Stop Worshipping Your Emotions

Every major spiritual tradition offers this challenge: Don't worship your emotions! Don't love only when you can feel natural sympathy. Don't love only when you can feel good and clean about it. Don't let your moral decisions be dictated by your emotions, even when they seem to be operating at their highest level.

What's at issue here? A fuller maturity and what's highest in Christian discipleship. When Jesus tells us that all the commandments can be boiled down to a single one : love : he adds a caveat: Love, as I love you! How does Jesus love? He continued to love, forgive and give his life even when those he was loving were destroying him. That's the challenge, but it isn't easy. Why not?

If you were bullied as a child, laughed at, humiliated and shamed before your classmates, it isn't easy (no matter how much you have grown or matured) to feel sympathy for the bully who, as you have since learned, was only acting out the abuse he had received from someone else : probably from his own father. It's more natural to continue to hate him and rejoice that his later life is as laden with problems and unhappiness as were his school days.

If you are a woman who has been hit by a man, perhaps even by your own spouse, and made to feel the helplessness and humiliation of that, it is hard to feel real empathy for the plight of men : let alone for the man who struck you : just because you now know that men are more wounded than women, that their suicide rates are infinitely higher, and that they struggle much more than women to express themselves, to give and to receive love, and to enjoy life's simple pleasures.

If you have been sexually abused, it is understandably impossible at least at one level to feel compassion for pedophiles and sexual predators of any kind, even once you know that many victimizers were themselves first victimized, and that this wound is the cause of their deep sickness, and that the stigma of that sickness is the new leprosy in our society.

It is hard to be opposed to the death penalty when the person awaiting execution is unrepentant, rationalizing, hard and blaming everyone else for his situation. It is easier to oppose the death penalty for someone whose heart is repentant and tearful and wants only to make amends to the family of his victim.

But that's the stretch! That's precisely what we are invited to when Scripture says: "Sing a new song!" What is our old song, and what is wrong with it? Our old song is the song we naturally sing, even at our best, when we let our emotions, our instincts, and our bruised and needy egos dictate our sympathies. When we do this, we give out our love and empathy only when our emotions : naturally protective and wounded : allow us to: namely whenever we can feel clean, good and cathartic in loving and forgiving. That is why it is so difficult for us to have a consistent ethic of life with which we are as solicitous to save the life of a murderer as we are to save the life of an innocent unborn infant.

We are naturally loving and empathetic, but in a restricted way, namely, we give out our love and empathy only when we can feel good about it : that is, when it is clean, wanted, respected and appreciated. We can love, forgive and bless someone who wants to be loved, forgiven and blessed by us; but we find it existentially impossible to do the same when that person has hurt us, hates us, blames us and wants us dead. That's precisely what Christian discipleship and full human maturity call us to: to have real empathy, forgiveness and love for those who have hurt us, humiliated us, blame us for their unhappiness, remain unrepentant and, in essence, curse us.

A couple of years ago, when all the negative publicity about clergy sexual abuse was at high fever, a very sincere, good-hearted Christian man said to me: "I'll never give another penny to the Catholic Church! I will not have my money supporting a pedophile!" That's nature speaking, but it's a long way from the love and understanding that Jesus preaches. Love calls us to more. In order to get to that higher level, we must stop worshipping our emotions.

Share:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someonePrint this page