It's the monthly Hearts at Home blog hop and today's topic is "Love your feelings". I very nearly didn't participate this time because one doesn't always want to be the contrarian; I'm just not feeling the love for this topic. You see, I don't always love my feelings, and with good reason.
Our feelings do not always reflect reality. Perhaps I am hyper-sensitive to this, having adopted three children whom I did not readily attach to, but there is so much more going on than just how we feel about something. Let's look at some examples.
The first is the one I just alluded to. It is possible, and very often necessary to love someone whom you are not feeling love for at that moment. It could be a child, it could be a spouse, it could be a friend. We should love them, we are told in Scripture to love them, but we don't always feel those lovey-dovey loving feelings. It really doesn't matter what we are feeling at that moment, it matters how we act and treat them. We treat them lovingly even if we are not feeling loving. In my experience, the feeling follows the action. You want to feel more love or a spouse or child? Treat as if you already do.
The second example is how much our emotions and feelings are influenced by outside sources. Think about how endless strings of cloudy days make you feel. There doesn't have to be anything difficult going on in your life, but day 10 of nothing but clouds can make you feel vaguely (or very, depending on temperament) depressed. There is nothing that has actually caused the blues to set in but the weather, yet, if you are like me (I do best with plenty of sunshine), you find yourself becoming more cross and more unpleasant as the cloudy days roll on. It takes a supreme act of will to not embrace the emotions and to climb up out of the cloudy pit of despair and be a pleasant person again.
Finally, our feelings are just as much a part of our sinful nature as anything else, maybe even more so. Think about the range of negative emotions we can feel towards other people... jealousy, envy, dislike, annoyance, contempt. Some people just rub us the wrong way. Then there are also those feelings of prejudice (which may even be unrecognized) that we all feel towards other groups of people. We can be prejudiced against other nationalities, income levels, occupations... just about anything. Really, we humans are a mess.
Now, this is not to say that feelings do not have any value or serve no purpose. Love, joy, and peace are the emotional places we can embrace and wish we could experience all the time. Hope is often the only thing that gets us through difficult times. We need emotions. Our feelings can also act as an early warning system that something is off. How many of you have experienced those vague unsettled feelings that something is wrong and when you finally pinpoint what is bothering you, you can relax? We are often aware of difficulties in our emotions before our rational mind has caught on.
While it is extremely important to be able to accurately identify what you are feeling, it is also necessary to check what we are feeling against reality. Is what we are feeling an accurate reflection of what is going on around us? Is life really as bad as it feels at that moment? Do people really love and care for me even if I am not feeling that is true? Am I controlling my feelings or are they controlling me? Sometimes it takes an outside source to help us really understand if what we are feeling is meshing with reality.
Learning to identify and regulate ones emotions is a learned skill. Babies and young children do not regulate their emotions at all... they can't. They rely on their parents to externally help them regulate and they also pick-up on the adults' emotions as cues to how they go about doing it. Children who have not had this type of nurturing grow up unable to do this. Either through neglect or trauma, their ability to recognize and control the emotional part of their brain is limited. Once again, they rely on the adults around them to help them learn to regulate. Since I live with children like this, I can tell you, it's easier to start when you're a baby to develop this skill than as an older child.
Having lived with people with unregulated emotions for a while now, you can understand why I am a little hesitant to embrace the "Love your emotions" message. I don't always love them and I don't always think they deserve to be loved. Understand your emotions might send a much better message. You don't have to love everything about yourself. We are sinful by nature, so it follows that there is going to be yucky, unpleasant stuff about us. Don't love it... ask God to transform it.