Through a Glass Dimly: Emotional Intelligence As Discipleship (Part 1)
“My feelings toss me to and fro…my feelings get the best of me…my feelings make it so unclear; open my heart to what you know.”
– “Open My Heart” by Keith Lancaster*
Words that stick in my throat like poorly chewed saltine crackers I can’t choke out, even as the church sings around me. Feelings aren’t malicious, are they? They don’t take advantage of me or throw me around, like a rough roller coaster, right? I have experienced feelings to be very clear in leading me closer to relationship with God, so I can’t help but ask what I am to do with a song like this.
If there is an elephant in the room of the Churches of Christ’s teaching on discipleship, it is emotion. Our heritage focuses on right thinking and purposeful doing, often without acknowledging the third center of intelligence: emotion. Given our downfall in naming or intentionally teaching on this aspect of human experience, it is little wonder that we are generally suspicious of emotional responses.
Humans were created in the image of God as the crowning jewel of God’s creation. So we are the fullest representation of God’s nature in the created world, and as the trinity exists in three, we are also made with three parts that form our foundation: thinking, feeling, and doing. Using these centers of intelligence as they are designed is the mark of mature, spiritually formed humans.
So teachings that downplay emotions as unproductive certainly run in contrast to this image of a spiritually mature Christian. These teachings limit emotion to that which is deceptive, illogical, untrue, unreasonable, suspicious, negative, and therefore less important than “right-thinking” and productive doing. And this position is so hard to escape because it is communicated not only in churches of my heritage, but culture itself.
Culturally speaking, emotion is falsely presented as the realm of females. Women cry during movies. Women are from Venus and incapable of separating emotion from decision-making. So culture and church both tend to teach that feelings are feminine, and to even point out a man’s feelings might call their very masculinity into question.
In her book Healing Through the Dark Emotions, psychiatrist Miriam Greenspan writes that our entire culture is emotion-avoidant, which prevents us responding compassionately to ourselves and others. Western society (especially America), believes that if we just ignore emotions long enough, they’ll go away. In stark contrast, Greenspan’s conclusion states that ignored or repressed emotions are actually stored in our bodies as toxins and in our global world as prejudice. In other words, our lack of emotional intelligence is shortening our life-spans and hurting our communities.
What would a disciple who balances thinking, feeling, and doing look like? How would a religious tradition that uses thinking, feeling, and doing appropriately appear? These questions are worth exploring as they point us toward a clearer, more holistic experience of God, ourselves, and the way of Jesus.
*Lancaster, Peter. “Open My Heart.” Awesome God, The Acappella Company, 2005, 10.
For further reading, you might try Anatomy of the Soul by Curtis Thompson or Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero.