Podcast: It’s Okay to Trust Your Emotions!

by | Jan 12, 2023 | Podcasts | 29 comments

Trust Your Emotions Podcast
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If the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things, then aren’t emotions bad and not to be trusted?

So often in evangelical circles we’ve been taught that emotions are bad. It’s logic we’re supposed to follow. It’s fact. 

Emotion steers us off course.

We have Jeremiah 17:9 quoted at us that the heart is wicked and deceitful and can’t be trusted. And we’re told that we’re supposed to be happy all the time!

Today Becky Castle Miller, who has done post-graduate work looking at emotions in the gospels, joins us to talk about the intersection between what we’re learning about brain science and psychology and the theology of the New Testament. 

And Bcky is a long-time patron, too! 

Plus we’ve got a big update on how we’ve been using our patreon money for you.

Listen in!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

 

Timeline of the Podcast

0:10 Updates on use of donated money!
7:45 Our vision for some future projects
13:05 Becky joins to talk spiritual emotions
18:25 Can we trust our emotions?
27:10 How this teaching can harm
40:20 Men handling identifying emotions
50:00 Being uncomfortable w/ talking emotions
59:00 What Becky has learned on Jesus’ emotions in the gospels

Why do we have problems trusting our emotions?

I “met” Becky Castle Miller on Twitter a few  years ago, and found what she was sharing about emotional health so interesting. When our survey was ready to go for The Great Sex Rescue in late 2019, she helped share it.

We became online buddies, and she joined our Patreon group (you can, too, for as little as $5 a month!) and is really active in the Facebook group.

A few weeks ago we were talking about emotional maturity and the church’s attitudes towards emotions, and she shared such insightful and thoughtful things that I thought, “my listeners need to hear this from Becky!” (And she has incredible TikToks sharing some of these truths too).

So today she joins us to share about her research for her Ph.D.

I love Becky’s approach–how we can look at BOTH Scripture and science and see how they support each other and how, by studying both, we can learn even more.

And when it comes to emotions, often the message from the church has been so bad that we’ve ended up denying key parts of ourselves.

In today’s podcast, we covered things like:

  • How denying emotions can lead us to make bad decisions
  • How to understand the difference between feelings, emotions, and reactivity
  • How we can shape our emotions in line with Christ, and how Christ disciples our emotions throughout the gospels to make them in line with the kingdom of God
  • Why and how we elevated logic and reason over emotion, and how that can backfire

And so much more!

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Our Patreon Update

What the money has supported in 2022, and where we want to go in 2023

We collect money through Patreon, where you can support us for as little as $5 a month, getting access to our exclusive Facebook group (which is awesome!); unfiltered podcasts; merch, and more (at higher levels of support).

We very much appreciate our patrons. Our Facebook group is our “safe space” on the internet, and we’ve had so much comfort and encouragement from the group. Plus it’s just really interesting!

But the money has allowed us to do several projects this year, and is funding more next year (and we have big plans if we can raise even more!)

Our goal is to expand beyond the reach of this website and podcast, and raise up others who are doing similar work and give them a platform too. Plus we want to educate churches on how harmful and toxic so much of our advice is.

We took the first part of the podcast today to give an update, but let me summarize.

In 2022, our Patreon money supported:

  • Joanna and me presenting at the American Physiotherapy Convention in February
  • Finishing a draft of a peer-reviewed paper that we’re ready to send out as we speak
  • Conducting the survey and the research that formed the backbone for She Deserves Better (coming out in April!)
  • Conducting the survey and the research that formed the backbone for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex
  • Paying for the software needed to do the statistical analyses
  • Paying to transcribe our podcasts for the hearing impaired
  • Paying for graphic designers to translate some of our findings for She Deserves Better into visual tools

In 2023, we have even bigger plans!

  • Two more HUGE surveys–one on sexual pain and a matched pair marriage survey
  • Completing two additional papers for submission to peer-review
  • Preparing one sheets (one a month) on problematic books and preparing information packets that people can take to churches/Christian counselors etc to point out the issues with problematic books
  • Preparing hand-outs on our survey results about the effects of the modesty message on teens
  • Funding a big initiative that will likely be announced next fall to highlight healthy resources and help people be exposed to other great books
  • Creating a scholarship project to help fund graduate students/professors who would like to use our datasets to write some peer-reviewed publications
  • Attend conferences with counselors to share our data and our findings

And so much more.

Doing research is expensive. It takes an enormous amount of time and it takes expensive software, and we don’t have a university behind us. So the money has helped fund our big surveys, and we’re so grateful.

We have really, really big plans, and we thank you for partnering with us as we try to grow outside just these walls!

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

You can trust your emotions podcast with Becky Castle Miller

Were you raised to think that emotions couldn’t be trusted? Do you have a hard time identifying emotions? Let’s talk in the comments!

Transcript

Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.   I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And I am joined today by my two coauthors for The Great Sex Rescue.  My daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach.

Rebecca: Hola.

Sheila: And Joanna Sawatsky is joining us from across the country.     

Joanna: Hi there.  

Sheila: And this is our second podcast of 2023.  Yay.

Rebecca: This is like our fourth year doing this now?

Sheila: I don’t even know.  

Rebecca: Going on our fourth year, I think. 

Sheila: Yeah.  I think so.  Yeah.  Because we started in January—

Rebecca: We started before I had a baby.  

Sheila: Yeah.  We started two weeks before my world caved in, and we realized what Love and Respect was.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: And that started us on this whole big journey that we’ve been on ever since.  And so one of the things we often do at the beginning of podcasts is we say thank you to our patrons, who help support us.  And I just thought before we get going on the main focus of today’s podcast—I’ve got a great guest Becky Castle Miller is coming on to talk about emotions and how God made us to be emotional beings.  But I thought we could do a patron update and just thank the people who have been supporting us and let you all know what’s going on behind the scenes because it’s really exciting.

Joanna: Yes.  Yes.  It’s been a very busy year.

Sheila: It has been.  And here is what happens.  For those of you who don’t know, there’s this cool—I don’t know what to call it.  A website.  

Rebecca: It’s like a crowd funding website where you can subscribe to support someone.    

Sheila: Yeah.  And it doesn’t cost very much.  You can join for as little or as much as you want.  If anyone wants to give us 400 bucks a month, you can give us 400 bucks a month.  But most people give around 5, 10, 15 bucks a month.  And they get access to an exclusive Facebook group.  At different levels of support, you get merch, unfiltered podcasts, things like that.  So you don’t need to spend a lot of money.  But when a bunch of people do that then we get a pot of money that we can then use to do some really cool things.  And so we wanted to tell you what we did with that money in 2022 that people so graciously gave to us.  

Joanna: Yes.  So one of our big hypothesis—or one of the big problems that we’re working on broadly is the question of the high disease burden of vaginismus in conservative Christians.  We’ve been talking about it for years, and it’s been documented in the literature since the 1970s.  And nobody has figured out why this is going on.  So I sat down mid 2022 to start writing up our paper saying this is what we think is happening.  And then I realize that while we had really good hypotheses we didn’t have as much data as I felt that we should to back it up.  So we took a step back and decided to do another massive survey using the patron money to get to the bottom of this big vaginismus question.  And so we are currently finishing up the final ethics approval through Queens University.  So I’ve been back and forth with the Health Science Research Ethics Board there a number of times making sure that every I is dotted, every T is crossed.  And then we’ll be ready to disseminate that survey.  We’ve also been working alongside collaborators at the University of Central Arkansas and their physiotherapy department on this project which has been really fun.  And we have a—Keith Gregoire is on this project.  Sheila’s husband, Becca’s dad.  On the podcast last week.  Who is a pediatrician.  And we also have a family medicine professor at Queens University on this one.  So we’ve got a really fun, kind of Avengers style team together working on this project.  And what we’re really doing now is we generated a lot of hypotheses doing the surveys for Great Sex Rescue, and so now we’re able to actually test those hypotheses and say, “Is what we think is happening actually happening?”  We’re also—because the survey—we’re doing a big survey on pain.  We thought it was also an awesome opportunity to look at factors that help to alleviate pain, so we’ll be looking into that as well.  That’s a big one that we’re doing.

Sheila: Yeah.  So look for that in the next couple of weeks, months.  Soon.  Soon.  We will be sending out links so that you can take part in that survey especially, please, if you have ever suffered from sexual pain.  We especially need those women to take the survey although we need everybody to take it because we need people who have not suffered pain to compare to the pain who have suffered pain.  

Rebecca: Exactly.  Yes.

Sheila: But we especially are looking for a lot of people who have suffered pain to take the survey, so that would be awesome.  

