Emotions: Pathways for Transformation

When I left for college, I remember being in the drive way about to get in my car to begin the five-hour drive to west Texas. Being overwhelmed with the thought of leaving what I knew for so many unknowns, I turned to my mom and began to cry. She responded by moving me toward my car so I would get in. She was a very stoic woman and did not express many emotions. I grew up handling the commotion in emotions by stuffing them. However, I believe that God uses our emotions to get our attention for what is going on in our souls. Our emotions can be pathways for transformation.

We are created in the image of God and God has emotions. Consider God’s emotion of love (1 John 4:10), grief (Gen 6:6), and joy (Zeph 3:17). Emotions are one way that God draws our attention to what is going on in our souls.

However, we tend to handle our emotions in our own strength. We stuff them or express them outwardly in inappropriate ways. Jeremiah 2:13 declares, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  We have forsaken the fountain of living water, God. We have hewed out cisterns for ourselves—tried to do things in our own strength. These cisterns we have created are broken—they do not hold water, they do not do things rightly. One way our broken cisterns show up is by the unhealthy ways we deal with emotions. We need God to enable us to respond to emotions rightly.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves in Emotional Intelligence 2.0 describe the neurological path of electrical signals in the body as follows: everything that is sensed is changed into electrical signals that pass through the body cell by cell which enter the base of the brain at the spinal cord; the signals then go through the limbic system where emotions are produced; and then the signals travel to the frontal lobe where logical, rational thinking occurs. The emotions (which we have no control over) have the first response to situations over logic.[1]

Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ explains the amygdale functions.[2]Within the limbic system is the amygdala where memories are stored (those which are known and those which are not fully known). When the amygdala senses a pattern emerging, it can make conclusions without all the evidence leading to unexpected emotional outbursts referred to as a neural hijacking. The logical side of the brain is robbed of the chance to have input into the reaction.

Plasticity, the ability to change, is a characteristic of the brain.[3] The more feelings are thought about and dealt with the more developed neurological pathways are formed between the emotions and the rational parts of the brain.[4] Thus, the emotional circuitry can be relearned, reshaped, and reeducated which results in emotional skills being remedied.[5]

It is awesome to see how science is discovering the physical wonder of our bodies! God’s miraculously works through emotions in our bodies to transform our responses to be like Christ’s responses.

It is good to be attentive to emotions so we can engage with God about things deep in our souls for transformation. Just as my mother taught me how to stuff my emotions, your heritage taught you how to handle the commotion in emotions in some way. Our past influences our present. How were emotions handled in your family when you were growing up? Were you taught to stuff them? Express them unhealthily? Express them rightly? What pattern of responses to emotions from your past would you like to keep in your life? Which ones would you like God to transform? The keeping and changing will occur as you depend on the Triune God. Who are you depending on for your responses to emotions? Yourself or God?  

For your consideration: Travis Bradberry’s and Jean Greaves’ book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 San Diego, CA: TalentSmart, 2009. Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1995. Curt Thompson’s book, Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices that Can Transform Your Life and Relationships, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2010.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (San Diego, CA: TalentSmart, 2009), 6 and 16.

[2] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 1995), 14, 15,18, and 24.

[3] Bradberry and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 51.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 44, 208, and 214.

PJ Beets is passionate about encouraging women and children through the Scriptures and life to see the compassionate God who redeems the rejected by acceptance, the silenced by expression, the labored by grace, and the lonely by love in order to set them free to serve in His ordained place and way for them individually and corporately. She has served the Lord through Bible Study Fellowship and her home church in various capacities with women and children. Upon turning fifty, she sought the Lord on how He would have her finish well which began her journey at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies as well as a Doctor of Educational Ministry in Spiritual Formation, both from from DTS. PJ is married to Tom, has three children, and six grandchildren.