentiveness.  I believe Robert’s book will help me in this practice.

Lord Jesus, shape my heart to be a harbor of love and not fear.

Weather or Not to Live

Mount Rainier on a clear day

This morning waking up to warm sunshine and blue skies gave my heart a real lift.  I know that  the weather should not determine my mood, especially when one lives in Minnesota year round!   Still God created me as a physical creature that relishes sunshine and abhors long stretches of frigid, grey days.   I am not a robot who has not feelings, but a being that has passion, joy, love, pain and sorrow.

Jesus was one who embraced all of life.  He changed gallons of water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:6-10).  He enjoyed eating at lavish meals (Luke 5:29-34).  He provided food for the hungry and healing for the sick.  Jesus was not a spiritual ascetic who rejected the simple good pleasures God give to us.  He spent some time in the wilderness, but  even more time with people in the villages and towns of Galilee, Samaria and Judea.  He came from heaven to live among us. 

Jesus gathered friends around him and enjoyed their company.  He wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:34).  He rejoiced when his disciples return from their short mission trip (Luke 10:21).  Jesus grew tired on his journey to Galilee (John 4:6). He became angry at the money changers in the Temple (Mark 11:15).   Jesus did not pull away from life, but showed us how to enter it completely.

Growing up in western Washington state, I remember many weeks of grey cold rain.  Though mountains surrounded us to the east and west, we did not regularly see them.   When finally the clouds lifted and Mount Rainier was visible, everyone felt a lift in emotions, a lightness of heart.  Our context had changed, and so did we.  

The vibrant life of faith in Jesus will always be lived in context, in relationship to the culture, community, family and even the weather.   We are physical creatures as well as spiritual.  Let us be passionate in our embracing the vibrant life.  

How have you experienced the Vibrant Life of Faith in Christ lately?