January 18, 2018
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interrogate emotions

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. - Romans 8:26

Around our house we sometimes refer to them as “pesky emotions.” The much appreciated feelings, such as joy and happiness, can be interrupted by fear or sadness. Where did that come from?!? One wonders.

Emotions are neither good nor bad. They are a response to what we believe. When an event occurs our mind interprets the signals and jumps to a conclusion. Then this belief triggers an emotional response.

Whenever our emotions surprise or confound us it means there is a disconnect between our heart and our head. It is important to know when there is a conflict between our cognitive beliefs and our heart-felt convictions. Interrogating our emotions helps us resolve the conflict.

Related Audio
Hannah is introduced to us in the Bible as a woman with complex emotions. Her story is told in just the first two chapters of 1 Samuel. She is loved, cherished, irritated, grieved, sad, troubled, and struggling with anxiety and vexation. Her emotions begin to align with God’s as she prays, and she resolves her conflict and discovers her purpose.

Emotional Response

When an event occurs our brain immediately filters through a plethora of information. First it looks for evidence to prove all prior conclusions and beliefs remain true. It is protecting the frame of reference. Then it checks for anomalies and disruptions to existing patterns, and tries to reconcile them. Our emotional response is a result of these conclusions.

The event can be a real-time circumstance, such as an interaction with nature or another person. An event can be in the past, and recurs as a memory, or it can be in the future in the form of imagination. The brain processes events the same way, whether they are past, present or future.

For instance, imagine a handful of people in a room. I walk in, glance at the people, and make eye contact with my wife. She gives me a quick smile, and I feel joy. The event is a personal interaction. My brain interprets the smile as a sign of affection and quickly confirms my prior conclusion that “I am loved.” The emotional response of joy is consistent with that belief. By the way, I feel joy whether I experience, remember or imagine this scenario.

Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are an outcome. To recognize this truth can be very freeing. Some people have been told to avoid “bad” emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety and sadness, and to focus on “good” emotions such as joy, happiness, acceptance, and so on. We cannot control emotions at the experiential level, but only at the core belief level. In the example above I would describe joy as a pleasurable emotion rather than a “good” one.

Cognitive Dissonance

There are times when our emotional response is not what we want it to be or think it should be. This is often the case when someone tries to manage their emotions to eliminate the “bad” ones or accentuate the “good” ones.

For example, a person may have been commanded to not be so angry. They can only avoid anger in a temporary condition managed by strong willpower. Sooner or later, and it’s usually sooner, anger squeezes out through the cracks. Until the belief that causes the anger response is changed, anger is going to be the outcome. That is why we use emotion as an access point to interrogate beliefs. (See Related Article).

The goal of interrogating beliefs and emotions is to reconcile the frame of reference to the truth. As long as you hold something to be true, it will act as if it is true to you. In this example, a person may experience anger if he believes others are looking for an opportunity to attack him.

There are a lot of cues for dissonance in the emotional realm. You may be surprised by emotional responses, or wonder why you cannot curb unpleasant emotions. These are indicators that your heart and head do not share the same conclusion about something.

What you believe to be true in your heart will always override what you think in your mind. Interrogating emotions is the surest way to get to your underlying frame of reference. Do not be fooled into the rational answer or logical explanation that comes out of your brain, but press on to discover what you believe at the core of your identity.

Some people are particularly expressive and experience a wide range of emotions in any circumstance. They have to identify which of the many possibilities is the key emotion to interrogate. Sometimes it is the dominant feeling, but at other times it is the one that is most consistent. It can take some discernment to follow the real emotional response and not be misled by masking ones.

Extroverts experience and express emotions easily, but they also care about the impression they are making. They are susceptible to presenting the emotion others expect. Pray for guidance to get to the primary emotion that needs to be interrogated.

Other people express or experience very little feeling because they come from a place where it is unsafe to express emotion. Their emotions are blocked or suppressed, and may become inaccessible. Introverts and victims of trauma are often in this category. Pray for guidance to get to the primary emotion that needs to be interrogated. Give permission for him or her to imagine feeling the appropriate emotional response.

Free to Feel

Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. … I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. … I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” - 1 Samuel 1:15-16

Hannah was a loved and cherished wife, but was unable to bear children. Year after year she went to the temple to pray, pouring out her soul to the LORD. She expressed her sadness at being childless. In her culture it was considered a curse. She shared her emotions with God in prayer.

The first step to interrogate emotions is to be free to feel. Sadness was not to be suppressed or squelched, but shared in prayer.

Hannah was one of two wives, and Peninnah, the other wife, provoked and teased her for being barren. So Hannah expressed her grief, irritation and anguish to the LORD. She was troubled by the circumstances, and all the more by the competition.

Imagine now how Hannah’s prayers changed over the years. It would be boring to keep coming to the temple with the same old complaints, but she was emoting for a purpose. As she prayed, she asked God for resolution. Certainly God could have changed her circumstances to resolve her unpleasant emotions, but He didn’t do that right away. Something else must have been going on inside of her.

Over the years her prayer changed, her attitude changed, her frame of reference changed. How do I know this? It’s recorded in the first two chapters. At first, all she wanted was to have a child so she would know she wasn’t cursed. Then she wanted to teach Peninnah a lesson about graciousness, and what better way than to beat her at her own game. But this prayer strategy led to anxiety and vexation.

I think as she prayed she began to wonder what God thought about all this. She would pour out her heart, express her deepest feelings, and get in touch with the things she held dearest. Then she asked: “God, what are You going to do about it?” At some point she began to listen for His response. The question changed to: “God, You know what I want, what do You want?”

When we interrogate our feelings, the first thing we do is resolve differences within ourselves. The greater work is to resolve our differences with God.

Your Heart’s Desire

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of Him. - 1 John 5:14-15

We know Hannah’s frame of reference changed through prayer. Her initial will was to have a child, to please her husband and silence her tormentor. Her final will was to join God’s purpose in caring for Israel. Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.” Hannah gave her son to God, and participated in His master plan.

What is your heart’s desire?

Your emotional responses come from what you believe to be true. Feel free to discover and express your emotions, and interrogate them. Find out what your heart says is true, even if your brain wants to disagree. Bring your full range of emotions into the prayer room. God is big enough to take it. Share them honestly with Him. At some point begin to listen for His response. Ask Him: “God, now You and I both know how I feel. How do you feel about it?”

Did you know that God has emotions?

Resolve your differences with God. If you feel one way about something, and He feels differently, then ask Him to give you the information you need to change your conclusion. We call that “renewing your mind.” If you feel one way about something, and He feels the same, then you are in good company. Participate in His master plan.

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