Rebecca: But one of the big things that the patron did over the last—so that’s something the patron is doing, and we’re still working on that’s kind of going into the future.  But one of the big things the patron did was—and we’ve talked about this in the patron quite a bit, but we haven’t talked about this outside.  We have written a second book, which is coming out in April called She Deserves Better.  It’s available for preorder right now.  When we first were pitched this two book contract with Baker for Great Sex Rescue and an undetermined mother daughter book down the line, we all thought it was going to be this cutesy, little, 30-day devotional for moms and their teen daughters.  And quite frankly, it probably wouldn’t take us a lot of time to write.  It probably wouldn’t be very long.  And it would be much more about how to keep communication open so that you can talk about these things.

Sheila: Yes.

Rebecca: And then we started actually hearing—after we wrote GSR, The Great Sex Rescue, we started really thinking about how this stuff doesn’t start when you’re married.  This stuff starts when you’re 8, 9, 10, 11.  The messages that you’re being told.  And so even though, quite frankly, we didn’t have the money and the contract to write a second Great Sex Rescue, the patron actually funded that.  The patron made it so that it was possible so that Joanna could run an entire new survey of 7,000 women that we could develop the survey.  We could write the book.  We could actually put the time and effort and blood, sweat, and tears that it needed into it because it took as much work as Great Sex Rescue, if not a bit more because we kind of knew what we were getting ourselves into this time.

Joanna: It was also broader as a book, which made (cross talk).

Rebecca: It was broader.  Yeah.  So when you see that book, that book is pretty much entirely because of the Patreon.  It would have been a totally different book.

Sheila: Well, we do need to thank Baker Books, of course.  Yes.  Yes.

Rebecca: Oh, 1,000%.  But I mean the extent, the intensity of the book, the amount of work we were able to put into it was really—the Patreon really helped.

Sheila: People get advances for books all the time.  But most people do not have to split up and conduct an—a huge, huge, massive research project.  They just need to sit down and write.

Joanna: We also spent some of the money from the Patreon to hire a graphic designer to help us develop some really beautiful illustrations for within She Deserves Better.  And so we’re super excited to share those with you all when the book comes out.  Thank you to Kenny, who did those.

Sheila: Yes.  Thank you.  And we presented—Joanna and I presented at the American Physiotherapy Convention in February of 2022 on our findings on vaginismus.  And that’s still one of the—we constantly get emails about people who are even still downloading that presentation and wanting more continuing education.  So yeah.  Physiotherapists could actually get continuing education credits by attending our seminar.

Rebecca: It’s just amazing.  That, to me, is mind blowing that we—we’re working to create continuing education credits for people who work with women with sexual pain based on the research that we did.

Sheila: Yeah.  So that was a really big thing that happened last year.  And so that’s what we have been doing.  Then around the end of 2022, I kind of had—I don’t know if it’s like an existential crisis or a lightning bolt or whatever.  I’ve just had this really big feeling like we need to think bigger because this is such a huge work, and we can’t do it all alone.  And so it’s wonderful to have patrons supporting us as we write academic papers on our own data sets.  But my goal, when I retire in 8 years, in 10 years, in 15 years, whenever it is— 

Rebecca: I think that’s hilarious that you think you’re going to retire any time (cross talk) years from now.  If you are not the octogenarian Christian sex lady, I will be so surprised.

Sheila: Well, okay.  Okay.  But my goal is to have raised up other people who are all healthy in this space.  Because right now, there aren’t a lot of a healthy marriage books out there.  There aren’t a lot of healthy sex books out there in evangelicalism.  We need to change that.  And we can change it if we all band together and we think bigger.  And so that’s what I want to do with patron coming up this year is we want to think bigger.  We need more people to partner with us because my dreams are way bigger than my time.  We’re just thinking of a whole lot of things that we want to do.  One of them—and we’ll be telling you more about this in the next few months—is we’re going to have a scholarship program where we are going to offer a grad student or a professor a scholarship where they can give us a pitch where they want to use our data set or one of our—I think there’s three data sets that we have.  

Rebecca: So much data.

Sheila: Yeah.

Joanna: We have more data than we can shake a stick at.

Sheila: Right.  Any one of our data sets.  If somebody wants to turn that in to an academic paper, we want to help fund that and then help mentor people as they do that.  So that’s coming up.  That’s a way that grad students can potentially find sources of income or professors can find something to publish because we know it’s publish or perish.  So that’s coming up.  That’s huge.  

Rebecca: And I think that, for us, the next year the big difference that we really want to make sure that we’re doing is that we don’t want to corner the market in this area.  There is a lot of people where it’s like this is my brand.  I don’t want anyone else encroaching on our turf.  No.  What we want to do is there’s so—it’s so easy.  If you want to find material that tells women your place is below men, you can go somewhere, and there is just so much available.  But if you want to find material where it’s evidence based, it’s about equality, there are some places where it’s—there’s some here.  There’s some there.  We want to be able to make a group where if you just want healthy stuff—it’s all pre vetted.  And it’s not just trust me.  Cross my fingers.  It’s actually like the qualifications are there.  You can see why it’s recommended.  You can see potential areas of issues.  You can see all this stuff.  I don’t know.  We just have so many ideas of how we can do this so that it’s not just the three of us anymore.  We’d love to be able to bring other people in whether it’s in the research area, whether it’s in the content creation area, whether it’s in people creating courses and doing online coaching, whatever.  I don’t know.  We’re hoping that it becomes bigger than us, and we’re just so grateful that you have supported us for the last two years now—three years now—on the patron.  Something—I can’t even keep track at this point.  But we’re just so grateful that you have supported us for so long because you have gotten us to this place where we can—I really, really hope that this year is the year where we felt so—all of us, I think.  Not just the three of us but everyone listening to the podcast.  There’s a lot of people who feel very much like we’re kind of adrift in a large sea of confusion and stuff.  And it would be so nice if this year we all banded together.

Sheila: Because we are the majority.  And so let’s get this—let’s get some safe online spaces.  Let’s get some conferences going.  Let’s get some clubs going.  That’s what we’re going to be doing this year.  So if you can partner with us, so appreciate it.  And we’re going to take it not just in the academic realm.  In two weeks, I am going to be launching our very first one sheet of—we’re going to start with the book Love and Respect—of all of the problems with it so that you can bring it to your pastor, your women’s Bible study leader, your church librarian, and show them, “Hey, this is why you shouldn’t be recommending this book.  And this is why we need to take it off the shelves.”  And we’re going to do that with different books.

Rebecca: Oh yeah.

Sheila: Hopefully, I’m aiming for one a month this year because we want to give you resources you can take to your church.

Rebecca: And that’s also going to be some of the patron funds.

Sheila: And that is also patron funded.  So the patron is helping us get out there in academia.  It’s going to help us get the word out to churches.  And if you can partner with us even for $5 a month, if enough of us band together, we are the majority.  We can change things.  And so we want to invite you to come on this journey with us.   The Facebook group is an awesome place.  The group of patrons is awesome already.  And so we will put the link in there.  It’s just patreon.com/baremarriage.  And you can be part of this too. 

Rebecca: And I also know there’s been a couple of people who have been patrons, who have said, “I can only give for six months.”  And they feel guilty.  We’re like, “No.  We don’t care.”  If you want to be like, “Yo, I’m going to give you 5 bucks this month, and that’s all I’m going to do,” that’s great.  Come hang out with us for a month.  Okay?  This is a totally coercion free relationship.  Okay.  You can come and go as you please.

Sheila: Yes.  Exactly.  Every little bit helps.  So thank you so much.  And now, I’m going to bring on one of our patrons actually who we have learned so much from.  All of us.  Who is an expert in her own area.  Becky Castle Miller.  And here we go.  Well, this is a treat for me today because I have on the podcast Becky Castle Miller.  Hello, Becky.  

Becky: Hi.  I’m so excited.

Sheila: We go way back.  I don’t even know when we first came into contact with each other.  It was probably in comments on Facebook or something. 

Becky: I think I started following your Facebook and blog.  I mean maybe as much as 7 or 8 years ago while I was still living in Europe.

Sheila: Wow.  Yeah.  And then I know you helped me get the word out about my survey for Great Sex Rescue. 

Becky: That’s right.  Yeah.  I was able to pass it on to women in my international community to broaden your reach.  That was really fun.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Yes.  And you’re now an amazing patron supporter, so we see you all the time in the Facebook group.  We love that.  

Becky: Yeah.  I am so excited to be a Patreon supporter.  What you’re doing is so important for the church.  I’ve been wanting to see people do—as I’ve done pastoral care for people, I’ve been wanting to see resources like what your team is writing.  So it’s just fantastic.  I’m so excited to be able to support what you’re doing a little bit every month.  Plus, yeah.  The Facebook group is amazing.  It’s truly one of my favorite places on Facebook, so there’s a plug to become a patreon and join the Facebook group.

