Blog/CYM Blog

Hooked on a Feeling: How to Help Teens Balance Emotions and Reason

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” – Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

“A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper, than he who takes the city.” – Proverbs 16:30

I’ve never been good at the whole “showing emotion” thing.

Even at my own wedding, all I could really muster was some goofy expression halfway between a smile and a bout of painful gas. I’d love to blame it on a face-muscle issue or a bad burrito, but to tell the truth… I just don’t get it. I’ve always been uncomfortable with big emotional expression, and more comfortable with words as opposed to the wibbly-wobbly world of emotional display. To be honest it makes me love my poor wife more given the robot to whom she’s sacramentally bound.


By contrast, entering into ministry is the very definition of emotional overload. Our young people are firmly planted on an emotional backdrop that not only covers the ups and downs of high school, but family stresses, social media, new-found independence, and wondering whether or not they have a date to homecoming.

On top of that, our teens and young adults especially, those in the so-called “millennial generation,” have been raised in a society that craves emotional pleasure in the place of intellectual or spiritual fulfillment, and as a result, often falls victim to the tumultuous nature of our most outwardly malleable sense. Fulfillment becomes synonymous with emotional intensity, and growth seems to depend on larger and more dramatic emotional experience.

In a way, life becomes centered on getting the next fix off of bigger and better feeling, regardless of whether that comes in the form of ecstatic highs or the most violent ad destructive of lows.

This culture of emotional excess is spurred on through music, reality television, movies, and the like which present to our teens a picture of life that cries out for something more and encourages settling for something that can’t and won’t sustain them.

None of this is to say that emotion or feeling is a bad thing. And before you write me off as an unfeeling and tasteless curmudgeon trying to find gray linings in silver clouds, I realize and love that Our Lord often helps to inform our actions and work in our hearts by movements and feelings that draw us to Him and help us discern His Truth and His Way.

However, when life and relationship is boiled down to a measure of feeling, positive or negative, a means by which Jesus reaches out to us, namely emotion, becomes an end in itself, crippling the person seeking after God who is suddenly searching less for the Person of Christ and more of the Feeling of Christ.

This mindset can have horribly detrimental effects as we try to bring teens into an encounter with Jesus, and as we train them to seek after their vocation. Essentially, if they are only seeking the emotional high, what happens when the road gets tough, and prayer becomes quiet?


In whatever way we can, we need to distinguish for our teens between the feeling and reality. We need to help them to see that joy can be found in suffering and that a lack of outward happiness is not an excuse for despair.

We need to ask Christ to help us calm the storms within their hearts, and replace it with a peace that comes not from worldly things, but from the Holy Spirit. We ourselves need to emulate great saints like Bl. Teresa of Calcutta who persevered through decades of spiritual darkness, and Bl. Chiara Badano who was joyful even as cancer stripped her of her earthly life.

Don’t allow emotion to equal conversion. Focus on relaying the deep and lasting message of the Gospel, and allow your own genuine excitement and joy to overflow and touch the hearts of others in a way that is real and expressed the steadfastness of the Truth.

We cannot allow ourselves or our teens to be pulled into the treacherous and emotional whirlpool of our culture. We need to be on guard against the temptation to allow feeling and excess rule us. And most of all, we need to realize that our will and our intellect far exceed our passing feelings, and that Our Lord is calling us to higher things. He is the one who brings joy out of suffering and life out of darkness. We cannot forget this essential truth, and we can’t let our teens lose sight of the bigger picture.

As with all things in life, there is proper order and a proper expression.

I love my God, my Church, my wife, and my friends with a passion, and growing in that expression is a part of growth in holiness and happiness. On the other hand, may that expression be guided in love and prudence, bringing life and not despair to those it touches.

About the Author

Perry Rihl

I love Thai food, old books, and stupid puns. I'm married to a beautiful, patient, and holy woman and I live and work as a youth minister in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. God allows me to lead worship and retreats all over the place and you can follow me on Twitter @dprihl.

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.