Why do you feel the way you do? (Renovation of the Heart Chapter 7)

I’ve heard it said that emotions are hallways to pass through and not rooms to live in. Yet, far too often, we live in certain emotions and do everything that we can to avoid other emotions. We want some emotions to remain, so we cultivate them. We live chaotic emotional lives because we have nothing to anchor our emotions to, no greater foundation than the whims of the moment.
But part of spiritual transformation is the willingness to let go of some emotions, face other emotions, and strengthen other emotions. Transformation means that we do not let our feelings run in every direction, chaotically pulling us one way and then pushing us another.
Willard points out this reality when he says, “We must never directly cherish, protect, or manipulate feelings” without first understanding the underlying condition from which they spring. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Where is this feeling coming from? What is its foundation?’
The reason we have to be careful to view emotion in this way, Willard says, is because “creep over into other areas of our life; they pervade, they change the overall tone of our life and our world…They may take over all else in us, even that to which they have no relevance.”
I once taught a student who was so full of anger and hate that it overwhelmed her. She pushed away everyone with her hostility. I once asked her why she was so angry and when she told me she broke down crying. I said, ‘If you hold on to that anger it is going to destroy you.’
Though she agreed with me, she continued to hold on to her anger. Years later, I saw her and asked her how she was doing. She was still angry. And it destroyed her relationship with her family and was continuing to destroy her own heart.
The call to people to refuse to cherish, protect, or manipulate feeling without understanding where they are coming from sounds wrong to a world that wants to be wrapped up in feelings. Willard says, “Abandonment to feeling, allowing oneself to be ‘carried away’ by feeling, is actually sought by many, and on a regular basis.”
So, how can we bring order to what often seems like the chaos of feeling? How can our feelings be righteous?
Willard says our feelings spring from underlying conditions of our lives. Therefore, the Christian must cultivate the right conditions from which feelings can rise. Love, joy, peace, faith, and love are to be the foundation from which we can build a transformed soul. When these virtues are cultivated so that they serve as a foundation for our feelings, we will not live in the chaos of whatever feeling might come up next, but live according to the values of God’s kingdom.

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