Emotions: Great Companions, Terrible Leaders

Jesse Dinius   -  

When I think back on my college and high school years, I typically surrounded myself with friends who would push me outside of my comfort zone. By nature, I’ve always been more cautious, and so I often needed people to help me live and experience life to the fullest. For the most part their influence was good, but other times it got me into situations that almost cost me dearly. 

One example comes from my freshman year of college in 2013. I had recently gotten into the sport of longboarding, and my friends and I often rode our boards down a large hill just outside of our college campus. My friends were more experienced than me in this sport, so I looked at how they did things to help me decide what adjustments to make, how to ride, etc. One fateful day, I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and started higher up on the hill than I had before,  and it nearly cost me my life. 7 days later I was out of the hospital, and left my longboard behind. I still trust these friends – but at the end of the day, I shouldn’t have allowed them to lead me in this specific area.

So… why do I share all of this?

In this post, we’re talking about emotions. All of us have them and in and of themselves, they’re not inherently evil. In fact, God intentionally created us to have emotions. They make us unique as humans and when in a healthy balance, enrich the human experience (for the Lord of the Rings fans, The Ride of the Rohirrim makes me feel all the things. Every. Single. Time.) But while emotions are a good thing, we have to remember something crucial:

Emotions are great companions, but they’re terrible leaders.

When I look back on the situation with my friends, I knew that pushing my limits was not the wise thing to do. But ultimately, I let my fear of being judged or being called a wuss make the choice for me. While this situation is unique, we all have to choose whether or not to let our emotions lead us on a daily basis. Examples in our daily lives could be any of the following:

  • Anger when someone cuts you off on the freeway.
  • Frustration when your kids didn’t clean up their room.
  • Disappointment when a proposal at work is rejected, or you don’t get the promotion you were hoping for.
  • Stress when you have deadlines to meet, and no time to meet them. 

All of these emotions are natural. Everyone will feel anger, frustration, disappointment, happiness, joy, sadness, etc., at some point in their life. Where we need to be cautious is when we allow these emotions to lead us and our choices. Like a good companion, emotions are along for the ride. They’re not bad to have around and they give us insight into what’s happening inside our hearts. It’s when they’re allowed to lead us that they become problematic. I love how Jeremiah talks about our emotions and what happens when they lead us:

Jeremiah 17:9 NIV
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Jeremiah acknowledges a very crucial truth about our heart and our emotions: they deceive us! In any other area of our lives, we don’t follow things that we know to be deceitful. Imagine if the first GPS was consistently leading people in the wrong direction – no one would buy it! But because its accuracy has continuously been proved as trustworthy, people follow it. Why is it that we allow our emotions to lead us if they’re deceitful?

Here’s some examples of how following our emotions can get us into trouble, based on the list above:

  • Anger when someone cuts you off on the freeway. You respond by telling them they’re #1 with your middle finger. Negative result.
  • Frustration when your kids didn’t clean up their room. You respond by losing your temper in front of your kids in a way that you regret. Negative result.
  • Disappointment when a proposal at work is rejected, or you don’t get the promotion you were hoping for. You respond by going home and complaining constantly about your boss and your job to your spouse, and it becomes the primary topic of conversation. Negative result. 
  • Stress when you have deadlines to meet, and no time to meet them. You respond by having a drink to take the edge off, which spirals into an addiction. Negative result. 

These are extreme examples – but they’re not that far off when we allow our emotions to lead our lives and our choices. Consistent small decisions over time eventually lead to significant outcomes, and our emotions are no different in this regard. So what’s the alternative?

Let Jesus lead your life, and let your emotions follow. 

One of my favorite things about Jesus from the gospel accounts is that he often felt very strong emotions. He wept when his friend died (John 11:35), he displayed righteous anger in temple courts (Matthew 21:12-13), and even experienced genuine joy (Luke 10:21). One of the examples that stands out the most to me is the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is experiencing great agony because he knows he is going to the cross to die, but he refuses to let his emotions get the best of him. Here’s what he said in response to his emotions:

Matthew 26:42 NIV

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Jesus understood that what he was feeling wasn’t in alignment with God’s will for his life. He knew that his greater purpose was to be obedient to his Father, which meant displaying a willingness to lay his emotions aside. When we commit to following Christ, our response to our emotions should be the same: we need to surrender what we’re feeling, and walk in obedience to God’s will for our life. 

This changes how we respond. When people anger us, we can pray for them and love them anyway. When our family disappoints us, we can navigate those moments with grace and patience. When we are disappointed by our career, we can allow it to push us to a greater place of reliance and trust in God. But it all starts with being willing to surrender our emotions to God and his will for us. We’ll never be perfect in this journey – but as we continuously strive to become more like Christ and allow him to shape us, surrendering all aspects of who we are becomes easier. 

Emotions are great companions, but Jesus is the best leader.