Emotional Indulgence

Hi, my name is Alex, and I am an emotional indulger. 

This was something I would take pride in. I would find myself boasting about it, and it almost seemed to define who I am. I wore it as a badge of honor—that I have the ability to feel emotions deeply, and that I noticed when others don’t or won’t allow themselves to.

In my mind, I thought I was superior to people who avoided their emotions.

So, when Southeast Senior Pastor Kyle Idleman defined an emotional indulger in week one of the “How Ya Feeling?” sermon series, it felt like someone slapped me in the face.

“This is how many of us were discipled culturally,” Idleman said. “‘Just feel your feelings. Whatever you feel, that’s what’s right.’ You find your identity in your desires. You let yourself be dominated by your feelings. And so, your feelings are your GPS. You wake up and however you feel—that’s going to determine your day and how you treat people.”

When I think of indulging in something, I think of food. Ice cream is my go-to. I eat and eat, enjoy and enjoy, finding such gratification in the moment—until something shifts.

The ice cream is gone, and I’m left with the aftermath, feeling like I am about to pop and guilty for indulging for too long. But sometimes instead of indulging in ice cream, I indulge in my emotions.

Can you relate?

When feelings of sadness or anger overcome you, you just sit and feel them, letting them produce rotten thoughts in your mind. You linger in the emotion, feeling a sense of overwhelming hopelessness, isolation, fear or rage.

You’ve indulged too long.

For me, my emotions can dictate my day, sometimes even my week, if I indulge in them for too long. “How did I get here?” I ask myself when the emotions seem to call the plays and tell me who I am.

There is a fuel that fans the flame of our emotions and feelings. It can take a small campfire and turn it into an all-consuming forest fire.

It is our thoughts.

How powerful is the mind?

In the past, these emotions have ruled and controlled me, whether it be bouts with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, anger or envy.

Usually when my emotions start to direct my path, I notice my thoughts change. They become negative and full of false truth. This is not what God sent His Son to die for—to be free from sin yet captive to my thoughts and emotions.

In my walk with the Lord, I have been learning about giving my emotions to Christ, not having them dictate who I am but having Him define who I am.

When I look back, I wonder how I made this change. How have I begun to conquer letting my emotions define my actions?

I had to become aware of my emotions and the thoughts behind them.

I love Kyle’s challenge from this sermon: Tell someone about the emotions you are experiencing.

I have learned I cannot tell someone whom I trust just what I’m feeling, but I must tell the underlying thoughts that come with it, too.

Each time I have mustered the courage to communicate my thoughts to someone, it helps unveil the untruth and obscurity behind them. After sharing, I often find myself saying, “Well, that’s a silly thought,” or “Wow, that is not a loving thought at all.”

It is so easy to get stuck in our self-talk and think that it is the only truth. But if our thoughts do not align with the Word of God, we must be cautious.

So, how do we actively align our thoughts with God?

I love how The Message paraphrases this truth in Philippians 4:8: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

When I indulge in my emotions, my thoughts are far from gracious, true, beautiful or praiseworthy. These thoughts won’t change on their own—I have to actively be aware of them. That is why Paul says to fill your minds with the right things.

It is an action. It takes effort. It is not an instant thing.

How are we to fill our minds with truth?

Acknowledge your emotions and your thoughts that come with them.

God gave us feelings. He is not asking us to just act like we don’t have them. But we also have to realize there are thoughts that come along with our emotions. Bring those thoughts and emotions before God, then someone you trust.

Replace the negative thoughts with the Word of God.

It’s not enough to acknowledge these thoughts. We can’t let them just hang out. We have to replace them with something—the Word of God.

Struggling with thoughts of depression? Replace them with Psalm 40:1-3 or 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

Thoughts of anxiety? 1 Peter 5:7.

Overwhelming thoughts? John 16:33.

Rage? Proverbs 15:1.

Worthlessness? Psalm 139.

Meditate on it.

When you feel your emotions pulling you away from God, think on these Scriptures. I will write the verse down on a note card or make it the background of my phone, so all I need to do is glance at it to fix my thoughts on Jesus.

Maybe you too are an emotional indulger, and maybe you are thinking, “That’s just too much work, Alex!” But can I tell you, the work and effort is worth it—for the sake of experiencing freedom in Christ.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Alex Minogue is a resident in Southeast’s La Grange Campus Women’s Ministry.