So I, too, am going to do a bit of dissecting, but only so I can understand the whole. These things can be mentally separated for ease of understanding, but they will never actually be separate in experience.
I’ll start with the most basic one, the body. I think you should know what this is, your physical existence, the one that gets colds, and headaches, and the thing everyone looks at in pictures and recognizes as you.
Then there’s your soul. Your soul is the part of you that comprises your likes and dislikes. This is the part of you that you get to share with other people as you choose to. This is the part of you that makes you really, really, uniquely only you and no one else. Your body and soul combine somewhere between your brain and your hormones. Your soul is the part of you that has thoughts, emotions, and makes choices. Your mind, will, and emotions comprise your soul.
Then spirit. This is the part of you that has life like God does. This is what separates you from the animals, what makes you particularly ‘in the image of God’. This is the life in you that doesn’t end when your body does. Your spirit makes your soul eternal.
I think the easiest and most honest way to explain better what I’m thinking will be to stick with what I’ve learned and know about myself.
I know that as far back as I can remember my spirit was broken. There was a time when as far down as I could look into myself there was only darkness. I don’t mean depression, I don’t mean evil, I mean emptiness. Like an empty room, but worse. More like when you see something dead and it makes you remember that there could be, and should be, life in that body, but there simply isn’t.
I believe that this emptiness is a human condition passed down all the way from Adam as a result of his and Eve’s choice that they, too, should have the right to judge what is good and evil. That’s when their spirits went empty, died. Because it is spirit, it doesn’t pass away like a body does; it continues sitting there, empty. It’s like a lung without air. I believe that every person is born with their spirit in this condition -- empty existence.
In me, this emptiness produced all sorts of conflict in my soul. I wanted to choose what was right, I wanted to be selfless, I wanted to give love, but my emptiness always dragged me down. I wanted to make other people’s needs more important than mine, but I simply couldn’t. I needed perfect love so bad that I would find myself trying to take it from others. I needed respect so bad that I would find myself demanding it of others. I needed to survive so bad that sooner or later I would take what I needed which caused me to hurt those around me who were also trying to survive. I hated myself for this.
My soul was full of confusion and conflict because my mind knew what was right. I knew I shouldn’t be selfish. My emotions would fluctuate wildly between guilt because I should be doing better, pride because I was doing better than others, depression because I’d never get better, and elation because I finally got something right. My will would sometimes follow my mind, and sometimes follow my emotions. I had nothing stable within myself.
My body was full of stress. I was regularly tired and after 11 years of living like this, I was chronically exhausted even though I was only 19 years old. Of course, body, soul, and spirit work in many directions, much like the old question, which came first the chicken or the egg? I believe that my body was unhealthy anyway, but the stress of my soul in turmoil certainly didn’t help. I believe that both were involved in the depression I’ve been through, and I can’t point to either as the cause or either as the relief. My body needed relief from my soul and my soul needed relief from my body. My empty spirit had no relief to offer to either.
This was all before I understood the completed work of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus came to deal with broken humans from the inside out. He came to fill our empty spirits, which frees our conflicted souls, which gives our broken and dying bodies relief from the inside until He gives us new ones in the future.
In accepting Jesus’ completed work, my spirit for the first time was filled with life. I had a consistent and flowing source of life in my deepest place. I had an eternal source of love, acceptance, and respect. I no longer had to grab for these things or suck them out of other people. For the first time I was copiously full. I was satisfied. I also knew who I was. I was Loved.
My spirit was immediately and forever totally altered. My soul took much longer. My mind is still getting used to new thinking habits; my will is still learning to live out of my spirit’s fullness. My emotions . . . well, they are still emotional but they are learning not to despair.
The fact is that my emotions seem to be the most unstable part of my soul, and maddeningly, my mind and will follow my emotions more often than not. Thankfully, this is not a problem for God. My mind can be convinced with reason, my will can follow the reason my mind produces but the only control I have over my emotions is an on or off switch. When I have tried to protect myself from my negative emotions, I stop feeling any emotion.
What do I do with emotions then? If I deny them, I lose a part of myself. If I follow them, I will go everywhere and end up nowhere. Is there another option? Yes, there is another option; it is simple, but not easy. I can trust God with them. As I have done this, God has taught me a few things about my emotions and a few things about Himself.