Wednesday, September 12, 2012
By Micky Wolf
In a moment of frustration, someone recently commented to me, “But, you said I’m supposed to feel my feelings!” True—but that is only half of it. Living out the rest of the story is usually the most challenging part.
Allowing ourselves to feel the various emotions our Creator has given us is an important part of our humanity. These feelings are such an important aspect of being created in the image and likeness of God that Scripture, often through the words of Jesus, provides many examples of how to live—peacefully and fruitfully—with our emotional self.
For many of us, regardless of chronological or spiritual age, understanding the worth and value of our emotions is akin to trying to learn a new language. We grew up with exhortations to “control yourself”, “be quiet and get a grip”, “big girls—and for sure boys--don’t cry” and so forth. The wisdom behind these instructions was well-intentioned, the objective being to instill within us the virtue of self-control. However, what happened in many cases was far different. Our young minds and hearts interpreted these commands something like this: many feelings—especially those associated with anger, fear, sadness, despair and hate—are bad, perhaps evil. And so we suppressed or repressed, hoping to minimize or eliminate any negative repercussions from expressing what we were really feeling at the time.
“But, you said…”? Yes, absolutely feel those emotions—and then learn how to express them in ways that are not destructive to others or self. Practically speaking, how? The process is neither impossible nor insurmountable.
1. Get to the root of the emotion
There once was a great movie based on a true story about an amazing horse called Seabiscuit—which had little to do with the horse when all was said and done. So it goes with our emotions. Large or small, painful or joyful, feelings and emotions provide us with a wealth of insight about who we are, and what we are called to do. The feelings God has given us are meant to enhance and add to the quality and meaning of our life, not be ignored or disdained. At the same time, they contribute to the wholeness and holiness of life, and are not, in and of themselves, intended to be the primary focus of our experiences.
Discovering what our feelings are trying to tell us is crucial, not only for our emotional healthiness, but for the greater awareness of hearing God’s voice. If the tip of the iceberg is a nub of the great mass that lies beneath, so goes it with our feelings. They alert us to something deeper within our soul which probably needs our—and God’s—attention.
As we stay with our feelings and emotions we will discover what ‘lies beneath’. Sometimes what we discover may trigger further feelings which may be why we resisted the process in the first place. What if hurt, bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness are beneath the surface feelings of anger?
Allowing God to show us the root of our feelings and emotions will not always be a painful process. However, we can be assured that in His great love for us, He will never allow us to feel more than we can bear as we entrust our body, mind—and emotions—into His attention and care for healing, restoration and renewing.
2. Form new habits
Typically, the authority figures in our lives have heavily influenced our own emotional behaviors. As a result, the way we express our emotions—or not—has become ingrained over time. Some of those behaviors need to be changed, others entirely eliminated. Cooperating with the abundant grace of God is essential. At the same time, our responsibility is to choose change by an act of our will, even when we don’t feel the warm and fuzzy feelings of inspiration.
The darker emotions feel uncomfortable. However, we often mistake not feeling good with believing they lack the potential to be used by God for the greater good. For example: in allowing yourself to feel angry as a result of being misunderstood or criticized by another person, God may be desiring to show you the value of asserting yourself—in a Christ-like manner, of course.
Any time we hope to replace a not-so-good habit with a healthier, more loving one, we are going to encounter resistance, mostly within self. It is easy to default to what is familiar. And the familiar usually means comfortable—whether or not it is good for us, or the greater Kingdom.
If you have been stuffing anger, fear, sadness or hate for any number of years because you believe those emotions are inherently un-Christian, it will take some time for you to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, trusting God to be faithful to be with you.
Carrying unresolved and unexpressed emotions in our members [especially anger], can wreck havoc on our physical body. Research has firmly established most clinical depression is the consequence of suppression and repression. Making an intentional choice to sort through any of our feelings, with God, will go a long way toward maintaining or restoring our body to emotional wellness. Our initial honest and open encounters with this aspect of our being may release a flood of pain and turmoil, yet in allowing God to accompany us through repeated experiences of feeling—and of finding Him in the midst of it all—we can be assured of His faithfulness to stay with us through the entire process.
May we begin to appreciate emotional commotion in ourselves and in our daily life, in the light of God, and as lived and modeled through the example of His Beloved [human] Son, Jesus Christ.
What hinders you from feeling the darker emotions? Believing they have value?
Is God trying to get your attention through your feelings?
Can you take a few moments today to feel deeply? Express lovingly?