Sheila: Yes.  Thank you.  But in that group, you often have some really interesting comments that help inform our direction.  And a lot of that is because of the work that you are doing.  So Becky is a PhD candidate at Wheaton College.  Why don’t you even explain what you’re doing?  Because working with Esau McCaulley on emotions and the Gospel and tell us about that.  

Becky: Sure.  I think technically I’m a PhD student.  I don’t think I’m called—I don’t think I’m a candidate yet.  I think I have to pass my comprehensive exams and course work, and then I think they call me a candidate.  I’m new to this.  I’ve just finished my first semester of PhD course work.  I did my Master’s degree with Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary.  And I did my Master’s thesis on emotions and the Gospels and emotions in discipleship.  And I did a survey of discipleship literature and realized it was completely lacking in a component of emotion.  And yet, the Gospels are so full of emotion.  So that was my—sort of 50,000-word Master’s thesis a few years ago.  And then I realized I wasn’t done exploring this topic.  And so I applied last year and got accepted at Wheaton College in their PhD program.  And so I’m a New Testament student under Esau McCaulley.  And I’m studying emotion in Luke, and we’re still narrowing down—I’ll defend my proposal—my dissertation proposal in the spring.  But we’re looking at how does Jesus disciple the emotions of His followers.  And I’m using two key scientific theories—so I’m doing some kind of cross disciplinary work where I’m looking at the neuroscience of emotion, the social psychology of emotion, and what that can help us understand when we use that lens to look at the Gospel of Luke.

Sheila: So in other words, you are using peer reviewed research—

Becky: Yes.  I am.  Using peer reviewed research, both in New Testament scholarship and in social sciences to give a more robust understanding of emotion and emotional discipleship to the church.

Sheila: I love that so much.  And I think that’s what I was finding you contribute online so much is this idea that we can be Christians and still be perfectly or well scientifically informed.  And we can help the discoveries in these other fields inform how we see the Bible, and it can help our spiritual growth.  They don’t need to be two separate things. 

Becky: No.  And there’s really an emergence of this kind of cross disciplinary research in New Testament studies right now and particularly in emotion.  Starting in the early 2000s by 2010, there was a New Testament scholar named Matthew Elliott, who actually lives not far from me here in Wheaton who did his dissertation on emotions and the Bible.  And he really moved the conversation forward by showing that emotion is cognitive.  I don’t know how much you want to get into the science of emotion because I was just about to jump into something really technical.  He showed that emotion is cognitive.  It’s not an uncontrollable force within us but that there’s a thinking element to our construction of emotion.  And so he really moved New Testament studies forward with that.  And then starting in 2017, 2018, some more New Testament scholars have started working on these questions of emotion—the Bible using more social science theory like F. Scott Spencer.  He wrote a book a couple years ago called The Passions of the Christ.  That’s a beautiful, emotional portrait of Jesus.  And he edited a volume from New Testament scholars looking at emotions in Scripture from different lenses.  There’s now a working group in the Society for Biblical Literature on emotion.  So it’s a growing field, and it’s exciting to be doing really one of the earliest dissertations on this.  There have been a few.  One of my professors at Wheaton, Julie Newberry, just published her dissertation on joy in Luke.  And so it’s exciting to start to see these newest advances in neuroscience, especially the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett on the theory of constructed emotion, making their way into biblical studies and changing the way we understand the biblical text.

Sheila: I love that.  Okay.  So here is why I wanted to talk about this.  Our new book, She Deserves Better, is coming out in April.  And we were specifically looking at how messages that were given to teen girls impact their self esteem both short term and long term and their future relationship health.  And one of the things that we saw over and over again in the literature that was given to teen girls is quoting—is it Jeremiah 17:9?  I might have that reference wrong.  But “the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things”.  And this idea that you cannot trust your emotions.  Lies Young Women Believe.  That book was filled with that.  That it’s not about how you feel.  How you feel will lead you astray.  What is important is knowing the truth.  And this has kind of been the big picture emphasis in evangelicalism forever as long as evangelicalism has been there is that emotions are deceitful and wicked.  And we need to get in touch with truth and with Scripture and forget our emotions because our emotions will always lead us astray.

Becky: Right.  Yeah.  Jeremiah 17:9.  In the ESV, it reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.  Who can understand it?”  But we’re starting from a misunderstanding of Scripture when we think that heart there means what we think of as emotion today.

Sheila: Yes.

Becky: My Old Testament colleague, Auburn Powell—we actually had a Twitter thread about this awhile back.  Hebrew heart, or lev, is much more all encompassing of the person than when we say heart in American English and we mean emotion.  But actually, in Scripture, it’s more likely that people perceived the bowels as the seat of emotion.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Which actually makes physiological sense.

Becky: It does.  Because you feel it in your gut, right?  We say gut instead of bowels.  That’s a little bit more sanitized language.  But the understanding was that—they didn’t even use the word or concept emotion.  It was more like the passions is in the gut.  So the word compassion in Greek is to be moved in the bowels.  So when Jesus has compassion, His bowels are moved with compassion, it’s a very visceral, physical thing.  But for us to take a Hebrew or a Greco-Roman emotional concept and try to just pop it into our American English modern 2023 understanding of emotion, there’s so much lost in translation there.  So we take this verse, and we use it to build this whole theology that you shouldn’t trust your emotions.  But there are so many leaps that have been taken to get there that don’t really track with Scripture or linguistics or translation or an actual proper understanding of emotion at all.  So the very biblical basis that people lean on to build this theology is all done poorly.

Sheila: Yeah.    

Becky: I think that’s a nice way to say—I have stronger words.  But I’ll say that.

Sheila: And it really hurts us.  The idea that our emotions can be bad.  And this is what we’re often taught too.  I have told this story before.  But when I went to Sunday School and when we listened to all the videos—in those days, it was VHS, video cassettes, with my kids—kid songs.  Evangelical kid songs.  And we would sing If You’re Happy and You Know It, right?  And, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” and then they would have, “If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet.”  Then, “If you’re happy and you know it, shout amen.”  And when Rebecca was three, I took her to this playgroup that was quite close to where we lived.  And they didn’t sing the song that way.  They sang, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”  And then, “If you’re angry and you know it, stomp your feet.”  And, “If you’re sad and you know it, cry boo hoo.”  I’m like, “Wow.  You’re allowed to have other emotions than happy.”

Becky: Interesting.  I have never heard that version of that song.  I love it.

Sheila: Yeah.  But it struck me then that in church the only acceptable emotion was to be happy.  And this is what we were telling kids whereas I was going to this secular place, and they were teaching kids how to identify their emotions and what to do with them.  And they would talk about it afterwards like, “When do you ever feel angry?  What can we do when we’re angry?  And what makes you feel sad?”  And yet, we have made these things—especially what we see as negative emotions, which is a terrible word to begin with.  To label things as these are good emotions and these are bad emotions.  But we have often labeled anxiety or sadness or—as a negative emotion that we need to get over as opposed to maybe something which is a natural part of reacting to living in a fallen world, to being betrayed, to whatever might be causing that, or else as a warning sign that there is something wrong with my circumstances that maybe I need to look at changing.  

Becky: Yes.  And I think that we can trace the don’t trust your feelings back to at least the 1930s.   I would love to do some more historical research.  But if you look at the Four Spiritual Laws tract, which I think was in its first form in the 30s and 40s, it’s still being published in the same form that it was with the train.  Have you seen the train illustration?

Sheila: Yes.  But tell people.  I remember this.

Becky: Yeah.  I just pulled it up on my phone.  I don’t know if this will—there’s a train with a caboose and a car and an engine.  And the engine that’s pulling the train is labeled fact and the middle car is faith and the caboose is feeling.  So you’ve got four spiritual laws about how to become a Christian.  And essentially, the fifth spiritual law is this section at the end of the tract, which has been printed billions of times—not millions.  But billions.  It says, “Do not depend on feelings.”  That’s the section header.  “The promise of God’s Word, the Bible, not our feelings, is our authority.”  And I’m reading from the tract now.  “The Christian lives by faith in the trustworthiness of God himself and his word.  This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact, God and his word, faith, our trust in God and his word, and feeling, the result of our faith and obedience.  The train will run with or without the caboose.  However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose.  In the same way, we, as Christians, do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of his word.”  So that is the Gospel presentation that millions or billions of people have heard.  And the, essentially, fifth spiritual law is don’t trust your feelings.

Sheila: Right.

