Culture

What Pixar Taught Me About God and Embracing Emotions

Crying in kid movies? Ugh. Thanks, Pixar. Thanks a lot.

I should just remember by now that this is what happens when you watch anything by Pixar. “Inside Out” was no exception.

I may or may not have cried three times during this movie, but that’s beside the point. I wasn’t just moved because they know how to hit you right in the feels. I was moved because the movie had a lot to say about how we handle emotion. 

And how we handle emotion has a lot to do with how we relate to ourselves and to God.

Normally, in classic human fashion, we like to handle it in extremes. On one extreme, we give emotions too much power. We wallow in them. We make decisions solely based on how we feel at any given moment. We equate what we’re feeling to be reality — especially in judging how our relationship with God is going. (If you don’t experience a Jesus High after every prayer, you’re doing it wrong…KIDDING. Seriously kidding. That’s not how it works.)


On the other hand, we shun emotions completely and never deal with them, because, feelings, ew.  We ignore them. We have this tendency to push away emotion because we don’t understand it or know what to do with it. This is less so true for positive emotions. But negative emotions? Yeah, we’d just rather never have that, thank you very much.  There’s a reason why mental illness sadly has a stigma.

Uh-huh. Sure. 

Believe it or not, the Church actually does have something to say about our emotions. And it’s neither of those two extremes.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “In themselves passions are neither good nor evil…They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will…Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices…In Christ human feelings are able to reach their consummation in charity and divine beatitude.” (1767-1769) 

In other words, emotions aren’t good or bad in themselves; it just depends on what we do with them.  So what do we do with them as Catholics?

The answer is simple but hard.

Not much. 

Fact is, we’re human. Feeling is human. We can’t make ourselves feel something; feelings are feelings, and they’re just there.

But Jesus wants to be there in them, with us. We have a God who allowed Himself to become a man and to walk with us in all our humanity. He felt deeply. He wept, he got angry, he laughed, he suffered. He took pleasure in the same things we do.

We have to allow ourselves to feel. It is human. We have to recognize the emotions within us, not to accept them as reality, but to respect and embrace our humanity and the fact that we process our reality on many levels — much of it emotion.

All we can do is recognize them, face the fact that they are there, be in them, and give them to Jesus. God gave emotions to us for a reason, and it is a part of the wholeness of our humanity.

Pixar does a fantastic job of showing this correct understanding of emotion — especially in regard to how we deal with those pesky negative emotions like sadness. My personal takeaway from the genius of Pixar’s “Inside Out” is a deeper understanding that we can’t have joy without embracing sadness. Or grief, or suffering.  

Literally - embrace. 

There was no Resurrection without the Cross. Both sides are a part of who we are. Both make up our life experiences. We have to acknowledge that and embrace it. Our life experiences are more meaningful with both.

So what does this mean for you? Get real with yourself about your emotions, both the positive and negative, and bring them, in all their honesty, to God. God can handle them. He’s much bigger than they are.

It isn’t always fun to be honest with Him, or ourselves. But humanity demands authenticity.  (Sometimes inconveniently so.)

You see, God works in your humanity. He wants your honesty so He can work in your heart, right where it’s at. The saying, “grace builds upon nature” is a real thing. God doesn’t want you to be this superhuman robot — that’s not holiness.

He wants to sit with you in all that you are, in all the beautiful mess of colors that make up the masterpiece of the human person. Your humanity is so beautiful to Him that He died to redeem it.

Give Him the honor of redeeming all of you — including your emotions.