“It just feels wrong.” “It feels right to me.” How many spiritual decisions do the students in your Bible class make based on their emotional response, instead of making their choices through the lens of what God wants for their lives? Are they even aware when they make purely emotional decisions?
There are some ways you can help your Bible students be more aware of their emotional state and how it impacts their decision making. You can also teach them tools to help them take their emotions out of play when God has a definitive opinion about the choice they should make.
First, there are some brain science discoveries you need to share with students.
- Decisions can reflect our emotions. Decisions made when we are afraid tend to reflect more pessimistic attitudes. Choices made when we are happy tend to reflect overly optimistic beliefs, while underestimating the potential negative impact of our choices.
- We remember information attached to an emotion best when experiencing that same emotion. In other words, if a Bible student is taught God considers lying a sin while happy, it may be easier to remember that when the student is happy and not experiencing some other emotion. That is one of the reasons young people seem to “forget” some of God’s truths in the moment, only to remember them later when they are calm. Working hard to transfer God’s commands and principles to their long term memory in other ways can lessen the need for a particular emotion as a memory trigger.
- We can “catch” emotions from the people around us, possibly impacting our critical thinking skills in the process. This is how peaceful protests can become violent. People who had no intention of making those illegal choices get caught up in the emotions of others and are joining in before they realize what has happened. We can “catch” positive emotions too, but it is more difficult that catching negative ones.
- Strong emotions can negatively impact self control. If you have ever seen a toddler pitch a tantrum, you understand this concept. Their emotions have gotten so out of control, they find it almost impossible to control their emotions or their behaviors until they are literally exhausted from both the emotion and the actions.
- Failing to adequately meet our essential needs of sleep, food and hydration can make us more emotional and impair our critical thinking. Self control and critical thinking are easier when one is rested, fed and hydrated. Teaching young people the importance of plenty of sleep, healthy diets and adequate hydration can also impact their spiritual lives in positive ways.
As you teach these facts to your Bible students, encourage them to share examples when these things have impacted their critical thinking and decision making in positive or negative ways. Help them brainstorm ideas for separating emotions from decision making until they are sure they are making a godly choice. (If both choices are godly, then they may need their emotions to help them make the best choice.)
Teaching young people to control the impact of their emotions on their critical thinking can help them make more godly choices. It’s worth taking class time to help them learn those skills.