This is one of the most important rules in life: you have to choose where you will stand in difficult situations prior to facing them in order to ensure you make the right decision.
Who is in the driver’s seat in your life, your values or your emotions? The easy answer is obvious. We all like to imagine ourselves as purpose-driven, mission-focused people who live our lives based on principles and not our ever-changing feelings. However, more and more often we see people appealing to our emotions when presenting us with ideas, products, or beliefs.
Let’s do a quick pulse check on ourselves. Was your last purchase of over $100 an impulse buy? Or did you save up for it intentionally? At a minimum, did you at least check to make sure it was in the budget for this month?
What about your relationship? Are you with someone who legitimately helps make you a better man or woman? Or are you actually riding an emotional roller coaster that you’re too afraid to walk away from? This equally applies to friendships.
Did you go to the gym today? If not, was it because you weren’t feeling like it? Or because you intentionally took today to rest? What did that rest look like? Did you pray, read, and do other fruitful leisure activities? Or did you go toward what was easy and just binge TV?
These are some day-to-day tools that we use to paint the bigger picture of our lives. If our life were a painting, each decision we make would be one stroke of the brush. And let me tell you, the Sistine Chapel wasn’t painted by haphazardly flinging the paint in whatever direction felt right at the moment like a toddler does while finger painting. That’s how you get fridge art that ends up in the trash, not a masterpiece that forever changes the world.
These little emotional decisions add up, day by day, and put our emotions in the driver’s seat in our lives. This leads to us being extremely vulnerable to the large-scale emotional decisions that monumentally violate our values and belief systems. Ever wonder why so many Catholics end up pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage? Nearly all the arguments, at least the popular ones, for both of these examples aim to hit you right in the feels.
You’re pro-life? What about in the case of rape?
You’re against same-sex marriage? Oh yeah? And what if your son, daughter, brother, or sister came out as gay? You wouldn’t go to their wedding??
These arguments aim to get you into hypothetical predicaments that aren’t philosophically complex, but do tug at your heartstrings enough to get the inexperienced debater flustered and feeling at least mildly uncertain. You might think to yourself, “Well, those are some incredibly difficult situations. Maybe I would change my mind in such a circumstance.” But that’s the problem. Why would you? It’s not because those situations change the principles of our faith or beliefs in any way. The only plausible answer is because your emotions are leading the way.
This is why it’s so important that we abide by the rule I opened with: choose where you will stand in difficult situations prior to facing them to ensure you make the right decision. It’s the only way to have even remote success in navigating our morally bankrupt world. You have to decide what is right before your emotions get involved, because if they go unregulated they can easily become tyrannical.
Now, let me clarify what I am not saying. I am not saying that your emotions are bad. Nor am I saying that you should ignore, suppress, or despise them. Rather, I’m saying that they need to be put in their place. Emotions are warning signs. They are much like the lights that come on in your car that signal to you whether things are good or bad. Your feelings give you a more innate check on your current status and how you’re experiencing reality. But the problem is that emotions don’t have the ability to take in the complete picture of reality. This is why, at their worst, negative emotions morph into anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, because their distorted sense of reality begins to dominate, casting out fruitful, positive, Spirit-driven thoughts altogether.
If your life was a company, emotions should be on the board of directors, but they should never be the Chair of the Board. That’s what reason is here to do. Animals have emotions, but only humans have the ability to reason. Rational thought is what separates us from the beasts and makes us like God. That in and of itself shows why it should always reign supreme in your world.
Choosing to regulate your emotions and creating a plan for the difficult moments in life is much like soldiers creating a casualty plan when heading into battle. When the adrenaline gets pumping and the situation escalates in the heat of battle, you need to have an established and rehearsed plan in order to stay on task and complete the mission, while simultaneously attending to those who have been injured.
Your life can’t stop for the sake of your emotions. Caring for them may require you to slow down and to regroup, but the mission you’ve been charged with still exists. You still have to push forward, sometimes despite the wounds, and take care of your responsibilities. Sometimes, there is no time to stop and break out the bandages. Only a prepared, mission-focused soldier can properly discern what needs to be done in any given moment. That plan is created ahead of time, never spontaneously in the midst of chaos.
Doesn’t it remind you of wedding vows? On your wedding day, you commit to loving your spouse till death. Love has been hijacked and degraded by the world. It’s been reduced to a feeling or to be synonymous with sexual desire. But that’s not what the Church and our Lord teach us about love. Love goes beyond feelings, beyond sex, and beyond human reason. The love of a spouse or parent is to reflect the love of God. It is meant to be infinite and everlasting, willing to suffer, and quick to forgive. That goes against all of our human emotions the majority of the time.
We are faced with this great decision. Satan wants us to believe that we make the decision once and then we are finished. Our baptism, our confirmation, our wedding day, if Satan had his way, would all be viewed as graduations, as a sort of finish line. But really they are just the beginning of a journey that we begin anew each and every day. Those baptismal promises and wedding vows are renewed in every decision. We get countless opportunities to choose who we will serve, to create a great masterpiece out of our lives that we will offer to God on judgement day.
So what’s it going to be for you? Who will you serve? Emotions or Truth?