Should you listen to your emotions? An Interview.

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It is an honor to interview my friend and author Marc Alan Schelske about his upcoming book The Wisdom of Your Heart releasing on September 1, 2017. I had the pleasure of meeting Marc earlier this year and his affable personality immediately put me at ease. I was privileged to have had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of his new book and it was difficult to lay it down. It is one of those books you want to read through as quickly as possible so you can go back and reread it again, slower, marinating in the truths there.

The Wisdom of Your Heart shines much-needed light on the subject of listening to our emotions and what they are trying to tell us, rather than repressing them as many of us have been told we should do, or worse, that we can’t trust them. Marc debunks the myths we have all been told. His raw authenticity and vulnerability concerning his own struggles makes this work relatable and real.

As a health coach, I am well acquainted with the results of repressed emotions and past emotional trauma on our overall physical health. Most people don’t realize that unresolved emotions are stored in the body and contribute to a plethora of physical health problems. In The Wisdom of Your Heart Marc gives us permission to listen to our God-given emotions so that we can discern the truths they reveal which will positively impact our relationships with family, friends, and all those with whom we relate.  You can preorder a copy now. Do it!

So without further adieu

Marc Alan Schelske is a husband, dad, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, and recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea and rides a motorcycle. Marc is privileged to serve as the teaching elder for Bridge City Community Church, a rag-tag faith community in Milwaukie, Oregon. There he focuses on inside-out living, and what it looks like to follow Jesus at the intersection of grace and growth.

MS: How did you come to write this book?

Marc: I didn’t really have a plan to write a book. The truth is that I came to the end of my rope. The tools I had for dealing with my emotions were insufficient, and my life was quickly falling apart.

I’m a people pleaser by nature and upbringing. One of the ways we please the people around us is only to feel the things they are comfortable with. We edit ourselves so that we won’t feel the pain of rejection. I’d been doing that for years.

I’m also a survivor of childhood trauma. One of the things that define trauma is that it is completely out of your control, and one of the ways some survivors cope with that is by becoming controllers. We imagine that if we can control the world well, we can avoid pain. Of course, emotions are a part of life that can feel out-of-control. So for me (and many others) clamping down on our emotions is a way to feel like we can perhaps avoid future pain.

So, by the time I was in my later thirties, I had years and years of emotional habits formed. Highly controlling. Difficult emotions repressed. Outward emotional expression muted, but malleable to keep people around me happy. I was very disconnected from my emotions, except anger.

So, when circumstances in my life began to press me beyond what I could handle, I was just not equipped to deal with the waves and waves of emotions that inundated my life.

In The Wisdom of Your Heart, I write more in detail about my experience. The book only exists because as I worked my emotional recovery, I started sharing what I was learning. At that point, I had been preaching for 20 years, and I had never had such a positive response in my whole life. People were so desperate to hear about how we can live healthily with our emotions, and how they can be a helpful part of our spiritual journey.

Two sermon series turned into a series of blog posts. Those turned into some conversations. And now, several years later, the book exists.

MS: We know that our emotions impact our body deeply. Can you speak to this?

Marc: This is one of the things I was so surprised to learn. I had thought of my emotions as ephemeral mental states. Sleep on it, and you’ll feel different in the morning. I thought they were something I could just power through.

I’m not alone in that. This has been the predominant view of emotions since the Greek philosophers. Even as recently as the ‘70s, some researchers argued that emotions happened in the “black box” of the mind, were completely subjective, and couldn’t be reliably studied.

But our capacity to look inside the brain has radically changed since then. fMRI scans have allowed us to see what happens in the brain in ways we could never have imagined.

One of the surprising things we’ve learned is that emotional reactions happen in the body before the conscious mind is ever even aware of them. This is surprising and maybe even counter-intuitive news. But it’s true. Your body knows that you are experiencing an emotion before your mind has time to sort the data and interpret what emotion is happening and why it happened.

For example, it was my therapist who pointed out how frequently I was experiencing stomach pain, and how often that pain happened just before I became aware of a conflict or other emotionally impactful circumstance. For years, I had attributed it to something I ate, or something else. But over time I learned that my gut is a very accurate predictor of my emotional state.

MS: So, what might this suggest for people dealing with repressed emotional trauma? 

Marc: What we’re learning is that highly impactful emotional experiences change us physiologically. When we repress or choose to ignores strong and painful emotions, like grief or fear, those emotions don’t just go away. That burst of emotional energy has released hormones and neurotransmitters that bring about real changes in our bodies. That means that emotions don’t just happen in your mind. They are not just feelings that can be disregarded. They tangibly impact our body, and thus our health.

I don’t go deeply into this in The Wisdom of Your Heart, but if you want to learn more on this, I highly recommend the excellent book called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

For me, learning about the physiological impact of emotions underscored the vital necessity of learning how to handle and listen to our emotions. This isn’t just a matter of feelings. It’s a matter of well-being.

MS: You’ve been using the phrase “emotional discipleship” in your book and when you talk about the book. What does that mean and why is it important?

Marc: I’m a follower of Jesus and a pastor. In the church, when we talk about the process of people growing, we often call that “discipleship.” In many churches, though, discipleship is practically speaking a very intellectual process. People are trained how to read the Bible. They are trained in ways to pray. In some churches, they are trained in a certain stream of theological ideas. But almost all of this is intellectual. And rarely does it ever touch the heart.

When I was deep in depression, living in an unsustainable way, I was reading the Bible and praying every day. My backpack was stuffed full of theology and methods of prayer and church history. But none of that mattered. None of it touched my heart.

The result is that we have a generation of Christians with a lot of training and access to a lot of information. But when it comes to something as prosaic as handling conflict or disagreement, they are up a creek without a paddle. When it comes to relationships, they are being told what “good marriages” look like, but they are rarely being equipped for deeper, healthier intimacy.

I am convinced that part of maturing as a human being, and for the church, part of growing up in Christ means learning to grow in our emotional maturity. Do we know how to listen to our emotions? Do we know how to sit with them and not have them derail us? Do we know how to listen to others who are speaking from an emotional place without getting defensive? Do we know what information our emotions bring us, or do we just disregard them? Do we know how to bring our emotions before God for guidance and discernment?

All of this is emotional discipleship, and it’s vital. Without it, we are leaving people unequipped to face the normal emotional reality of life. And even worse, we’re leaving them to deal with the health issues that arise when we leave our emotions unprocessed.

MS: What do you hope to accomplish with The Wisdom of Your Heart?

Marc: I have high hopes for this book. I hope it will get churches talking about emotional maturity and wellness. I hope it will help people find the freedom to engage their emotions. I hope it will lead to deeper, healthier relationships.

I know how much pain I went through because of my emotional immaturity. I’m aware that I hurt people. I hurt my marriage. I damaged the ministry of my church—and I had no idea it was happening. So, I hope that this book can prevent experience for someone, or give them a hand up from the dark pit they find themselves in.

Emotions are not a curse. They are a gift. I believe they are a part of life designed by God to give us insight and wisdom that we would not otherwise find. I hope that people can experience that.

Thank you, Marc! I appreciate you, the work you are doing, and for giving us permission to listen to and learn from our God-given emotions! 

The Wisdom of Your Heart is available for preorder and releases September 1st.

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