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Deciphering My Emotions

Sometimes, I wish I could consult a chart to decipher my emotions. A chart like this:

Anger: Someone is violating my boundaries.
Guilt: I am violating my own inner code of conduct.
Fear: I am in danger.
Hurt: Someone else is violating my inner code of conduct.
Anxiety: Something is threatening my future. Etc.

Then the chart would tell me what to do about my situation.

Someone is violating my boundaries: verbally re-establish boundaries.
I am violating my own inner code of conduct: acknowledge mistake and forgive myself.
I am in danger: get out of there!
Someone else is violating my inner code of conduct: tell them how they hurt me.
Something is threatening positive outcomes in the future: get rid of the threat.

Perhaps charts like this do exist, and perhaps people find them helpful, but I see a problem. I could be angry because someone has walked all over me, and I could be angry because someone has let me walk all over them. I could be afraid of a big decision I have to make, and I could be afraid of being abducted by aliens. I could feel guilty for doing something wrong, and I could feel guilty for doing something right. Maybe you need an example for this one.

I could feel guilty about being the only one at a party to give my host a thank-you card instead of a bouquet of flowers. I might have decided that a thank-you card is more appropriate for my tight budget. But I feel guilty about not doing more. 

All this to say, I don't think our emotions are good indications of whether we're acting right or wrong. But certainly our emotions mean something. Right? So how is anyone to interpret these fiery reactions in the cerebral cortex?

In a newly weds small group that I attended a number of years ago, Dr. Mark Saucy once told us to press into our pains and fears and angers, and find out what they are saying to us. I think this "pressing-in" can only happen when we stop worrying about being right or wrong. So long as we're afraid of being blamed for feeling a certain way, we won't get anywhere. 

So how can we take care of this blame problem? We could either argue that:

a) Some emotions are good and some are bad,
b) Emotions are morally neutral or 
c) That we don't have to decide whether they're right or wrong because no one is blaming us.

I'd like to take that last option. No one is blaming us. Let me clarify. No one who has the power or authority to blame us is blaming us. Sure, people may blame us—"You shouldn't feel guilty. You're doing the right thing," or "Well, you should feel hurt. They were really mean to you."—However God, who is the only righteous judge here, doesn't blame us. Before He made the world, He decided that He would make us blameless in His sight. (See Eph 1:4 or Rm 3:22 or like the whole Bible).

So, there you go. If we stop worrying about whether our emotions are right or wrong, we can get around to deciphering them. Don't get me wrong. I do think some of our emotions are inline with the heart of God and some are out of line, but trying to decide if we do or don't have a right to feel a certain way is going to hinder us from seeing what our emotions can tell us. So let's stop trying to be our own judge and instead, believe what God said of us: we're blameless.

Next, let's not get mixed up in asking ourselves why we're feeling what we're feeling. Chances are modern psychology will toss us right back into the blaming game if we go that route. We'll blame our parents, our environment, our culture, or the devil, and we'll miss what our emotions have to tell us. Instead, let's ask "what." What is this emotion telling me about myself? What do I desire? 

Let me give a few examples.

1) I see cracks in our foundation. I'm afraid our house is going to fall over in the next earthquake. I'm afraid for my safety and security. I desire to know my future is secure.
2) My kids start arguing in the car about who had the most sweets at school. I am angry that they aren't considerate to one another. I desire for their maturity to happen faster. I want them to be good now.
3) Someone totally misunderstands something I tell them and judges me wrongfully. I'm hurt because they assume the worst of me. I want them to understand me.
4) My kids come home begging for sweets and T.V., and I give in, only to have them walk all over my feelings and parental authority. I'm angry that they weren't thankful for what I gave them. I want them to return the kindness so I can have a little me-time.

If discerning my inner desire is difficult, the Enneagram can help. It lists nine basic desires behind our emotions. Here they are:

1) For myself and others to do things right
2) For people to affirm or appreciate me for all I do
3) To meet people's expectation of me and to be loved for that
4) For people to understand me and for me to understand life
5) To have enough information and energy to handle a situation
6) To be prepared for what will happen next and to know who to trust
7) To have a good time and not be bored
8) For things to happen a certain way so that no one can get to me
9) For everyone to get along and my own needs not to get in the way

If we can discover what we want, we can then remember who fulfills these desires. Again, modern psychology will tell us that we just have to believe in ourselves to bolster our self-esteem, or we have to believe we are powerful to make things happen. Insurance and doctor check-ups and savings accounts can then take care of all our fears.

The world is wrong.

The ONLY way we can have the above nine desires fulfilled is through a relationship with God. There is no way to forgive ourselves for not being perfect unless a perfect being tells us, "I forgive you. You are good." No one can perfectly love us except one who knows us through and through. We can't meet everyone's expectations, but, through Christ's life and death, we have already met God's expectations, and there's nothing more we need to do to be loved. We will never know what to do in every situation except through a relationship with the all-knowing God. We need not fear the future because that all-knowing, all-powerful God will guide us each day in what to do or say. And we don't have to demand that things happen a certain way because God has His finger in every pie, so to speak. We can relax. The Bible says we can have peace.

So, I guess there is a chart for what our emotions tell us. "Trust the Lord," they say. "In this situation too and always. Trust the Lord."


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