You may have heard the idea tossed around: Emotional Chastity, Emotional Purity, Emotional Prudence, but I like to call it Emotional Virtue.
When I was in college, I had a professor ask our class, “What is virtue?” I remember thinking, “Patience is a virtue,” and that was about as far as I got. As we dove deeper into what virtue was, my eyes were opened. What I learned went something like this:
Virtue is striving for human excellence.
Virtue is forming the habits of knowing and choosing the good.
Virtue harnesses and trains your passions and emotions to work toward the good.
Virtue gives you the freedom to love.
Wow. I would leave class shaking my head in disbelief—to think I was finally finding answers, answers that resonated deep within my mind and heart.
My thoughts, actions, and habits are forming who I am. Like it or not, the hard reality is that I am becoming a certain kind of person through the actions I take and the decisions I make in life.
Emotions and passions can play a huge part in the battle to attain virtue. Emotions and passions can get a bad rap sometimes. I know a lot of people who have it in their minds that emotions are bad—people who wish they weren’t so emotional or passionate, or wish others in their lives weren’t so emotional or passionate. Some men will even write off all emotions because they are seen to be a dramatic “girl problem,” but that is just not true. Men and women share humanity, and as human beings, we all have emotions and passions. There is no pretending they don’t exist. Emotions and passions happen to us, it is what we do with them, and how we react to them that counts.
Many people try to suppress or bottle up their emotions because of past experiences, or because they think the best way to handle their emotional life is to lock up their heart and throw away the key. But suppressing every emotion should never be the goal.
Here’s the thing: emotions and passions are actually good! We have emotions and passions for a reason! They give life its zeal, its gusto. They are the fire that burns inside you, moving you to act and react—to help someone in need, to stand up against injustice, to love more fully. Emotions and passions stir your soul for a reason. You don’t want to push them down, hide them, ignore them, or run from them. On the other hand, to take the other extreme, you don’t want them to run wild and out of control, taking over your life. The trick is to learn to harness your emotions and direct them toward the good. We have to be the “boss of our thoughts,” as I like to say, and not let the World’s Idea of Perfect, the Emoticoaster, or the Cycle of Use set the agenda.
Emotions are good, but it is not their job to recognize the truth. Our mind must recognize truth; and in this task, it must not be dominated by our emotions. But once the mind is locked in on the truth, and our emotions are following our mind’s lead, then we should encourage our emotions.
You have a head and a heart for a reason. Your mind has to be formed in what is true, good, and beautiful, so that your heart and will can act upon it. You can follow your heart sometimes, but don’t forget to bring your head with you!
Emotional Virtue, then, is the right ordering of our thoughts, actions, and desires as they relate to our relationships. This can be in anticipation of a future relationship, in the midst of one, or in dealing with the aftermath of one that has ended.
Emotions and passions can be fleeting; they come and go. But if we buy into the lie that love is just a feeling, then our friendships, dating relationships, and marriages will only be as secure as the feelings upon which they are built; and when those “feelings” are gone, those relationships often dissolve.
I am often asked, “If I emotionally enjoy the company of another or even the excitement of a budding relationship, does that mean I am using the other person emotionally?” No, of course not. We only need to keep in mind that our goal should be to anchor our emotional enjoyment in sincere love for the other—willing his or her good and always looking out for what is best for him or her.
What we find is that when our relationships are based on a solid foundation, the experience of love actually grows all the richer. Feelings and emotions, rather than being bad, are taken to the next level when love is built on a sturdy framework. Living this out, externally and within our own hearts, is what Emotional Virtue is all about.