Becky: And so if everyone for the past 90 years in, especially American evangelicalism, has come to faith—or at least a large percentage of them—through a tract that told them not to trust their feelings.  I don’t think that it’s any wonder that feelings are so suspect in the American church today.  There’s a lot more historical research to do on how they got to that point of needing to say that.  And it might even have been a positive thing when it was first written.  You don’t have to have a mountain top spiritual experience.  You don’t have to feel anything.  You don’t have to shake or dance with ecstasy to know that you’re saved which is true.  I would agree with that.  You don’t have to feel anything to have the assurance that following Jesus means that you are going to be transformed by the Holy Spirit and adopted into God’s family.  But the way that we use the word feelings and emotion now—there’s so much time separating us from when Bill Bright first wrote that that it’s so much taken to mean don’t trust any of your emotions.  It’s not just about assurance of salvation but the idea that sticks is, “Oh, I can’t trust my emotions at all.  They have no place in my Christian life.  They, in fact, might derail my train of faith if I rely too much on my emotions.”  So what maybe even started as a good thing about assurance of salvation has become this very damaging idea that emotions need to be completely thrown out and have no place in our life of faith.

Sheila: Right.  Now I can see three big problems that relate to the work that I do with this whole thing.  And I’ll mention the first, and then I want to talk about the other two.  So the first we’ve already alluded to a little bit.  And this one is vitally important, and I don’t mean to diminish this.  This might even be the most important one is that it makes those who are having mental health issues, who are suffering from depression, think that they are somehow—they have a faith problem.  And it might make them not see a doctor.  It might make them feel like they’re in sin.  It might make those problems worse than they otherwise would be.  And so that’s a huge issue.  And I don’t mean to put it on a shelf and ignore it because I know that so many people are feeling that.  But I just want to say, for the record, if you are suffering from depression or anxiety or if you just have some of these emotions that you don’t want but you can’t seem to work through, it does not mean that you have a faith issue.

Becky: Absolutely.

Sheila: And please see a licensed counselor.  Please see a medical doctor, whatever may be appropriate in your circumstance.  But don’t ever let the church tell you that you’re sinning.  Okay.  So very, very, very big topic.  I don’t mean to diminish it, but I’m going to put it up on a shelf for a minute because I want to talk about the relation aspects of this.  And the one is that it can teach us that—well, it can make us easily manipulated, first of all, because it teaches us not to trust our spidey senses.  So let’s say that you feel or you’ve been told that you have been called to a particular profession.  Let’s say that you feel like you have been called to be a missionary doctor.  All right.  You are supposed to be a missionary doctor in the third world.  And this has been pronounced over you.  Pastors have told you this.  Your family has told you this.  And you are in medical school.  And you are learning anatomy.  And you throw up at the sight of blood.  And you just can’t handle it.  But because you have been taught that you can’t trust your feelings, then you think even though I hate this with every measure of my being it means I am in sin, and I need to pray more.      

Becky: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: And so you may make life decisions that are not meant for you.  And maybe those spidey senses were telling you, “Hey, you know what?  You don’t have to do this.”  But you don’t listen because you are told not to trust your feelings.  And that can come in in so many areas of our lives.  We’re dating someone who looks like a really good Christian, but we just don’t like them.  

Becky: And then that person says, “I feel like God told me that we are supposed to get married.”  Yeah.  There’s all kinds of problems that come in when we—when we go to one of two extremes.  One is, as you said, we don’t trust our gut, our intuition, our physical feelings, our emotions.  The other is where we rely completely upon some kind of physical sensation to tell us that God is speaking to us.  

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.  There’s that extreme too.  Yeah.  Mm-hmm.

Becky: Which I grew up charismatic.  I still am charismatic.  I still believe that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church to use today to serve God’s kingdom.  So that’s—I don’t want to diminish God speaking to us because I believe God does.  I mean I moved to Europe based on a prophetic dream that God gave me.  I believe God speaks.  But when I was in youth group especially, you’ve got a bunch of—and you were just talking about this on your podcast about what if we just stopped supporting churches that aren’t safe for women.  The idea of a bunch of people in youth group kind of making bad ideas worse because we don’t have developed prefrontal cortexes, right?  Prefrontal cortices.  So I saw in youth group people really wanting to follow God but feeling like they need to rely on some kind of gut instinct that could be so easily misinterpreted rather than really relying on robust discipleship and spiritual formation and Scripture study and spiritual direction.  So that’s one extreme.  And then the other is I can’t trust my intuition at all or what my body is telling me or what my—what emotions I’m having.  And I think both of those extremes are unhealthy, not biblical, and not supported by both biblical studies and brain science.

Sheila: Exactly.  Okay.  Now I want to get to the third—and maybe as we talk about this because this is most of what I want to talk about.  We can get into some of your work in the book of Luke.  But the third is the very nature of what it means to be intimate with someone.  When we think about marriage, it is this joining of two people.  And it’s interesting how often we use intimacy as a synonym for sex.  I hate it when people do that because sex is not necessarily intimate.  And there is a whole lot of intimacy that has nothing to do with sex.  But we often do use them as synonyms.  And I think part of the reason is because we have lost—we have largely lost what it means to be intimate outside of sex because in order to be intimate you have to be sharing who you really are.  You have to be able to be vulnerable.  You have to let down the guards, the pretenses, all of the masks that we put on, and let someone in in every way.  And that can be very difficult to do if you are not in touch with your emotions yourself because how can you be intimate and show someone else who you are if you don’t know who you are.   And I wonder how much of that is happening in Christian marriages.  I talked about how women—how girls were told the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things.  But I think that’s even more so for boys who growing up and being socialized in evangelicalism the only quote unquote negative emotion that boys are allowed to show is anger.  So they’re not allowed to show insecurity or fear or rejection or any of those other emotions.  And often, they just get bottled up.  And then how are you able to be intimate with someone who isn’t in touch with their emotions.  And so let’s unpack that a little bit.

Becky: Sure.  There’s so much to say on there.  Let me start with disambiguating some terms.  That might be helpful.  So in American English, we often—and I don’t know if it’s the same in Canadian English.  But certainly U.S. American English, we use feeling and emotion interchangeably.  

Sheila: Yes.

Becky: And they’re not the same word.  They’re not the same thing.  So a feeling is more of a physical sensation.  You can feel cold.  You can feel hungry.  You can feel your heart beating faster.  You can feel your stomach churning, but that’s not an emotion.  An emotion, according to the theory of constructed emotion from Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett which is one of the leading neuroscientific theories right now—emotion is the meaning that your mind makes from your feelings, your sensations, your circumstances, your history, your language, your concepts.  So you can have the same feeling like your heart fluttering or beating faster.  And you can—depending on your circumstances and how you’ve been trained to construct emotion from your culture, you might construct nervousness, or you might construct infatuation.  Or you might construct excitement.  So it can be the same feeling, but you might construct a different emotion from it based on a number of factors.  So it’s not the same.  And also, I find, especially when I’m talking to Christians, you have to disambiguate that from desire.  Your desires can’t be trusted.  But a desire is not an emotion.  A desire is wanting something within intensity.  There might be emotions involved.  There might be feelings involved.  But emotion, desire, and feeling are three different things.  So just starting with disambiguating that can help.  And then further, reactivity is not necessarily emotion.  And so especially when you’re talking about relationship issues if someone gets very reactive, that isn’t necessarily an emotion.

Sheila: So by reactive, you mean getting really angry all of a sudden, crying all of a sudden, maybe even getting the silent treatment.

Becky: Mm-hmm.  Feeling spiked.  So we all have a window of tolerance within which normal daily occurrences happen, and we can stay pretty steady in our bodies, in our sensations, in our interactions with people.  Different people have a different size of window of tolerance.  There are a lot of things that can shrink your window of tolerance like stress, illness, PTSD, neurodivergence.  So your window of tolerance may be smaller or bigger.  And when you suddenly feel like you just spike and your body is going haywire and you just want to have a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response, that’s a reaction to something that’s happening.   But there might not be a clear emotion tied to it.  It’s much more likely coming from either your window of tolerance has shrunk, and you just can’t cope anymore.  Or you’re flooded, and you need to go let your body calm down so that you can reengage your prefrontal cortex and make good decisions.  Or there is a wounded part of you that was touched by something that just happened.  And you’re suddenly being pulled into your past, and you’re reacting out of something that happened not in the moment but something that happened a long time ago.  And it’s a wound you’re still carrying that’s not healed.

Sheila: Right.  

Becky: But none of that is necessarily emotion.  And so a lot of times I see women who are rightfully and understandably reactive because of unhealed wounds or other difficult circumstances.  And they’re labeled as unstable or overly emotional when there’s—it’s not really—it’s not an emotion problem.  It’s an abuse problem.  Or it’s a trauma problem.  Or it’s a they’re exhausted because no one helps with the housework problem.  Or it’s a they were sexually abused as a child, and they’ve never had trauma therapy to heal those wounds probably.  None of that is an emotion problem.  So maybe that helps to say there’s a difference between feeling emotion, desire, and reactivity, and maybe that’s a good starting point for talking about the relationship problems and how we engage with each other emotionally.

Sheila: Right.  Because I think we think the emotional stuff is all the reactivity stuff.

