A number of years ago, we watched the Downton Abbey tv series. One scene comes to mind as I start to write this post today. If you’re unfamiliar with this series, it’s about a British Lord and his family and their household of servants. The story begins around 1912 and then covers several years of their lives. But, in the scene I’m thinking about, the maid to the nobleman’s wife has been building up “emotional steam” because of gossip in the servant’s quarters. She feels she’s going to be let go and is furious. As a result of her overwhelming emotions, she leaves a wet, broken piece of soap on the floor next to the Lady’s bathtub. Stepping out, the woman slips and overnight miscarries her baby.
What happens next is the lady’s maid discovers that she was not on the verge of being fired. In fact, the noble woman praises her and speaks so well of her in front of others. As a result, she realizes with great remorse, “I let my overwhelming emotions cause me to do a horrible thing. Now I must make up for it.”
Although this is a fictional tv show, it mirrors many lives.
Truly, too many people let their emotions overwhelm them to the point that they take actions not based on reality, as in this drama. But, even if they don’t take action, how hard it is to be way up one day and way down the next all because of emotions that are reactions to circumstances. “Can God help me exit the roller coaster of my overwhelming emotions?” is the desperate question of many who can’t seem to find a way to establish a calm, consistent life.
Leaving the emotional ups and downs
Leaving radical emotional ups and downs does not require that we stop feeling our feelings. We were created by God to experience emotions – when life is sad, we can, understandably, weep and feel down. On the other hand, when we experience success or joys in our personal life, of course we’ll be lighthearted and celebrate. The trick is to know that life has ups and downs.
When we succeed or people praise us, maturity will tell us to be glad and enjoy it but don’t let our peace be built on it.
When we’re crushed by a defeat or a great loss, mature faith must tell us that God is with us and we’ll get back up with His help.
How to control your emotions spiritually
Going up and down, up and down in our emotions depending on the events of our lives is no way to live. We’ve got to find a way to feel our feelings but not be yanked all over the place by them. And we certainly don’t want to recklessly do things as I described above from the tv show. Imagine getting so angry about something that was not even a reality that you would harm a person irreparably.
Who wants to live with mistakes so big that have been prompted by emotions out of control? We must find balance.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians in the Bible that it is possible to maintain a level of stability no matter what is happening.
Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And then he said it’s because, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)
Know that God is for you
As we begin to think about how to get better control of erratic emotions, the first thing to think about is God’s help and purposes for us. God’s desire is that we trust Him in every event and experience of life. If we’re trusting Him, we don’t have to fret so much about what others are or are not doing to us.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV) The work of our lives is to come to believe – consistently – that God is the “good guy.” He is for us.
When we trust Him, we’ll believe that He is our Father, Provider, Comforter, Shelter, Hope, Deliverer, etc. When we think this way, we don’t get so worked up over things because we believe, ultimately, that everything is being worked out by a good God.
3 steps to help you get free emotionally
So, picture a 3 car train with one car linked to the next and then to the next. In a life properly ordered, God is the engine pulling all the cars. The first car is God’s word, or the Bible. This car is full of truth, God’s truth. As we read, meditate, memorize, and most of all believe the life-giving words of the Bible, the false ideas we may have about ourselves or others are corrected.
Reading the Bible, we hear God’s enduring love and of His love for His people. Secure in His love and His truth, our personal “world” won’t be so rocked by setbacks. In a fallen world, you are going to find meanness, attacks, sinfulness, etc. God will help you weather those. And, His word, and relationship with Him will keep you from overreacting, especially, to things you imagine. You start to become even-keeled living “underneath His wings.” (see Psalm 91:4)
Let God’s thoughts change your thoughts
Secondly, the Bible says, “For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV) So, as we hear God’s word and are changed by it, we become capable of new thinking. And the new thinking causes what is manifested on the outside of us, our feelings and actions, to change. The second car on the train is our thinking.
When a situation or a person tempts us to lapse into thinking old self-defeating thoughts such as these:
- I’m unloved
- The world’s against me
- I have too much to handle
- Nothing will ever get better
which then trigger negative emotions like self-pity, anger, fear, frustration, etc., we can declare new thoughts, “I am loved. I am chosen. The Lord has a good future prepared for me.” (Think 1 Peter 2:9-10 and Jeremiah 29:11)
The third car on the train is our emotions
Finally, the new way of thinking challenges our past negative thinking and greatly lessens over-the-top emotions.
The third car on the “train” is our emotions.
So to summarize – God’s thoughts affect our thoughts which cause our emotions to be better controlled. Or another way of saying it is our emotions are pulled along by our thoughts which are pulled along by God’s thoughts. The Holy Spirit helps us from being swallowed up by big emotions. We gain control and can think more analytically about things.
Imagine (referring back to the Downton Abbey example I gave above), what would have happened if the lady’s maid had not “stewed” in silence building up more and more bitterness and accusation in her heart? What if she had simply gone to the woman she worked for and asked respectfully, “Are you thinking of taking me off the staff?” (I recognize it can be hard to approach an employer. But in this case, they talked rather openly of many things.)
You can control emotions
I know many people will say, “But, I can’t help myself. I just get angry or I just get really sad. That’s the way I am.”
It’s important to acknowledge that there are people with mood disorders who truly need medical help and counseling. But, the truth is, for many people, it is possible, with God’s help, to begin to think more about one’s thoughts, which will then stop out of control emotions.
When we’re filled with God, the Holy Spirit, the Bible tells us that there is fruit from that:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV) Do you hear it? One of the fruits is self-control. It can be done.
Joyce Meyer’s book, Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind remains a classic book for helping people to think more rationally and gain victory over their runaway emotions. You can find it here.
Trust and worship God
In closing, keep on trying to get emotions under control with the help of the Holy Spirit. Let Him help you to think rationally, and to evaluate how you’re responding to what’s going on around you. You can still feel your feelings, but learn to do it in a way that doesn’t cause harm to anyone.
As I said above, coming to believe in our hearts. all the time. that God is good is our life’s work. It’s a process to grow in this kind of faith and to change the way that we react to the world around us. Be patient with yourself, but keep trying.
If you have a moment more, take time to worship briefly with the embedded song below and hear the message that “God is working things out always.” You’re not alone.
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