Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone and half way through the fight you have forgotten why you got mad in the first place? Have you ever tried to reason with your sister when she is angry and it’s like talking to a brick wall? Ever watch a child or teenager do something so impulsive or dangerous and think “they should know better?” This is your brain doing what it's supposed to do. You have an emotional part of your brain and a logical part of your brain.
(This 'teaching time' might seem kind of technical for a bit. But hang in there, I promise it will be worth it!)
The emotional part of your brain is called the Limbic Brain. This is the area near the base of the brain. The limbic system’s function is emotions and memories. When you feel happy, mad, or sad, this part of your brain is extremely active.
The portion of your brain that deals with logic is called the Neocortex. The Neocortex has many different sections, including the Cerebral Cortex. The Cerebral Cortex plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. This part of the brain is in the frontal lobe. Interestingly enough, this part of your brain does not fully develop until the age of 25! Remember when I asked if you see a child do something and you think “good grief, are you serious?” This is why teens and children act so impulsively. They literally do not have the capacity not to!
So let’s go back to that fight with your sister. When she is mad, there is no way you can reason with her, literally. Until she is calmed down, her limbic system will be firing like crazy. Her frontal lobe, unlike your’s, is inaccessible at this point. You might as well give her some space and try to reason with her when she is calm.
So why do I bring this up? Well, as Christians we are called to be slow to anger and two fruits of the spirit include gentleness and self-control. Proverbs 10:21 says, “The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense.” I believe that this is where Christ is calling us to separate the logic from emotion. This is a skill that can be learned and mastered. Behavioral health therapists often refer to this skill as the Wise Mind.
When we use our Wise Mind, we are taking our emotions out of the situation. We can only use our Wise Mind, however, if we are calm and are no longer triggered by the situation. Let’s say Bob and Sally just arrived home from a busy day at work. Sally had asked Bob to take the laundry out of the washer earlier that morning and put the clothes into the dryer. Sally goes to the laundry room to retrieve the clothes from the dryer, only to see that Bob has forgotten to do so. Sally’s face immediately gets red and she feels anger inside. She thinks, “how could Bob do this AGAIN?!” These symptoms and thoughts are emotionally charged. Sally’s limbic system is on fire. However, there is a small voice in Sally’s head that says “You remember how busy it was with the kids this morning? He was rushing out the door to get to work on time and must have just forgotten. The clothes can just be re-washed. It’s no big deal.” That’s the cerebral cortex speaking. At this point, Sally has a choice. She can give in to her emotions or choose to be gentle with Bob and just restart the wash cycle.
We as followers of Christ have this choice to make HUNDREDS of times per day. We can choose to scream and yell at the bad driver tailgating us or pray for them. We can choose to immediately reprimand our employee at work because he came in late for the second day in a row, or choose to sit him down and ask if everything is okay. God has once and for all forgiven us and not smiting us with bolts of lightening when we repeatedly sin. We are called to follow in his footsteps. The next time you’re about to make an emotionally-charged decision, slow down, breathe, and use your Wise Mind.