Becky: Right.  But it’s not necessarily.

Sheila: It’s not.  Okay.  So what we’re really wanting is for our spouse to assign—we want them to assign meaning to the things that are going on around them.  That’s what we want to share because we want that inner picture of what our spouse is experiencing, how they’re going through life.  And so that’s what we’re looking for is for them to assign that meaning.  I love that.  Can you say that again?  Because I think that was really important.

Becky: The definition of emotion?

Sheila: Yeah.  

Becky: Yeah.  So what I’ve distilled down from Barrett’s research is that emotion is the meaning that our minds make from our feelings, our sensations, our circumstance at the moment, our past experiences, the emotion concepts we’ve learned from our culture, and then that emotion, as our mind makes it—it’s this whole process that happens in our minds.  And it prepares us to take action.  So when we see something that we know is dangerous and we construct fear, even before we’ve really consciously said, “I’m feeling afraid,” our body has already started to increase adrenaline production and to dilate our pupils and to prepare our muscles—those quick twitch muscles to leap out of the way.  So emotion is part of what prepares us for action and part of what motivates us in life.  If we want our spouse to share their emotions with us, that requires them being able to identify their emotions and give words to them.  And so as we increase what Barrett calls our emotional granularity, our emotion vocabulary, our ability to fine tune and distill down what we’re feeling, the more words we have for emotion, the more emotionally healthy we are because then I can distinguish between I’m mad or I’m angry or I’m irate or I’m irritated or I’m angsty or I’m wrathful or I’m full of rage or—there are so many gradations of anger, so the more words we have the better we can communicate what we’re feeling.

Sheila: Right.  Now why is this so hard especially for men?  And I’m not trying to be sexist here.  It’s just multiple research has found that men have a more difficult time identifying emotions, not because of biology.  This is not innate to being a man.  It’s just the way they’ve been socialized.  And there’s no reason why a man cannot be emotionally healthy.  And this doesn’t mean that women necessarily are too.  It’s just that it seems to be that more men have issues with this because of our culture.

Becky: It’s 100% socialization.  Barrett wrote an article awhile back looking at the scientific basis for do men and women have different emotion brains.  They don’t.  Men’s brains and women’s brains and—they make—they construct emotion in the same way.  The brain works the same way.  But different genders are socialized with different emotional expectations in different cultures, and so some cultures socialize men to be more emotional or to have different emotions.  North American culture socializes men to not express emotion.  She did find that the impact of female hormones around your period does have an impact on your window of tolerance, your emotionality, your reactivity.  That is a gender difference.  There are some hormone issues that can make you feel emotion more intensely when you’re PMSing, for example.  But other than that, our brains make emotion the same way.  So it’s a question of why have we decided in our culture to socialize men to not express most emotions.  And it means that men can learn new emotion concepts and learn to express them in healthier ways.  It’s completely biologically possible, if they want to take that project on for themselves.

Sheila: Because what I find so interesting is this, when I look at a lot of the marriage literature in evangelicalism, I’m seeing them comment on what is currently happening.  So for instance, men have a difficult time with emotion.  Women have a more easy time with emotion.  And they’re seeing this happening, but they’re calling it God given.  And then the solution is for women to change so that they can make up for men’s problems in this area as opposed to saying, “Hey, maybe we were supposed to be able to handle different scenarios.”  One of the classic ones that bothers me to no end is the idea that a man can only accept feedback from a woman if it is said in a certain tone of voice because emotionally he can’t handle if he doesn’t feel respected.  And so you must say everything in a very kind, gentle, quiet tone of voice.  And if you deviate from that, then the issue is not what you were trying to convey to him.  The issue is your tone.

Becky: Mm-hmm.  That’s a reaction problem.  That’s not an emotion problem.  He has not been trained or has not trained himself to have distress tolerance.  He has not ever had to learn how to self regulate his body’s reactions.  And so he has not built up any distress tolerance.  So he cannot handle the physical discomfort of being confronted with something he needs to change.  And so it is a lack of maturity in him that is the problem, not the way she is approaching it.  Now if you are—if a woman is verbally abusing her male partner and he’s having a trauma response to that, that’s different than if she has not been abusive and she is just trying to say, “There’s a serious issue we need to talk about.”  And he hasn’t built up the emotional resilience or the distress tolerance to be able to handle that.  Or he has unhealed wounds.  Maybe his mom was verbally abusive, and so he has a wounded part of himself that gets triggered when he hears a woman yelling at him about chores.  That’s not an emotion issue.  That’s a trauma issue, and he needs to go to therapy and talk to someone who can either use EMDR or internal family systems or something that helps him get in touch with that wounded part of himself and heal it so that he stops having a reaction to his wife bringing up a very reasonable (inaudible).  None of that is an emotion problem.

Sheila: Yeah.  Because what I hear all the time is, “Okay.  So I tried to say it in a quiet, peaceful, gentle way.  I tried it repeatedly.  And he never heard it.  It was only when I got loud or when I just got forceful or when I refused to back down or when I developed boundaries, and then he told me that my tone was off.”  

Becky: Right.  It’s a method of control.  He can control what he has to do and change if he is controlling the way she’s even allowed to talk to him.  That’s not a relationship.

Sheila: Yeah.  And we see this in the wet towel episode in Love and Respect, for instance, right?  So she asked repeatedly for them not to put candy wrapped on the floor, not to leave wet towels on the bed.  And they didn’t listen.  And so she just repeated it and repeated it.  And then she was labeled as nagging.  And the solution was she needed to learn to show respect and to stop asking.  But the whole thing was framed as the problem is how she is bringing it up.  It was never the fact that he was leaving wet towels on the floor—or on the bed.  And this is what I see increasingly in Christian literature is that the women are only allowed to speak if they do it in such very, very, very prescribed ways.  And then even when they do it that way, they don’t get listened to.  

Becky: Mm-hmm.  That is male entitlement to power and control.  That’s not an emotion problem.  That’s an abuse problem.  

Sheila: Right.  And yet, we see this all the time is we’re told men aren’t able to do this.  Men can’t handle lack of respect.  Men can’t—Shaunti Feldhahn—

Becky: Well, they can’t handle it.  They can’t handle it because they’ve never learned how to.  But they could learn how to.

Sheila: Right.  It’s not like this is how men were made.  Shaunti Feldhahn talks, in her book For Women Only, about how important it is not to correct your husband when he’s driving if he goes the wrong way.  The typical thing about how men can’t ask for directions, and you should never tell him that he turned the wrong way.  And you must never criticize.  Well, if I’m trying to get to a doctor’s appointment and he’s turning the wrong way, I should be able to say something.

Becky: Mm-hmm.  Because we know that different cultures have different emotions—emotions are not universal.  Other cultures don’t experience the same emotions that I experience in—or that I construct in North America.  We can see that the brain has plasticity, and it can change.  And it can learn.  And we are not hardwired for a certain set of emotions or a certain lack of emotion.  You can learn a new language, and you can learn new emotions along with it.  There are words for emotion in other languages that we don’t have in English.  And you can learn the word.  You can learn the concept, and then you can begin to construct it yourself.  And so this is something you can learn, and you can change.  There is a wonderful book called Between Us by Batja Mesquita, and she is a Dutch social psychologist.  And she wrote this beautiful book last year about how cultures construct emotion.  And she looked at how different emotion is across different cultures.  And so humans are able to change and learn new emotions.  And men are able to change and learn new emotions.  And one thing that couples can keep in mind, if they’re running into—not those kind of reactivity or abuse issues like we were just talking about but just misfiring.  Missing connection.  Not being on the same page emotionally is to understand that your spouse might actually have grown up with different emotion concepts than you.  And you cannot assume that another person is feeling the same thing that you’re feeling even if they use the same word.  Someone else says, “I feel ashamed,” that might mean something different to them than it means to you.  Or, “I feel angry, or I feel even sad.”  So talking to your spouse about, “Okay.  When you were growing up, what were you taught implicitly or explicitly about your sadness?  Were you taught that it was okay for boys to cry?  Or were you taught you weren’t allowed to?  Were you taught that it was weak to be sad?  Were you taught that if you were a good Christian you had to manufacture joy of the Lord even when you weren’t really feeling it?  Joy is not a feeling.  Joy is a spiritual state.”  That’s bogus.  In Scripture, it is an actual emotion.  We should feel joy.  But we shouldn’t fake it.  We should feel it, and that’s a whole other—how do we begin to construct godly emotion?  That’s a whole other topic.  But we can learn these new emotions, and we can learn how our spouse feels—what emotions they are constructing, what that concept means to them, and have much better conversations and connect on that deeper emotional intimate level like you were talking about.  And I think it starts with reminding ourselves we cannot know how they feel until they explicitly tell us.

