While praying before the semester started, I asked God to speak to me about what He would like to do in me, around me, and through me this semester. While He spoke to me sweetly about some baggage (in the words of a dear friend, “there’s always more to sweep”), He also started speaking to me about different words that represented values that He had intentionally shaped my own heart and the hearts of my friends around—words like “honor,” “truth,” “joy,” and “humility,” to name a few. These words represented so much of how He had used these special individuals in my life, and how He was faithfully instructing them. For me, my word was “love.”
Now, I’m not a romantic, but I do have a wellspring of life in my heart that overflows with the thought of loving someone well—this isn’t to say that I always do it perfectly, or even sufficiently, but I’m always seeking out the ways in which I can just pour out all that is in me. My cup (heart) overflows.
As you might be able to guess, this comes with it’s own brand of emotion—my feelings are usually just past the line of everywhere. I feel so deeply and so surely that when I recognize that an emotion is there, I’m diligently evaluative and seek to understand the source and concerns of what I’m feeling. I’ve come to know that other than it being a blessing (God allows us to feel in the most beautifully passionate ways), it’s also a skill to be able to say what you’re feeling, evaluate those feelings, and administer them appropriately. This, my friends, is emotional intelligence.
Being a psychology major, I am easily amazed by the ways in which God has formed us. Our brains are complex, beautiful, intricate parts of us that God Himself designed and made with nearly limitless capacity. We not only are able to feel the incredible sensations of touch and affection because of chemicals and neural pathways, but we are able to hold a friend, family member, or significant other in our arms and consciously register “love.” I could bore you for hours with the anatomy of the brain and everything that makes up a feeling, but I will assume you aren’t quite as nerdy as I am in this regard.
So, knowing all of this about God’s majesty and His authority in creation, we understand that He has enabled us to think and feel these beautiful things; He’s set it up so that we can learn what “happiness” is and seek after it by means of trial and error. Bring to mind a beautiful memory of a time when you felt so very loved; do you feel the joy of it? Do you feel the nostalgia of it? Do you feel the absolute longing in it? This is all a side effect of God’s design, within which we are able to feel love, anger, sadness, joy, excitement, disappointment, and passion—and then label it as such. When you feel happy, you are able to register the conscious thought: “I’m happy.”
This is (part of) emotional intelligence—being able to feel something and label it for what it is. A high EQ (IQ, but for emotions) means that when faced with a feeling, you can recognize it for what it is, evaluate why it is that you feel that way, and then decide what you’re going to do about it. A low EQ often leads to suppression, confusion, and outbursts of negative emotions; if we don’t deal with our feelings, we just shove them down.
But a high EQ also equals this: being able to gauge the attitude of a room and change it. It involves understanding the feelings of others and the ability to empathize. It requires that we step outside of ourselves and see others while recognizing that we have the power to change it.
Check out mirror neurons: these neurons in your brain are what make you flinch when you see someone fall off of their bike—they’re like facilitators of sympathy, and they cause you to feel (even if only for a moment) what you perceive that another person is feeling. It’s the same reason that smiling at a baby is so important—a newborn is deciphering in their (already beautifully infinite) mind whether or not they’ve been born into a safe place. When you smile at a baby, often they will smile back. You’re communicating with them in a nonverbal way that says they’re safe, loved, and cared for.
You can use the same manipulation with adults; now, I know manipulation is a scary word—but I don’t mean forcing someone to do what you want them to do out of selfish desire; I mean smiling at people more to help them smile more. When you walk into a room of frustrated people and you have a high EQ, you are more fit to work the room and smooth out the kinks. You are more equipped to stably approach others with a kind smile and sympathize. When you offer them genuine concern and a kind smile, they might be able to receive it and return it. I’ve used this more times than I can count, and you’d be amazed how much kindness is in a smile.
What I mean by all of this is that emotional intelligence is crucial to understanding and loving others well. If you can’t understand your anger when it comes, you’re more likely to react out of a place of hurt and confusion; emotional intelligence says, “Back up. What’re you feeling right now, and why?” It’s an honest assessment of ourselves that better enables us to be humble in our approach to conflict, pain, and affection. You may think to yourself, “Well, to raise an IQ, you study more, work harder, learn more, etc. How do you raise and EQ?”
You aren’t born with a top-of-the-line ability to assess emotion, even though you are constantly feeling. Not everyone can do it, or at least do it well enough to make a difference. Why do we have so many youth who act out in rage and commit crimes of passion? How many times do you see an adult act out of frustration over small things?
In my own life, emotional intelligence has been a long, hard fight. I would get mad and overanalyze every word spoken to me. I would get deeply offended if someone couldn’t talk to me, or spend time with me, or just had something else they had to do. I would get so angry at correction and offended when someone would express knowledge in something in which I felt insufficient. So, the good Father had to sit me down and say to me, “Why are you so offended?”
After long seasons of assessing an obvious issue with rejection, I slowly learned that because of different roots of rejection in my heart, I wasn’t willing to see that I wasn’t actually angry with the busy person, but I was disappointed in myself for feeling not good enough for their time and attention. See how drastic those two things are? Here I was reacting out of disappointment in myself, when what I was expressing was rage towards another individual. Nothing was solved because it didn’t line up. My expression was not equal to the authentic emotion, so I was never satisfied.
What needs to happen is that we need an emotionally intelligent Church who is willing to give their feelings over to God. This may seem silly or too simple—but not enough people know how to honestly handle their feelings. When we take our emotions to God—who not only designed the neural pathways by hand, but also has empathized with us in every way imaginable—He will always be able to offer up the best way to deal with them. We are emotional beings—and that’s okay.
Don’t shame yourself out of feeling. Don’t receive it when someone says you’re being “overdramatic.” Your feelings are important to God, and like anything else, He wants you to handle them appropriately. When things are good, and when things are bad, ask Him what the real cause is. He knows.
We grow in emotional intelligence by asking God what’s going on—because honestly, He knows us better than we know ourselves, and most of the time we don’t even know half of our own story. He assures us that He is an emotional God—full of relentless love, holy anger, life-giving joy, and so much more. He isn’t telling you that you feel too much—He’s telling you that you need to be careful with your heart. He’s made it to feel; but He’s also made it to be handled with care.
Molly is a third year student at Asbury University, majoring in Psychology and Creative Writing. She's from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, but currently resides in little Wilmore absorbing the culture shock of a beautiful community integrating academia and faith in the middle of nowhere. She's always either picking little bouquets of words or wildflowers, and she wouldn't have it any other way. You can read more about her passions, dreams, and conversations with a good Father on her blog: "I am sick with Love." (www.shilohsdaughter.wordpress.com)