All of us can experience many feelings in a single day.
We can feel depressed or sad or angry or lonely. We can feel happy and hopeful. We can be cheerful one moment then suddenly annoyed at that old guy driving way too slow in front of us. We can feel like we love someone one moment, then frustrated at them a moment later. We can feel optimistic or hopeless.
Some of us wear our feelings on our sleeve. Some of us, like me, don’t want others to know when we’re feeling down or discouraged. Sometimes our feelings seem uncontrollable – “I couldn’t help getting angry with that idiot!”
Most of us would like to be able to better control our feelings.
One of my favorite movies is “What About Bob?” (I know, I know, I’m an old guy. In case you don’t know that movie it was a comedy from the early 90’s. Yikes – close to 30 years ago! Man, I’m getting old. That makes me depressed. Ooops – I revealed a feeling.)
Anyway, the main character in the movie, Bob Wiley, wakes up every morning, rubs his temples, and says, “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful” over and over in an effort to control his feelings. I try that sometimes. I say, “I love dogs, I love dogs, I love dogs.” Doesn’t seem to help too much.
So, we all have feelings. But are these feelings always true or truthful? Should we express our feelings or repress them? How can we deal with negative feelings? Should our feelings direct our lives? Should we “follow our hearts” as so many say? Should we do something if we’re “just not feeling it”?
This is a complex topic, but I’ll share a few thoughts for you to chew on – if you feel like it.
First, our feelings are true, but not necessarily the truth.
What do I mean by this? First of all they are true, in the sense that they are real. We really do feel things. For example you may feel like a total failure. But are you a TOTAL failure. You may have genuinely believed in Jesus Christ and called on him to save you but you don’t FEEL saved. You may feel like you are a total loser. Or that your marriage has nothing good about it. These feelings are true feelings, but are they necessarily the truth.
“I feel like I’m going crazy in this house.” True feeling. But not necessarily the truth.
Our feelings are not necessarily right or wrong.
“I feel like quitting Christianity.” “I feel like I don’t love my children today.” “I feel like getting drunk.” Is it a sin to feel these things? No.
It is not a sin to be tempted to sin. It’s not a sin to be tempted to lust. To feel the desire to lust after a woman.
Because feelings are not necessarily the truth, and not necessarily right or wrong, we must be careful about jumping to conclusions too quickly about them. We need to discover what is causing the feelings and what is the truth or reality of the situation.
This takes time, asking questions, listening (when others express their feelings), and thinking
We must learn to appropriately express our feelings (in the right setting to people who will listen).
It is releasing to have the other person know how you feel and to think they understand you. For example, “I felt hurt when you said that…” or “I felt like you were treating me as a child.”
Even after forgiveness there may be a need to express feelings.
In fact, sometimes forgiveness asked for too quickly can leave the person frustrated.
Often if we feel like the other person REALLY HEARD US and is aware of our feelings, that helps solve the problem.
Some of us must learn to verbalize our feelings.
Sometimes this is not easy and it’s often easier to suppress our feelings. When I’m discouraged or feeling down about something and my wife asks me, I often don’t want to tell her. Not sure why. I may have gotten this from my dad, a WW2 vet who never talked about being down or depressed. Sometimes I don’t want to share my feelings of discouragement or sadness because I feel weak when I do. And I’m supposed to be strong all the time. But my wife wants to share my life, and wants to know how I’m doing. So I try to verbalize my feelings when she asks how I’m doing.
We must learn to listen to others, and to empathize with them as best we can.
I haven’t always done a good job at this. Sometimes when people have told me they are discouraged or depressed I’ve been too quick to hit them with something like, “Hey the Bible says, “Rejoice always,” or “Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter trials of various kinds” – not helpful.
Often the best thing to do is first weep with those who weep (Ro 12.15), before attempting to help someone overcome their feelings.
We must realize that we cannot possibly fathom the pain that others go through in every situation. I have had headaches, but never had a migraine – I cannot possibly fathom what that is like. I can’t begin to fathom what it is like to lose a child or grandchild. I can’t fathom the myriad challenges others go through if I haven’t been through them.
Over the years I failed many times to empathize with others. I’m grateful that in recent years the Lord has been helping me in this area.
Deny your feelings or others’ feelings – e.g. “You shouldn’t feel that way…”
Judge others’ feelings – e.g. “That’s not true,” or “That’s a stupid thing to feel”
React to the feelings – e.g. “What do you mean you feel like I don’t love you!
Feel threatened by others’ feelings. Often we feel like we have to DO SOMETHING. Just LISTEN, draw them out.
Give quick solutions – e.g. “Just believe the Word, quote this Scripture whenever you feel that.”
Welcome the expression of others’ feelings, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Actively DRAW OTHERS OUT. Ask questions: “How did that make you feel when I said that?”
How should we deal with our own feelings?
First, recognize that though you are truly feeling something, it may or may not be the truth.
For example you may feel like you are the biggest failure in the world. But are you REALLY? You truly feel that, but is it the truth? NO!
God’s word is the best place to start to learn how to handle our feelings.
God’s word is THE TRUTH and is always true about every situation and feeling we may have. A few examples:
“I feel like God doesn’t love me.” Or, “I don’t feel God’s love.”
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” JE 31.3
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. RO 8:38-39
I feel condemned because of this sin.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. RO 8.1
I can’t stop doing this sin.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. RO 6.6
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. RO 6.18 (NIV)
So the first place to look when dealing with our feelings is the Word of God. Which leads me to the next point:
Don’t live by your feelings. Ask Jesus to help you live by God’s Word.
We often feel like we have no choice but to follow the dictates of our feelings. But we who believe in Jesus are no longer slaves to our feelings. We are new creations:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 CO 5.17
As new creations, Christ is our Lord and Master, not our feelings. And he gives us his Spirit to empower us to obey him and keep his commandments. So when we know what he commands in any situation, we should ask our Lord for help and strength to obey him, whether we feel like it or not. We can pray things like,
Lord Jesus, please help me to love this person who has been unkind to me and to do good to him.
Lord Jesus, help me to be patient and gracious and kind to my children.
Lord Jesus, help me to respond to this angry person with gentleness.
Lord, help me give with cheerfulness.
Lord, I don’t feel like singing in church this morning. Help me worship you with all my heart.
Jesus, I feel like giving up. Help me persevere. Help me keep going.
God’s word has much more to say about our feelings and their roots.
James tells us we are often tempted to anger when we want something and don’t get it. Scripture addresses our feelings of envy, discontentment, and discouragement. As we meditate on God’s word day after day, and as we ask Jesus to help us and to give us joy, peace and contentment, we will find ourselves no longer led by our feelings, but led by the Spirit.