Sheila: Okay.   But what if they don’t?  And this is what I hear so much from especially women but also from some men.  Is that if a person just is very uncomfortable talking about what they feel or whenever you try to bring up these conversations like, “I just want to know what’s going on inside your head,” and they don’t—they honestly don’t know how to articulate it.  One of the things that we got talking about on social media this week or last week, whenever this airs, is a lot of men were saying that women can never, ever understand how desperately some men need sex.  And what came out of a lot of that conversation was that there isn’t actually a biological basis for men being absolutely so desperate for sex that they basically can’t function in a way that women can’t understand.  Only 58% of men had a higher sex drive in our survey that we did.  It is not like men have this uncontrollable sex drive that women just don’t have.  Many women have high sex drives too.  But I think what happens is that when you don’t have this emotional language we still have this drive to connect.  And so a lot of people are channeling that drive into sex because sex you’re allowed to touch.  You’re allowed to feel.  You’re allowed—and sex allows you to feel connected without having to do necessarily a lot of emotional work of connection.  And so perhaps what’s really going on is that many men especially, but some women too, are channeling a lot of these emotions that they can’t voice, that they can’t let themselves experience into sex, and that then has a desperation that it shouldn’t have.  And so how do we get over that when our spouse just can’t talk about this stuff or won’t or whatever the word may be?  

Becky: That’s a really valid working theory.  I think you’ve got—you’ve really hit on something important there, and I am looking forward to seeing how you continue to develop that and to do research to see if that is the case.  It sounds right.  And so I’m looking forward to seeing that be substantiated because I think it will be.  We cannot force our partners to do anything.  That makes us the controlling one which sets up all sorts of unhealthy dynamics.  So we can only express our needs and our requests and trust that they’re going to meet it.  And if a partner is persistently refusing to respond to our bids for affection or attention or persistently refusing to meet the needs that we’ve expressed, they are not a healthy partner for us.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm. 

Becky: And then you’ve got to look at it maybe from Leslie Vernick’s scale.  Is it a disappointing marriage?  Is it a destructive marriage?  Is it a difficult marriage?  Is there something in our family circumstances that is difficult and we’re having trouble connecting because we’re exhausted caring for a chronically ill child, for example?  Is it disappointing?  It’s just not what I wanted, but my partner is generally going to work on it.  And it’s hard in the sense of this is work that we’re both committed to doing.  That’s the only appropriate hard—marriage should not be harder than that.  If it’s harder than that there are other issues.  But just we’re not similar.  We came from different backgrounds.  We approach emotion differently.  We approach finances differently.  We both have trauma.  There’s hard things, but we’re willing to work on it together.  Or is it destructive?  And my partner is just persistently not going to meet my needs.  They refuse to.  And then we have to take action accordingly.  If it’s difficult, we make it through the season.  We get a lot of support.  We get a lot of help.  We give each other extra grace.  If it’s disappointing, we continue doing the work of hearing each other’s needs, stretching ourselves out to help them meet their own needs, to meet each other’s needs.  We work on ourselves.  But if it’s destructive, then we talk about what it would look like to need to leave and then how we might go about that.  Do we need to set boundaries, et cetera?  But it’s in that maybe the difficult marriage where this kind of—oh sorry—disappointing marriage where this conversation could, perhaps, be the  most helpful.  I’m disappointed because I want to talk about my emotions.  I want to talk about my inner life.  I want to talk about the healing I’m going through, and my partner doesn’t want to.  That’s where we can just keep asking and we can do our own work.  We can’t force them into conversations that they’re not ready for.  But we can model healthy behavior.  We can model healthy emotional expression ourselves.  We can model using more emotional vocabulary.  We can go to therapy ourselves and learn tools like IFS where you can learn things like, “Well,  a part of me is really angry at you right now, and here is why.  Because it triggers this wound from what my dad did when I was a kid, but my core self, my spirit-led self, loves you and is committed to working you out.  But I just want you to know that part of me is really angry with you.”  And then you can have a productive conversation by doing your own work.  And then you can model.  “I feel disappointed today because I didn’t get a promotion that I wanted at work.  I feel melancholy today.  I feel really irate because the same driver keeps cutting me off at the same corner every morning.”  We just model using more emotional words.  Use a thesaurus.  Look up more emotions.  Use an emotion wheel like Plutchick’s emotion wheel and look at different gradations of emotion and just start using more emotion words.  Teach your kids emotions in front of your spouse.  What was the word?  I tried to teach my seven year old—oh, anticipation.  She was so impatient waiting for Christmas.  It was like three days until Christmas.  She’s like, “Ugh, when is Christmas going to be here?  I just want to open my presents.  I want to eat all the food.  Why is it taking so long?”  “Well, it sounds like you’re feeling anticipation.”  She said, “What is anticipation?”  “That is an emotion when you’re waiting for something and you’re excited about it.  And you might feel impatient.  And it’s got all these components to it.”  We talked about it.  And then she used the word later.  She used the word anticipation because she learned it.  

Sheila: Right.

Becky: Just model new emotion vocabulary and concepts to your spouse.  So those are some starting ideas.  But if it is a destructive marriage, no amount of talking or pleading will help.

Sheila: Yes.  Exactly.  I also find with little kids—you’re trying to teach them two different things.  One is emotional regulation so how to regulate those things so they don’t become reactive, how to learn.  Take some deep breaths.  Go off by myself for a minute.  Maybe squeeze something.  Maybe hold a comfy toy when you feel like you want to push.  When you feel like you want to yell, when you feel like you want to bite, whatever it might be, learning how to—when I’m going to have a tantrum because I don’t want to eat my lunch, I’m going to learn how to take deep breaths.  And a lot of people never learn those emotional regulation things that we’re supposed to learn as toddlers.  And so as you go about teaching your kids, we can learn some of those same skills, and I’ll try to remember to put a link in the podcast notes too.  How to learn emotional regulation as an adult because there are techniques that we can use.  But then, again, yeah.  Talking to your kids about what emotions are and what they’re feeling and how to identify them.  As we do that, I think it can help.  I also think—this is just a little thing that you can do around the table with your kids is every day ask your kids—my cousin does this.  A moment when I was kind, a moment when I was brave, and a moment where I needed to repair.  So what was a moment today where I did something kind?  When was I brave?  And when do I need to repair?  What do I need to repair?  And having those just three snapshots of each person’s day let’s you connect emotionally and helps your spouse maybe starting to have those ways of talking about it when the kids are doing it too.  So I like that idea as well.  But it can be tricky.  Now before we go, just one final thing.  Can you tell us—and I know your entire thesis is about this.  But can you sum up what you’ve learned about Jesus and emotions in the Gospels?

Becky: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  In the next few years, I’ll be writing 100,000 words on this.  

Sheila: Yes.  I know.     

Becky: Jesus is emotional in both his divinity and his humanity.  We see that the Old Testament is full of God’s emotions.  And we see some of those same emotions in Jesus, God Incarnate.  And we see Jesus having the loving kindness of God, the compassion of God, the anger at injustice of God, and we see Jesus having divinely inspired emotions like he’s full of joy by the Holy Spirit in Luke 10 when the disciples come back with success stories.  So there’s some element of fruit of the spirit emotion like joy.  And then we see Jesus with human emotion as well with grief and anguish and weeping and—just this wide range of human emotion because he is fully human.  And so he has the ability to construct emotion in the mind just like we do.  And then we see him teaching his disciples how to grow in their emotions just like a parent teaches their child how to have the appropriate emotions for their culture.  American parents teach their kids that happiness is an excited feeling and that they should be proud of themselves and that they should have self esteem.  A lot of energy in American emotions.  And Japanese parents teach their kids to have familiar loyalty and obligation.  So in the same way that parents teach their children to model the emotions of their culture, I believe that Jesus teaches his disciples the emotions of the culture of the kingdom of God.  So he teaches them love your enemy.  That’s not a concept in their culture, but he’s teaching them a new emotion.  Enemy love is an emotion they can learn and construct and be transformed by the Holy Spirit in the renewing of their minds to be able to actually feel enemy love.  And he teaches them to turn the other cheek.  He teaches them to not be afraid, and he’s speaking to a traumatized, oppressed people, who probably carried a lot of fear and hyper vigilance.  And over and over and over in Luke, he teaches them don’t be afraid.  Don’t worry.  And that’s not a condemnation on people with anxiety.  That is saying I see that you’re afraid, and I’m telling you.  You can construct not afraid in the face of trouble because God is taking care of you.  God is meeting your needs.  Don’t be overcome with the worries of life, which he says in the sermon on the plain.  And he says to Martha, “Don’t be so worried and distracted by the things of life because I want you to prioritize the things of the kingdom.”  So he’s teaching them emotions like a parent, so he’s discipling them in their emotion.  And so if we’re going to call ourselves followers of Jesus, we need to learn from his emotions both by following his example.  If he has compassion that takes action, we should have compassion that takes action and then also with what he is explicitly teaching.  We should not be so consumed with the cares of life.  We should prioritize the kingdom of God.  And I mean that in the most non condemning way possible.  Not to add a heavy load.  But to say there is God’s care and provision for you.  Let that alleviate fear that you’re legitimately feeling.  And so learn to love your enemies.  Learn to weep over those who choose to harm others.  Weep over that and go after people with God’s love.  So I think part of our discipleship is to learn emotional health.  And so any man, specifically, who just says, “I’m not good at emotions.  I’m not emotional.  God made me this way, and you need to adapt,” is wrong.  That’s unbiblical.  Any man who wants to call himself a follower of Jesus should be emotional like Jesus.  And so there is a call to the husbands who are saying, “I just don’t want to be emotional.”  Well, go read the Gospels again.  And let Jesus transform you because he made you emotional.  Just as much as your wife is—has a capacity to construct emotion, so do you.  Learn it to have better relationships with God and with the people around you.

