How can we make lasting changes in our lives? How can we control our emotions so that they lead to a healthy and God-honoring life?
“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life.” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).
Mind and emotions
Emotions are based on concerns. They arise because we care about something or someone that gives occasion to certain feelings.
Emotions are deeply connected to how we construe our circumstances related to real and meaningful concerns. A construal – is an interpretation of the meaning of something; a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, person or relationship. If we see things the wrong way it will lead to misguided and even destructive emotions. But perspective is always behind emotion. Consider a some examples:
Emotions and construals
- To feel indignant is to choose to see myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself.
- Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
- To feel despair is to see my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
- To feel envious is to see myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
- To feel guilty is to see myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe.
How to change or dispel emotion
“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some set of ‘terms,’ to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.”
Control over emotions
“It is important to Christians that emotions are partially within people’s control, that they can be commanded. Scripture commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When Scripture reminds us that love is not jealous, or irritable, or resentful it seems to assume that these feelings are broadly within the control of the reader. Being resentful is not like being five foot six or having congenitally bad teeth.” (R. Roberts, p. 21).
Emotions and the Gospel
The ‘terms’ of the Christian emotions are provided by the Christian story, there is a necessary connection between the Christian emotions and the Christian story” (Ibid. p. 21)
“The gospel message provides people with a distinctive way of construing the world: the Maker of the universe is your personal loving Father and has redeemed you from sin and death in the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus. You are a child of God, destined along with many brothers and sisters to remain under his protection forever and to be transformed into something unspeakably lovely” (Ibid., p. 16).
- To experience peace with God is to view God as a reconciled enemy.
- To experience hope is to see one’s own future in the eternity of God’s kingdom,
- To be Christianly grateful is to see various precious gifts, such as existence, sustenance, and redemption, as bestowed by God.
Not our whole story
“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end” (Roberts).
Short audio on this theme here.