For a long time I have cringed whenever I heard someone say we cannot trust our emotions. I kind of think it is true, but it also seems (feels 🙂 ) to me to be at least partly wrong.
Until recently, the best explanation I had for the cognitive dissonance I felt with statements like that was, “Our thoughts are just as able to lead us away from the truth as our emotions are. Why should I trust my thoughts over my emotions? Don’t they both need to be transformed, filled, directed towards and by the Holy Spirit? And if so, is one really more or less trustworthy than the other? Are feelings more innately false and thoughts more innately true?”
Another step towards sorting this out came during a very dark time in my life. For over 2 years friends and counselors helped me correct my wrong thinking. The assumption seemed to be that if I fixed the wrong thinking, the emotions would correct as well. Thoughts rule the emotions, so fix the king and the servants will all be better off. (Or maybe more accurately, “Put the thoughts back in charge and the emotions back in their subservient place, and you will be (feel ?) a lot better.”)
Well, again, there seemed to be some truth in that. But at the end of the day, with my thoughts being continually challenged and corrected, I felt like I was left with healthier, right thoughts and still-broken and hurting emotions.
I would think, “Can’t we move on to caring for my hurting heart now?” And that is what God did. He brought me to a place where I began to be embraced and cared for in the places I hurt. People still challenged my thinking, but at the same time, they sort of left that up to God and began to actively care for my heart. To love me. To provide rest. And encouragement. And a safe place for me to hurt without always trying to find what was wrong with me and fix it.
God Himself, as I cried out to Him to touch my broken emotions, began to do so. To pour healing and beauty in my heart. To comfort me and give me peace and joy. To free me up so I didn’t have to have “verifiable, tangible, intellectual proof” that He was doing so. His healing didn’t always make sense, and more often than not, I couldn’t explain it, but I began to experience connection and relationship with Him as an emotional person. My brain didn’t die, but my emotions were given a new lease on life, so to speak. They didn’t automatically have to be the bad guy to be held at bay because they were erratic, changing and illogical.
The most recent awareness in this process has come out of being overwhelmed by many people’s comments on how smart I am, how amazing my memory is, etc. Being smart is hard for me to talk about–I could fill a few posts with why. But my point is, I began to try to understand why/how I am the way I am, and how that is different from other people . Not to make a big deal of myself, but because I just didn’t understand.
I wanted to know–Why DO I remember this, if remembering stuff like this is not normal? And it kept coming back to my emotions. If an emotion is attached to something, I remember it. If not, I don’t. That’s why I sometimes can’t remember if a friend wears glasses or not. And why I don’t notice when they lose weight. Because for me those details don’t usually attach themselves to feelings.
But everything I do remember has a feeling with it. No, that’s not technically true. The memory doesn’t hold the feeling, I think, as much as the feeling holds the memory. When I read something by John Piper and it makes sense, I feel it making sense, and that is why I remember it. I feel math making sense when I finally get it. I felt it when gerunds first made sense. Actually, I felt it when they didn’t, and that is why I remember specifically the process of gerunds moving from not making sense to making sense.
To make it more complicated, there isn’t just one feeling with each memory. There are lots. Each thing I experience ends up being a package deal full of emotions, with its own sort of emotional DNA. But there is overlap between experiences, and that ovelap creates connections. All emotional. There again is another post for another day.
The thing is, people see me as this great thinker (my friends tell me I think too much AND feel too much!). But I can’t even think in detail about something unless I’m feeling it first. I know this sounds weird and even spiritually heretical in some camps. It doesn’t go over very well theologically to start out with, “Here’s what I feel about it….”
So for now this is why I think I cringe when I hear someone say you can’t trust your emotions: Because if I can’t trust my emotions, I can’t trust me. I have no trouble saying that my emotions are as corrupted by my sin nature as any other part of me. But are they more so? Can I trust my body, corrupted as it is by sin, when it tells me I need to go to the bathroom? Or do I always need to check it out first with my “renewed mind” to make sure it is not a sinful thing I’m going to do? Of course not.
The other day someone asked me if I knew what the presidential line of succession was. It surprised even me that I remembered. But when I thought about why, I realized I felt what the answer was (don’t even ask me to name that feeling. Most of my feelings don’t have names. And they aren’t on those feeling charts with faces, which, for whatever reason, have more negative emotions than positive ones). Now, I wasn’t 100% sure that my answer was correct (it turned out to be), but my distrust was not that I couldn’t trust feelings. It was that I’m human and I’m not always right, in my feelings or my thoughts–no matter how smart you think I am.
I do question myself a lot, because I know I’m not always right and also that there is almost always another way of looking at things. But I unashamedly do not question or doubt myself “just” because the things I know, experience, remember and think are experienced, stored and retrieved emotionally.
My assumption is no longer that if it is a feeling it is false unless otherwise proven true by a thought.