I grew up watching movies that told me to follow my heart. Books said that when I didn’t know what else to do, when all else failed, all I had to do was search my heart for guidance and I would find my way. My heart, they said, could never lead me wrong.
Though we’re not all bad, one of the faults of my generation is that we’ve been allowed to carry this belief into adulthood. “Growing up” has failed to teach most of us that there are times when our emotions are wrong and that, being wrong, they should be ignored.
For example, I used to have a fear of being noticed that made everything from public speaking to playing sports a problem for me. Certain that I would everlastingly embarrass myself, I couldn’t stand to have people even looking at me. So I quit softball, as soon as my parents would let me. I didn’t swim for more than a year. And I never ran cross country, though I loved running and the coach asked me twice.
I allowed the emotions of insecurity and fear to rob me of doing what would have been good and enjoyable, but I was following my heart.
Here’s something even closer to home. I once had a crush (Shocker, right?) on a boy who, other than being good-looking, was no good. He was immature and frequently made poor life choices, and would have dragged me along with him. So, rather than chalk it up to “the heart wants what it wants” and “you can’t choose who you fall in love with,” I decided I wasn’t going to ruin my life for something that didn’t make sense and wasn’t good for me.
I never told him how I felt, and I gave myself time to come to my senses. It was rough, Friends. There were tears. But like an addiction it eventually wore off, and it was all definitely worth it.
Ignoring your emotions can work in the other direction too. If you have siblings, and especially if you’re the oldest, you can understand this truth. There have been times, and there still are, when my heart feels that the best possible thing to do is to take all my anger and let it fly.
But, however good that might feel in the moment, my heart is wrong. Love is a choice and an action. They are my sisters, they’re not any worse than I am, and I have to choose to love those gooners even when I don’t like them. It’s hard, but it’s not near as hard as a lifetime of turmoil between blood relatives, which is just plain unnatural.
The common denominator in all of this is self-denial. You can’t be selfish, self-absorbed, and conquer your heart. As they said in Fireproof, you have to lead your heart. But you can’t lead your heart if you would rather it lead you.
To tell ourselves no, to go against our own will, to control ourselves, is a task many Americans find so difficult that books have been sold and speakers have made their living on it. And, to tell the truth, the idea of having to fight our own self is a strange concept (Stop hitting yourself, Bob). But it starts from a young age, when our parents tell us we can’t have or do something, and how we’re allowed to react to being told no sets the tone for our adult life.
If you’re allowed to do it anyway, you’re in the running to make a fine criminal. If you’re not allowed to have or do, but you are allowed to scream and cry and pout, you’ll find it difficult to tell yourself no in the future because you’ll make yourself miserable. But if you’re taught to not only obey, but to accept it without making a fuss, it’ll be that much easier to control yourself when you’re an adult.
We often experience this at work. Just yesterday I found myself asking Google (I honestly feel sorry for my search engine sometimes) “how to make myself work when I don’t want to.” Although I don’t recommend the internet for general therapy, it returned an article called “8 Ways to Make Yourself Work When You Don’t Want to” that was quite helpful.
The article told me that sometimes I don’t get things done because I’m waiting to feel like doing them, when the truth is I don’t have to be enthusiastic about doing something to do it. And, frankly, there are just some tasks you’ll never feel like doing anyway.
Don’t misunderstand. Emotions are important. They should always be acknowledged, and you should take the time to understand why you feel the way you do. Cry if you need to, fight a punching bag if you need to, set down and talk with mama if you need to. Where it becomes a problem is when we go through life following our emotions, believing our feelings are the final word on truth or righteousness, and that there’s nothing we can or should do about them.
Emotions are not justifications. They’re changeable reactions we can use for either good or evil. Hence we have voluntary manslaughter/third degree murder. The law acknowledges that your emotions were reasonably strong, but blood was still shed, someone is still dead, someone’s family is still grieving, and there is still, therefore, a price to be paid.
As a final example, I’ll share this much. Like many others of my generation, in my junior year of college I developed a severe case of generalized anxiety disorder. Basically, catering to fear all my life had finally caught up with and overcome me, much to the detriment of myself and others around me.
Modern medicine did her best, but I tell you truly that the best help I received came from two places: God and myself. With God standing beside me, I started teaching myself courage, to ignore my fear and tell myself that my feelings were only feelings. I gained confidence. I gained control of my own mind, and as I got back to life I realized I had never had anything to fear but fear itself.
God made me invincible even to myself, and I've not needed any other help for two years now. The battles are still there, but now I'm the one who's winning.
Friends, let not your heart be troubled. You can not only control your emotions, but you should. Depression, fear, anger, the whole lot of it doesn’t have to own you. You can own it. You can push back on your emotions when they push on you. Because your heart doesn’t always have your best interests at heart.