By: Lisa Horn

 

Sometimes it feels as though my heart is a piece of playdough, rearranged and disfigured by the slightest disturbance. Some days, it feels like my playdough heart is having a trance party with all the commotion in there. I wish I didn’t feel things quite so intensely. I wish I wasn’t so easily shaken.

I don’t know about you, but I find having all these emotions extremely confusing. Sometimes they guide me towards what is right and good. At other times, they are more like a distraction, sending me on an accidental U-turn in my journey to holiness. If that’s the case how can I trust them?

Does that mean feelings are bad? And how do I stop myself from feeling them? Is that even possible?

I grappled with these questions a lot, until I realized that it is not our feelings, or passions, that are good or bad. We aren’t sinning every time we experience a “negative” emotion. We can feel whatever we feel and, to a certain extent, what we feel is out of our control. What is in our control though is how we handle these feelings. What we choose to do with them (i.e. our actions and our words) is where our morality comes into play (CCC 1767).

This made so much sense to me as having feelings and emotions is part of what it means to be a human being (cf. CCC 1764). Our passions aren’t that extra dose of chemical X that God mistakenly threw into the mix when creating us. As inconvenient as a bad mood may be, God created us with sensitive appetites for a reason. WHY? Because through them, He communicates with us. That peace you feel when you walk out of confession? Yup, that’s from God. The frustration when people are talking during Mass? That’s probably from Him too. Our passions are like a speed dial communication between our senses and our mind and God can use them to incline us to act, or not to act, in a certain way (again check out what the catechism has to say about this – (CCC 1763, 1764).

We can very easily recognise this to be true by examining Jesus’ actions in several stories in Scripture. Jesus, our model of how to live good Christian lives on earth, was no emotionless robot. He expressed sorrow and cried with Martha and Mary when they told Him His friend Lazarus had died. He expressed justified anger by turning over tables when people were taking advantage of the poor and desecrating His Father’s house. When God came down to earth in human form, He took on everything that it means to be human. Emotions and all.

So emotions are all good? Well no; as good as emotions can be, they are also famously unpredictable, easily influenced and, as I mentioned earlier, not fully under our control. How then do we know whether what we’re feeling is from God or not? Is justified or not? We can discern this by using our knowledge of good and evil and our ability to choose the good in our actions. This knowledge and ability, otherwise known as our intellect and will, are under OUR control (CCC 1767). As overwhelming and enslaving as our emotions may seem at times, WE ultimately decide whether we accept them and how we react to them. Instead of letting our playdough hearts bend to every emotion, we should stop to recognise where the movements of the heart are leading us. Is it towards goodness and light? If the answer is yes then we’re probably in safe hands. If not, then these movements are probably not from God and we need to take control. Yes, we are called to love God with all our hearts, but also with all our minds (Luke 10:27). As a wise priest once told me, we need to ensure that the lift is constantly going up and down between the two and that we’re not cutting off the connection or relying too heavily on either one.

 

 “Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:15)

 

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

 

Increasingly, society is becoming emotional pleasure seekers. We are led to believe that fulfillment is synonymous with strong emotions and depend more and more on how we’re feeling or on the intensity of an emotional experience as a measure of something’s value. We crave emotional highs, do our best to numb unwanted negative feelings and place less and less value on our intellect to steer us through the rights and wrongs of this whirlwind world. In this way, we become slaves to our own passions and emotions. And, if we’re only seeking that emotional high to justify the value of something, what happens when we just aren’t feeling it? What happens when we’re just not in the mood to pray, or to go to Mass, or to love?

As important and urgent as our emotions may feel, we need to realise that not everything boils down simply to a matter of feeling. God didn’t give us a sensitive appetite for us to be overwhelmed all the time. God has greater things in store for each one of us and, if we allow Him to help us, our will and our intellect can overcome any temporary emotion. Our emotions are not something we should run away from either. We can’t praise God for the good emotions and then numb ourselves to the inconvenient ones. In order to experience life as God intended us to, we need to be able to stand in the face of sorrow, of guilt, of anger, of fear as well as of joy, of affirmation, of pleasure and at every time, still choose to love.

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) 

About Author: Lisa Horn

A sweet-toothed Speech Therapy student at the University of Cape Town. I have a penchant for coffee, dogs and French language and culture. I am happiest outdoors, asleep or in adoration (sometimes the latter two unintentionally coincide). I hope to one day walk the Camino de Santiago and swim in every ocean on Earth (apart from the Antartic #nothanks)