This past Saturday, I had the good fortune to be able to attend the women’s meeting at my church. It had been years since I had been to one and honestly all I remember from it was nobody’s husbands took out the trash without being asked. Not that these women weren’t spiritual or that we didn’t need to discuss the care of our facilities, but somewhere in our conversation of that meeting we forgot our purpose. This Saturday though was a stark contrast though. the meeting was supportive, uplifting and at no point did I feel the focus drift. One of our dear Deacons took a few moments to deliver some thoughts and quotes pertaining to the trials and tribulations we have all felt in the last year between the pandemic, weather phenomenon and social unrest, but one thing that caught my ear was that we are taught, certainly in America, to live in emotions.
Instead of being taught to be satisfied with whatever comes our way, our culture takes God out of the picture entirely and to dwell on the emotions of any situation instead. Such as you win a sporting event as a child or get an A on a test, it is almost unheard or for anyone to say “Glory to God for the skills and grace He blessed me with.” Instead we take all the glory for our own and call it happiness, but what happens when things don’t go our way? When we lose, we still don’t look to God unless it is to blame him however it’s against nature to blame ourselves so we get sad and angry. We give ourselves over to negative emotions and run with them. Living this life has us yo-yoing from emotion to emotion, living and feeding emotions that have no substance. One day our jobs make us happy so we feel satisfied and another day our jobs makes us sad or angry and we are dissatisfied. How do we expect to build stability off of such a fleeting and fluctuating thing as emotions?
A while back I read a plethora of self-help books and one of the few lessons I learned was that no one else is in control of my emotions. This lead to a number of conversations that Ian found irritating, because He would ask what he had done to make me unhappy, if he noticed I was in a mood. I would respond, usually curtly, that he can’t make me happy or unhappy, that was my choice. Granted my tone and body language were telling a different story, but my words were true. I was choosing to be unhappy and live in anger or sadness or discontent… it wasn’t his fault even if he was involved in the events that lead to me making that choice, I chose what feelings to live in that moment.
While emotions are important to feel and acknowledge, it is important to do it modestly. The Holy Fathers of the Church warn us to be cautious in expressing ourselves. Temptations lurk in excesses of emotion. In joy and happiness, come conceit and pride, in sadness comes despondency and gluttony and in anger comes jealousy and wrath. So if we are living in these emotions as a means of satisfaction we are constantly opening ourselves to temptation and sin and forgetting the real drive of our life… God. What happens when we give our emotions to Him?
Instead of boasting with pride “I had a great day at work because I am an amazing worker and this job is perfect for me,” perhaps the more humble “I had a great day at work, Glory to God for my job.” Instead of slipping into despair with “I am the worst person in the world, I suck at everything, I will always be alone,” a less tempting expression might be “I am sad and lonely right now, but thanks be to God for my trials.” Perhaps the hardest of all is to slow the green eyes of jealousy “I hate people they don’t deserve anything they have,” instead try “Lord have mercy on me, thank you for all that I have but I pray that one day I may attain my desires if it be your will.”
In each of these examples the life of the emotion is taken away and given to God, where it truly belongs. That being said it is not an easy task to stop living emotions. I mean even laundry detergent ads tell us happiness will fill our lives if we wear clothes of their scent, but as much as everyone wants a happy life, is that what we really need? We have other emotions for a reason. Do we learn anything from happiness? Do our most significant memories have to do with happiness? For example, I remember with warm sentiments my wedding and Ian and my first dates, however even more vivid memories are remembered of our first fight and how we learned to communicate for our disagreement. I look back now and laugh at how silly we were and am happy that we made it through that trial, but at that time I was not living happiness which tells me that emotions are not trustworthy ways to make a living.
Being modest in emotion seems like a huge task as it is against everything our culture is teaching us, when we sit back and look at the ways our emotions fluctuate, it becomes clear that living in emotions is not healthy or stable. Living such an unbalanced life is dangerous to ourselves and those around us, where if we give mild expressions of our emotions to God we are able to feel them and move on, seeing the all of life’s satisfaction does not require one emotion or another, but simply the grace of God.
What are some examples you have of living in emotion? Have you fallen into traps of excess expression of emotion? How did you move forward?