Presbyterians Have Feelings Too

…we just don’t want you to know about them.

Honestly, I’m not a “feelings” person. I’ve always considered myself a more stoic, emotionally stable person. I kept a private journal, but outside of that I was very reluctant to talk about my feelings with anyone, even close friends.

I loved listening to Relient K as a teen, particularly their song called Mood Rings.

It’s about teenage girls and their fickle emotions. (“we all know the girls that i am talking about/ well they are time bombs and they are ticking/ and the only question’s when they’ll blow up/ and they’ll blow up; we know that without a doubt/ cause they’re those girls, yeah you know those girls that let their emotions get the best of them”)

But I enjoyed it because I didn’t think it applied to me at all. I was quite proud about not being an “emotional girl”.

In my youth, I visited a couple of Pentecostal churches, or those big youth gatherings based in mega-churches (I have a funny story about the time I accidentally gave my life to Christ – ask me later!). And I was always bothered by what I saw as rampant emotional manipulation going on through the way music, lighting, smoke machines (!) and even prayer were used. It seemed to me like these churches were more about working people into an emotional frenzy to 1. keep them coming back for the experience and 2. cause them to part with their cash more easily.

Ah yes, I was a rather jaded teenager and young adult. Thanks for teaching me critical thinking, Dad! 😉

When I was 18, I met my husband and started to wonder whether being “unemotional” was actually a good thing after all.

We loved spending time together, but he was often frustrated by how hard it was to get me to share my feelings on things. I’m comfortable (even happy) with silences; he senses a problem with the relationship.

So, I gradually learnt to open up and talk about things, even though it felt very uncomfortable and unnatural for a long time.

He got me to question why I didn’t like talking about my feelings. For a while, I dug my heels in and insisted that it was just “who I was”.

But I came to see that it was, at least in part, about a fear of vulnerability. Somewhere along the line, I figured out that if people didn’t know what my feelings were, they couldn’t hurt them. And that if they did somehow manage to hurt them, at least they wouldn’t have the satisfaction of knowing about it.

I guess being “unemotional” became habit, and then it just became part of my personality.

As I say, I’ve made progress here, particularly with my husband (now he can’t get me to shut up 😉 ).

But I’ve been reflecting on feelings/emotions lately and how they relate to the Church. You see, I think there are differences in how emotions are viewed and handled across the various denominations.

Emotional responses to music in church…. I’m a master of the “elbow flap”.

My friends and I have joked in the past that people choose their denomination based more on their personality type than on doctrine. It’s funny, but I wonder how much truth there is to it…

I’ve grown up in a Baptist church, then Presbyterian, then Baptist (when I moved out of home), and now we’re in a Presbyterian church as a family. Sometimes I joke that my husband and I are “Baptist sleeper agents”, and I’ve considered coining a new denominational term for us – “Presbytists”.

But in all honesty, our position is that we are not loyal to a particular denomination. When we moved (our first time really picking a church on our own), our focus was on finding a place that faithfully taught the Bible, had a welcoming atmosphere and was very Jesus-centred.

Presbyterians have a reputation for being stuffy, heavy on doctrine and (how do I put it?) down on experientialism, including the charismatic spiritual gifts. I think we, as a denomination, are more suspicious of the things “of the Spirit” and of emotional displays of the Christian faith… because it can’t be measured, and that leaves us vulnerable.

And I get that suspicion to an extent… heck, the suspicion comes naturally to me!

There are times when people are simply being led by their emotions, and calling it the Spirit. They need to weigh that “leading” against God’s revealed word in the Bible.

There are times when people may indeed be emotionally manipulated into making a commitment (financial or even spiritual), rather than taking the time to consider it carefully. But there are also times when people make a commitment to follow the Lord, and it is a very emotional moment, because they understand the enormity of what that means (free from any manipulation!).

I worry that being proud of our “stoicism” and “good doctrine”, is often merely a cover for fear.

Fear of feeling real emotions.

Fear of really experiencing the Spirit.

Fear of being vulnerable.

Doctrine is safe. It is measurable, and has four walls and you can fit everything nicely inside.

But we were not made for fear. And God is not measurable.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Many Christians will be familiar with verse 7, the second half of this sentence. We often quote it to each other in situations where we may be afraid of something. I had it written on one of the cards stuck all around my house as I prepared for the birth of my daughter.

Paul was encouraging Timothy not to fear the gift God had given him… not to fear the power of the Spirit.

If we are ignoring the Spirit out of fear of being led astray or “getting it wrong”, then I think we’ve missed the whole point. Without the Spirit, scripture is closed to us.

If we shun emotions (particularly in church) because they make us feel out of control, then I have to question if we have truly connected with the gospel.

Let’s spend time in God’s word, so we know His voice when he speaks. (And if you hear God say something against what the Bible says – it’s not him! No matter how much “peace” you feel).

Let’s try to read the accounts of the people in the Bible – people who really lived, like you and I – and allow ourselves to connect with them emotionally. Let’s allow ourselves to feel the swell of love and thankfulness bursting out of our hearts as we sing truth and gospel together.

For anyone from my church who is reading this – don’t freak out! I still think sound doctrine is so important.

If you looked at a list of my favourite hobbies, debating discussing theology would still be at the top (like a good Presbyterian).

But I no longer think it’s more important than listening to the Spirit. In fact, I’d say doctrine without the Spirit is less useful than a sieve in a thunderstorm.


A special announcement for my blogging friends (I’m sure everyone in real life knows by now)…

We’re expecting our third child in April next year!

(And thanks to lovely pregnancy hormones, I’m feeling ALL the feelings at the moment!)

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3 thoughts on “Presbyterians Have Feelings Too

  1. Oh my gosh!!!!!! CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!! Ahhh so exciting!!! New baby!!!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

    Great post, I definitely agree with the denominational idiosyncrasies… how funny! My parents raised my brother and i Baptist like you, too, but my husband grew up Catholic. I was church hopper when I met him… flitting around from church to church regardless of denomination, one of my favorites was a charismatic church. It was less crazy than some of them get for sure, it's great you point out that they can be extremely manipulative and promoting lack of self-control, and just getting people to come for the high of the emotional experience. That is right on! LOL my husband freaked out with the charismatic church… it was waaay too emotive for him. I can't imagine what it would have been like if I had insisted on my own way and forced him to stay there with me… he probably would have had a hard time leading spiritually since he wouldn't have even been comfortable in his church. He picked our church based on sound doctrine, and simply because he enjoyed it and felt comfortable there. So because of that, we're non-denominational, which can almost be like a "denomination" in itself at times, but our church tries not to fall into that category either.

    It's so cute about your personality and emotion thing… I think I'm the opposite and I have had to work hard in the past to reign in my emotions, discuss things calmly and rationally, let things go, and try to be a woman of grace! Definitely not there yet unfortunately.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Congrats Seriously Serving!
    You’re making the move to zone defense from one on one now. 😛

    I’m Missouri Synod Lutheran. I do not like ’emotive’ church experiences at all. I was very surprised when we started moving around to find that not all Lutheran churches are like the one I went to growing up. Many are more like Baptist churches (not my style). I don’t like the ‘new age’ type stuff either (electric guitar, improv dance routines during the middle of service, and so forth).

    Liked by 1 person

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