Emotions are gifts because they are honest. Usually an emotion betrays the true situation. You can do the sensible thing or come up with an intellectual analysis. But deep in your body, anxiety or joy or frustration or anticipation will register. If we don’t acknowledge them consciously, then they will make themselves known in other ways—stress-related illness for instance. If we pay attention to our emotions and accept them for what they are, we can become much more self-aware.
Emotions are gifts because they bring passion to life. It’s not always the passion we want—passion can be disruptive and upsetting!—but at least it’s a true connection to life. Sometimes we may want to be emotionless because we think it would be easier to navigate life without being pushed around by our passions. But a lack of emotion is unhealthy. Deadened emotion leads to depression and disengagement. Passion welcomed can energize life and increase the intensity of everyday experiences.
Emotions are gifts because they facilitate relationship. A friend is listening to your words during a conversation, but much more than words are involved. She is also sensing your emotion and responding to it. She laughs with you not merely because you said something witty but more because you are laughing. Or, he comforts you because he experiences your grief or sadness. The two of you share that emotional connection and can actually participate together in whatever is going on.
I believe that emotions also facilitate our relationship with God. Even when institutions and cultures have tried to stifle spiritual passion and turn religion into a moral system and a particular way of organizing life, people who truly engage with God connect with the Divine emotionally. When prayer gets dry, sometimes we can trace the problem to our emotional state. Perhaps I’m angry but don’t want to show God that anger. So my prayer is careful and limited, to shield us both from my anger. A prayer devoid of emotion of any kind (and why would God not welcome even our anger, so that we can be healed and helped?) is not fully prayer. If our emotions are not engaged in our spiritual communion, then we are holding back from God significant regions of ourselves.
Notice your emotions during your prayer and worship this week. What is happening?