Galatians 5:21 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, against such things there is no law.
Notice, in this scripture, that love, joy and peace are given to us, by God, as gifts of the Spirit, as is self-control, by which we manage our love and joy. So, before an emotion can motivate us adaptively, most of the time it needs to be informed by our thinking. Just because we feel a certain emotion doesn’t mean that we have to act on it immediately.
Look with me at another scripture. That one is in Ephesians 4:26.
Ephesians 4:26 – Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. If we are angry, we can be motivated to action. But let the anger be tempered with reason – or thinking, cognition – so that our response is adaptive rather than destructive.
When I saw those boys running up in my juniper to get that baseball over and over again, if I had gone out there and reacted the way I wanted to – the way I was inclined to, because I was angry – things wouldn’t have worked out too well. But I had to calm myself and become polite and talk directly, but politely, to the father.
I had a lady in my office some time ago, and she felt sadness about her daughter’s lack of motivation in school. That anxiety she was feeling and the sadness was motivating her to nag her daughter. I asked her if she thought it was helping. She said that she could see that it was making things worse. And I said, “Do you remember that Jesus said He was going to heal the brokenhearted?” And she said that she did. And I said, “Do you believe that He can do that?” And she said she did. And I said, “Well, the problem here is, you’re trying to do God’s work for Him and fix your daughter’s heart.” She looked at me with a wry smile and asked, “You mean I’m not God?” So, after we got done laughing, she asked, “If I can’t fix her, what can I do?” And I said, “Well, I think loving her, and encouraging her, and empathizing with her, setting age-appropriate boundaries for her are all within your realm of influence. You can do those things, but you need to let her work it out for herself within a safe environment. Part of this problem is probably because she doesn’t feel up to the task. So, if you affirm her as a person and bolster her sense of self, that’s going to go a long way to helping.”
Another difficulty with emotions – this is the second one – is that emotions are sometimes unconscious and, consequently, hard to detect. This is because we cleverly do many things to keep our maladaptive emotions away from ourselves. Every emotion has three aspects to it. We talked about this last time, but it definitely bears repeating. There’s an awareness – “I’m angry, I’m sad,” etc. There’s a sensation – “I feel it in my heart, my throat, my shoulders, my fist,” whatever. And there’s an impulse – “I want to cry,” if we’re sad. “I want to smash his face,” if we’re angry. And if we’re depressed, we want to eat worms and die. So, if we can’t find all three of these parts, it’s because we’re hiding them from ourselves. And we do this hiding from ourselves in a way, that in my field, we call that defenses.