Monday, June 29, 2015

Biblical Model for Processing Emotions

Meeting a counseling client for the first time, I’m listening to what information they’re communicating, observing how they express it, and making note of why they believe the issues are taking place. Everyone interprets life through a specific filter. Hard-wired temperament personality traits, socio-economic, gender and cultural factors, personal experiences, doctrine and theology, as well as family of origin models all combine to create the filter.

But what if your filter is distorted? Maybe you discard information that’s important, or minimize significant symptoms or triggers because you’re fearful. Without seeing all the information from an objective viewpoint, every conclusion you reach will twist truth--resulting in confusion and misunderstanding. Proverbs advises us to lean not on our own understanding. God speaks to us through others; parents, friends, pastors, doctors, counselors, etc. Look for what God is telling you through all the experiences in your life.

Many clients have beliefs about certain emotions being right or wrong or have been given legalistic interpretations of biblical principles. These filters restrict folks from genuinely processing their feelings, critiquing the beliefs therein, and allowing God to show them what is true for their life. Psalms models this process over and over.

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4 NIV

Do you see the way David processes all his emotions in an unashamed, genuine manner? He began by venting to God, explaining the situation and how he felt. David’s anger came out in the venting, but he knew God saw that his heart motivation was not sinful. Venting allows us to purge our heart and mind of the emotions which, if stuffed, turn into bitterness and resentment. 

Once David purged the anger, sorrow overwhelmed his heart at the plight of his people in their difficult circumstances. Clarity and truth about God and his heart for those people came after David offered his emotions to God as a sacrifice. The Psalm ends with an exhausted David placing himself peacefully into God’s hands.

David shows us a biblical model we can utilize today. Process emotions, critique beliefs, and receive truth from God in order to live a relational, faith-filled life. I explain this Roadmap to Freedom in detail in my book, “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.”

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

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