Sheila: Amen.  I love that so much, Becky.  Well, thank you so much for being on.  It’s been fun to talk to you for the first time and not just type out comments to you.  

Becky: Yeah.  Absolutely.  I love your work so much.  I’m so grateful for it.  It is an honor to get to contribute a little piece to that.

Sheila: Yeah.  And now you are working with Scot McKnight.  Just do a plug for this.  On—

Becky: Yeah. Absolutely.  Scot McKnight is—was my seminary professor and a good friend of mine.  And he is writing a 16-volume, everyday Bible study series that will cover every book of the New Testament.   And it has the Bible passage and then a little reflection on the passage with his decades of New Testament scholarship.  But it’s very pastoral.  It’s very devotional oriented.  It’s to help you see Scripture in a new way, and it’s broken down in ways that you can read it every day.  And then I am working with him to edit those manuscripts and to write the questions for discussion and reflection.  So I think we’ve got six—we’ve got five volumes in print.  Two more on the way.  And he just sent me the pastoral epistles yesterday to start working on.  So that’s a great way to get some Scripture in your day from a great scholar with also some journaling prompts in there as well.

Sheila: Awesome.  And then, of course, if you want to talk to Becky personally, just join our patron.  And you will find her.  

Becky: Yes.  You will find me.  I am there every day.

Sheila: Well, thank you so much.  It’s been great having you.

Becky: Thank you, Sheila.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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29 Comments

  1. Åshild

    “Octogenarian sex lady” I love it Rebecca! Thanks for another great episode guys.

    Reply
  2. Nathan

    My own thought is lead with facts, logic and reason, but temper it with feelings from your heart.

    Reply
  3. Nathan

    Also, slightly off topic thing from yesterday. Nessie said (about me)

    > > (he tends to denote a recap using >>),

    Yes. I’m showing off my age here. Way, way back in the good old days of the internet (I go back to 1988 myself, and I know a few people from even before that), on chat boards, if you wanted to respond to somebody, you would do a > > recap and then respond on a new line.

    And thanks for tagging me as a good guy 🙂 I’m sometimes a bit passive-aggressive, and childish now and then, but I do my best!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re awesome, Nathan! So appreciate you here.

      Reply
  4. Jen

    I was taught the train analogy so many times! No wonder I’ve been suppressing my feelings!! This dovetails directly into your post yesterday about being accused of idolatry if we desire emotional intimacy with our husband. “Stop having feelings and needs!!” I remember praying that God would forgive me for idolizing my husband, and we were only a few years into a marriage that I knew was disappointing but was in truth destructive.

    How could I make my needs known when the needs themselves and the way I’m aware of them are taught as being wicked, sinful, idolatrous? I was truly trapped, and the people holding the cage shut were my husband and the leaders of the Church.

    Men can learn to feel their emotions. Men can be responsible adults. Men can move away from entitlement into mutuality. I’m witnessing it.

    Keep going, Sheila. Both women and men have been in bondage to this blame shifting, excuse-making nonsense. God’s using you to set captives free.

    Reply
  5. Laura

    In church circles (women’s Bible studies, sermons, and in conversation with Christian friends), I’ve often heard this phrase, “You cannot follow your feelings because feelings are fickle,” then that quote from Jeremiah about the heart being wicked and deceitful. The funny thing about the same people who use this phrase and verse often love to quote Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” In this verse, it sounds to me like the heart is not wicked and deceitful like the verse in Jeremiah says.

    To some extent, I agree that if we only live by how we feel, that is not good. For example, I don’t feel like going to work this week so I don’t go. Well, that means I lose a paycheck and possibly a job because I followed my feelings. Yet, the next week, I feel like going to work. I believe feelings tell us something and we need to listen to them by asking for God’s help. There has to be a balance between feelings and logic. A former counselor used to remind me not to have that all or nothing thinking. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of churches teach.

    Reply
  6. Hannah

    A word I’ve come across lately is alexithymia – not being able to describe or name one’s own emotions. More common in people who have experienced trauma and in people who are autistic. Only popular level reading, not research. I wonder how this might affect emotional health and the emotional literacy Becky and Sheila were talking about in the podcast?

    Reply
  7. Jo R

    The train! I completely forgot about the train (consciously, at least), which is part of how I came to Christ in college.

    The misogyny in Christendom thus started immediately for me, then, since “men are rational and women are emotional.” (Funny, all those equations in my engineering classes always came out the same for me and my male classmates, but I digress. 🙄 )

    That was very helpful to separate feelings from emotions, and both from reactivity. I had noticed that I almost never cried from sadness but frequently out of frustration, for example. It seems like there are lots more gradations of emotions than there are bodily sensations to match them to, so we’re too apt to mistake that fluttery stomach for something good instead of something bad, or vice versa.

    And thanks, too, to Becky for pointing out that the Hebrew word so often translated “heart” is far more encompassing than “seat of emotions.” In some cases it’s translated “mind” and even “conscience.” (https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/eng/hebrew/3820.html, scroll down, tap your preferred Bible version, then tap each Bible book to see all the places it’s used and exactly how it’s translated in each place.) How great that one of the corresponding Greek words is “psyche.” 🤔

    Thanks for all you do! ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

    Reply
  8. Phil

    Sheila. Its late and I have have had super long day…. Have a lot to say about this podcast and I am going to listen to it again for sure. I only have 6 mote mins of the podcast left but I had to pull over and write this. But do you know what you are tripping all over? You are working on a solution to something big. REAL BIG! I dont know exactly where you are going with all this but I can tell you I see a solution to many issues. Here in the Us emotions are viewed as a sign of weakness. IN HIS WEAKNESS IS STRENGTH. Wow Sheila. I am absolutely exhausted tonight and I don’t how how I am going to sleep tonight just wow Sheila. I really cant wait to see what happens around here next!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks so much, Phil! I just think I’ve met such amazing people doing this work (you included) and now I get to introduce you all to some of them, like Becky. I think she’s going to write some amazing stuff in the next few years that will turn everything on its head in a good way!

      Reply
  9. Tim

    ‘They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
    When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.’ – Nehemiah 1:3-4

    I preached on that passage a few months ago, pointing out that weeping and mourning for several days is an entirely appropriate response in this and many other situations, but we often don’t give ourselves the chance to (and I think the same is true of positive emotions too). E.g. how white, anglophone cultures tend to set aside an afternoon for a wedding or funeral vs several days to a week for the same event in many other cultures.

    I also wonder if the anti-emotions crowd think Jesus was operating on pure reason when he flipped tables in the temple, etc.

    It seems to me that letting our emotions and reason work together and hold each other to account when required (while acknowledging that it’s appropriate for one to dominate the other in some situations) is a much healthier way to live than at either extreme.

    Haven’t actually had a chance to listen to the podcast yet though so maybe there’s a better way to think about it waiting for me!

    Reply
  10. Anonymous305

    When I was a “radical Christian” teenager, the idea that “you can’t learn God’s will from your feelings” morphed into assuming that God’s will was whatever I dreaded most, as if I could learn God’s will by doing the opposite of what I felt. This lead to having my first severe mental health crisis in a foreign country, which lead to years of identity crisis because I felt like a failure with no identity, since I didn’t become a missionary after that. A few years later, I finally was desperate enough to take antidepressants and had another identity crisis related to being “weak” enough to need them. I was keeping God at a distance when I got into a hard marriage, but later, being more dedicated to God kept me in the marriage.

    These experiences revealed 3 problems with the church that I used to see a separate from each other, but I now see as related.

    1. The church pressures young people to “be radical and change the world before you get addicted to lazy suburban life” without considering the harmful effects of that pressure. Read the book “Runaway Radical” for more.

    2. The church implies that mental illness is a lack of faith and shames people who use psych medication, even in churches that don’t label physical illness as a lack of faith (although those exist, too).

