Emotions are like the tide: they change every day. We must be careful then not to base our spiritual lives on our emotions. We must also take care not to base our decisions upon our feelings.
Every day we can experience both positive and negative emotions, and we can allow both types of emotions to affect our relationship with the Lord. For example, if we are peaceful during the day, we can allow it to lead us more deeply into the Lord’s presence and experience spiritual consolation; however, if we are angry we may choose to distance ourselves from Him thus choosing spiritual desolation. The challenge for us is to live on a deeper spiritual level than our emotions. The good news is that there is a prayerful way to get to that level and to be more discerning about how our emotions affect our spiritual life.
St. Ignatius of Loyola made popular a way to pray that can help us to discern the daily spiritual movements of our hearts so that we can be more attentive to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is called the Examen Prayer. The Examen Prayer is simply a time to sit in God’s presence, thank Him for the blessings of the day, ask Him to help us see how we have lived in His presence, receive His forgiveness, and make a concrete resolution to live a holier life the following day. For those who want to learn about this prayer, I encourage you to read Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s book The Examen Prayer. It’s a great book for those who want to go deeper in the spiritual life. I’m actually reading it for the second time.
One of the benefits of the Examen Prayer is that it helps us to be more attentive to the promptings of the Lord, and also to be more conscious of the movements of our hearts that are contrary to the Spirit of the Lord. Every day the Lord tries to draw us closer to Him. You may have had the experience of feeling drawn to silence during the day or maybe even experiencing God’s presence and peace as you watched the sunset. These moments are gifts from the Lord and are His way of drawing us closer to His heart.
The truth is that we are much more than our emotions. Amidst the daily emotional fluctuations there is the deeper reality of the Lord’s presence in our souls. But if we do not take time every day to enter prayerfully into His presence then we will inevitably allow our negative emotions to dictate our spiritual lives and our decisions. We will be ruled by what we feel rather than by who we are: children of God.
There is a great Cherokee Legend that illustrates this point perfectly. An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I’ll go more in depth with the Examen Prayer in future posts. For now, take some time to sit in silence and feed your relationship with the Lord. Review with Him the movements of your heart. Have you been angry or sad? How have you allowed your emotions to dictate your spiritual life and your decisions today? Acknowledge the graces that the Lord has given to you today. Speak to the Lord about the movements of your heart and ask him for the grace to reject the bad and to choose his love and his peace. Allow the Lord’s peace to enter your heart and focus on the fruits of the Holy Spirit so that they will begin to grow in you.