The Purpose of Emotions

Image courtesy of Bobbi Dombrowski via stock.xchng

Two summers ago, I remember pacing the lawn at the old house while talking on the phone (I still don’t know how to be still when I speak on the phone).

I described to my dear friend (in our “stolen moments” after bedtime) how novel writing seem especially necessary or missed in that season, because I felt such a flurry and burying depth of feeling that it took 16 characters to bleed the emotion down to a manageable level.

(All of this punctuated by the emotion thickening my voice as I tried to discuss the topic.)

I was embarrassed by the emotion. I couldn’t think what the point was other than to give evidence to my weakness, and my head wasn’t currently on straight enough to back up and start from basic principles:

Unless this was the result of the Fall (when Sin entered into the world) there must be some original purpose for these frustrating feelings.

This friend was raised on the F side of the F — T spectrum, and she still doesn’t seem to understand my mistrust of the F side of things. So I suppose this comes down to a cultural expression. All I know is that when it comes down to downs, “people” mistrust expressions of emotion the way men mistrust women’s periods. It’s mystical, inexplicable, and the deepest proof of it’s power it the continued impossibility of eliminating it.

Lo and Behold, I finally heard an authoritative voice posit a reason for these pesky little elephants of distraction.

Emotions are radar.

They’re your warning system.

Are you becoming angry? Look around. Who’s crossing a line?

Are you sad? Is there some loss you need to acknowledge and grieve?

Are you zipping with delight? Enjoy it! Share it!

This last isn’t the one we usually wrestle with.

Have you ever heard someone complain about feeling so good they just wish it would stop?


We sometimes know what to do with the positive emotions, even if they’re not any more “understandable” than the rest.

And here I think is where we might try to nail the jello-y question of value in emotions.

Thinking, reasoning, cognitively working things out, gives us an action point.

We leave the mental exercise with something to DO, or at least begin to understand.

Emotions are Raw.  Not just exposed and nebulous; they must be processed before they may become overtly useful.

And most people (in my experience) either don’t know how to do the work, or are not interested in the work. So emotion retains the “useless but unavoidable” status that menstruation carries in our culture.

Hmm, two references in one post. Think I can roll with this?

Probably the most and the best we can saw about menstruation is that it is cleansing. Emotionally speaking, it highlights all the things we’ve been ignoring the rest of the cycle, and physiologically it conveys a snapshot of how the body feels about the way you’re taking care of it.

But most women I know would rather be more like men.  It’s just plain more inconvenient to have your life i-n-t-e-r-r-u-p-t-e-d on a regular basis by something that is unignorably a part of you but not under your control!

Ah, we’re back to emotions now.

It’s when I’m having one of my very calm, self-aware moments (yes, those two can go together) that I consider that this forcible interruption could be another message. Not just about the outer world or the inner world, but maybe (maybe) from God himself.

Is there a chance he could be teaching us, coaching us, to approach life differently? Maybe to slow down a bit?

Or maybe, if you’re one of those who doesn’t feel the need to slow down (who just gets frustrated by the occasional interruption to life), maybe it’s a Grace-Coach, reminding us that we don’t know where the people around us are at.

I will warn you that processing useful stuff out of the raw emotion of my life does take time, but I think I can reassure you that the process does streamline.

Just as you recognize specialized ringtones after a while, you will start to notice sooner and subtler when something is wrong.

So the bad news (to me) is, there’s no off-switch. The good news is the best time to act is at the small signs, and the more we practice to sooner we can identify those small signs.

And the goal in all this is to become more effective people. Not just the most-insightful, the cleverest, or whatever.

…The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for a few moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.

C.S. Lewis

This is more of that learning we are not in control, but maybe even that that doesn’t have to mean unsafe.

2 thoughts on “The Purpose of Emotions

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