    3. The church destroys women in all the ways that Bare Marriage has discussed already.

    All these have the following in common.
    -Coercion with guilt.
    -Lack of compassion toward the audience, sometimes framed as compassion for others (“you should sacrifice for them”).
    -Assumption that suffering and sacrifice are always the right choice, especially believers sacrificing for non-believers.
    -Belief that “God doesn’t care how you feel”.
    -Either lack of understanding of the effects of the teaching or lack of care about them.
    -Denial of science (most obvious with #2, but all of them deny the science that coercion causes trauma).
    -Double standards (do those teaching make the same sacrifices they demand of others?)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, very much so! I think many people can relate to your experience when you were younger, and your points at the end are spot on!

      Reply
    • Becky Castle Miller

      I absolutely learned the same thing – that I could know what God wanted me to do by doing something that felt horrible to me. A good parent is not like that!

      Reply
      • Anonymous305

        I do remember a few youth leaders being concerned that my beliefs were hurting me, but they didn’t recognize the church as the problem.

        I’m guessing that they just naturally assumed a non-extreme interpretation of the teachings about suffering and sacrifice, and assumed I was misinterpreting. Meanwhile, I was assuming that God and church should say what they mean and mean what they say. If someone said I was “interpreting too literally”, I felt like the speaker or author or Bible shouldn’t have said something that wasn’t meant literally. It bothered me that Jesus didn’t clarify that “cut of your hand” was metaphorical (although I still have 2 hands and eyes).

        Also, I assumed the best about the motives of Christian teachers and authors, and never guessed that some would literally lie to maintain power. Now, I’m very skeptical and wonder how many stories of sexy, submissive wives are completely fabricated.

        Reply
        • Laura

          Like you, I think I am skeptical of the “stories of sexy, submissive wives” and I think a lot of what GT wrote in Married Sex was fabricated.

          Reply
  11. Mara R

    Like Phil, I have also been over busy this week. Unlike Phil, I only made it 30 minutes into the Podcast. I intend to finish it when I can.

    But I have read all the comments above and am loving the insight and connections being made.

    I have one little thing to throw in along with the all the good points being made above. It is one that kind of goes along with the “Men are rational and women are emotional, therefore men are superior and less able to be deceived” light of though touched on above. Or actually, it’s more about emotions are evil and must be fought against with everything within us.

    When trying to understand New Calvinism, I put out a hypothesis that I elaborated on here:

    https://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/2012/03/piper-guilty-of-christian-vulcanism.html

    I have more to say, but no time to say it right now. So this is my best offering at this moment.

    Reply
  12. Anne Elliot

    I have always wondered when the “church” started its war on emotions. It wasn’t until I went to therapy until I put that into thought. The Church as a whole has put emotions on the don’t have them/sin list.
    But, the Bible doesn’t do that. God doesn’t do that. the Bible says, God feels Jealous, God is angry, God feels pleasure, etc. So It really confused me why the Church calls emotions “Sin” and if God doesn’t sin, how does that all work?
    My therapist cleared it up for me. Emotions are a gauge on what is going on in our life. I also HATE the emotions are a TRAIN concept. So not Biblical. So damaging.
    It makes way more sense that our emotions are a gauge on our lives.

    Jealousy is NOT a sin. Anger is NOT a sin. Pleasure is NOT as sin. Sadness is NOT a sin. Attraction is NOT a sin. Fear is not a sin.

    I have heard in all churches I have been in, “DONT BE ANGRY. BLAH BLAH BLAH”
    But what if that anger is a very real sign something is wrong or being crossed, boundary wise? We should listen to that anger and use it as a tool to protect whatever boundary is being crossed. NOT IGNORE IT.

    Maybe you are feeling jealous of a spouse…perhaps there is very real cheating on you going on and that feeling is there to sound the alarm.

    Feeling afraid? time to see if there is a real danger somewhere.

    I am just sick of hearing the all out war on emotions going on in the church. Logically, if God feels emotions, and created the capacity for emotions in me, it is not a sin to FEEL them, especially if God Himself feels emotions. I am not talking about ACTING on everything you feel, but to feel them itself is no sin.

    One final thing. The Enlightenment period seriously erred because they only relied on reason to live their lives, and excluded emotion. The reaction to that was the Romantic period, which swung from excluding reason and logic and common sense to only relying on emotions and passion to live and be guided by. I propose, like Jane Austen did in her book on this very topic, that we need both. If we ignore emotions, and only rely on reason, we end up like Eleanor. If we rely on emotions, without regard to reason, we end up like Marianne.

    God gave us both, and I am so glad to hear Sheila talk about this.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly, Anne. Emotions are a threat because they are a gauge on what’s going on in our lives. And when there’s an effort to control us, then our emotions must be controlled at all costs, because they are what may prompt us to do something if we’re unhappy.

      Reply
    • Angharad

      If anger is always a sin, why would Ephesians 4:6 tell us not to sin WHEN we are angry. If anger is always sinful, then it would be impossible to be angry without sinning, yet the Bible draws a clear distinction. You can be sinfully angry, but you can also be righteously angry. Any church that teaches you should never be angry is obviously ignoring the Bible’s teaching!

      Reply
      • Tim

        And why would the Bible include stories of Jesus being angry (clearing the temple, condemning the Pharisees etc)?

        Reply
  13. Angharad

    I was raised being taught that I shouldn’t rely SOLELY on my emotions, which I think is a good balance. I remember being told when I was quite young that I should always check what I felt was right or wrong against the Bible, because if the two conflicted, it would be my feelings that were wrong. But at the same time, I was encouraged to listen to those feelings because it could be a way of God speaking to me. I think this balance is so important – relying on feelings alone can be a total disaster (just look at the number of Christians who have broken up marriages because ‘God wouldn’t have let me fall in love with someone else if it wasn’t right – something that feels this wonderful can’t be wrong’). But I also know people who have been taught to distrust feelings so much that they get really stuck trying to make a decision that isn’t clearly defined by the Bible. So, for example, if they are trying to choose between two jobs, they get tied up in knots because they feel they shouldn’t trust their feelings and the Bible doesn’t actually say ‘take the job in Canada, not the one in Australia’!!!

    Reply
  14. Phil

    Sheila – round 2 today – I could totally sit and talk about this podcast for a long time, but I had an interesting insight on round 2 here. Here in the United States emotions are viewed as a sign of weakness. Now if you connect that thought to the man, hierarchy, woman, submissive, discussion, it tells you the story. What I see is that if men don’t have emotions, then they are stronger than women. Women who are allowed to have emotions are therefore weak. This reinforces not only the cultural messages but then when you take it to the biblical level, it cements it in concrete. Now you can re-enforce your thinking that Jesus must have taught such. I call BS!

    Reply
    • Phil

      And further, anger is allowed, particularly by men, because this demonstrates dominance and power – wow

      Reply
  15. Luke

    I’ve listened to the podcast three times, and am still wondering, what is the correct application of Jeremiah 17:9?

    If we more correctly say the bowels are deceitful, what is God saying there?

    Reply
  16. G

    I completely agree that many denominations and toxic churches have been totally wrong about emotions. I’m so glad you are having this conversation.

    I have one concern that I would like to state. The guest’s definitions and explanations about feelings and emotions haven’t lined up with things my psychology major son has told me from what he has learned in his classes. Now it is very possible that I’m just misunderstanding one or both. It’s also possible that there are different interpretations of data and research. I’m so grateful for the push that your ministry is doing to expect Christian leaders to back up their claims. That is so needed. In light of that, can you add the studies or cite the data that backs up the claims made in the podcast in the show notes? I think setting this example could be so powerful in the example you are setting. Thank you for considering the request.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I believe Becky mentioned several resources that you could go look at. I understand that what she said may not be what psychology majors are learning. but she’s in a Ph.D. program on the cutting edge!

      Reply
      • G

        I’m disappointed in this reply. I think you are a missing a huge opportunity here to model what you are asking the evangelical world to do.

        She was correct in that the first step to really discuss a topic is to define the terms. Did she cite sources for her definitions?

        Her credentials aren’t listed in the show notes, only her social media. She said she was in the very beginning of her program, so there really hasn’t been time for her theories to be tested, correct? If the cutting edge program she is in is part of her credentials to discuss this topic, shouldn’t it be listed as well?

        Please don’t take my pushback as a lack of gratitude for your ministry. I’m safe today because of your ministry. I agree with what you are doing. I pushback on this because I agree with you and your ministry and honestly believe these steps would increase your ministry.

        Reply
        • G

          I found her website- her PHD work is in New Testament at Wheaton. That would give her credentials to discuss the New Testament writings about feelings and emotions. If she is defining psychology terms and discussing brain science, that is outside of her credentials. Sources should be cited and listed for those claims.

          Reply

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