My article How Ya Feeling? appeared in The Southeast Outlook, September 12th edition.
What is it with people and emotions? Why is it often difficult for many of us to get in touch with our feelings? I am excited about the sermon series How Ya Feeling? that ended last week at Southeast Christian Church. It’s time for Christians to become intentional about emotional wellness and the road less traveled to living a life of wholeness.
I went to my first Christian counselor thirty years ago. It wasn’t something the general population did. Seeing a therapist back in those days was taboo. In fact, it was something you kept quiet. I’m pretty sure I didn’t tell many people at all. If I did, I would have prefaced it with some sort of valid reason or explanation why I felt the need to see a counselor. Otherwise folks would think I was crazy, a nut job or just plain whacked.
The church I attended during that time taught that Jesus was all we needed, and if we needed “outside” help, then we didn’t have enough faith in the work of the cross. I get what they were trying to say but it simply wasn’t true and there was a lot of shame surrounding that message.
Here’s the thing though, when I entered that counselor’s waiting room on two separate occasions, I ran into two other people from the church I attended. I made eye contact with each of these women I knew, but quickly looked away, as if to give them each the privacy they wanted and deserved. At a later time and place, we talked briefly about why we were there and how hard it was to deviate from the norm to go see a counselor in the first place. We were each experiencing things in our lives that we were ill equipped to handle on our own and were willing to take the risk to get the help we needed.
We’ve come a long way from looking down on those who seek the help of a professional. And that’s a good thing, but it seems like we have more work to do when it comes to supporting and encouraging those on the journey of becoming emotionally healthy.
It was God’s idea for us to be whole from the very beginning: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NSV “May the God of peace himself make you holy in every way. And may your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—remain blameless when our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, appears”. And 3 John 1:2 says; “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers”. NASB
It would appear, according to these two verses, that God wants our souls well. He wants our entire beings healthy.
God created us with all our emotions. It is we humans who have designated emotions as being positive or negative. I get that most of us would rather be happy and full of joy all the time, instead of being angry and sullen. But here’s the thing…feelings are just feelings. They are fickle and they are fleeting. They can and do change without notice or fanfare. To acknowledge and perhaps talk with someone about our feelings or even journal about the things we are going through or dealing with, takes away the power of those “negative” feelings we experience and allows us to move on.
Why are we so afraid of our emotions? Why do we feel the need to change the reality of what we are going through, and alter the way we feel? The Bible clearly tells us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen where we are to deny our feelings, pretend they don’t exist and stuff them deep inside with the hope of never having to deal with them.
Feelings, as temporary as they are designed to be, have an uncanny way of showing up in our lives at a later day and time, in the form of ailments and disorders. We bring a lot of stress and anxiety on ourselves because we don’t give proper place to our feelings at the time we experience them.
They tend to show up later in life, often gaining momentum, wielding more power over us than necessary and are sometimes exhibited in inappropriate ways; lashing out in anger, addictions and obsessions, and the inability to sustain meaningful relationships.
So how are you feeling, really? What are some of the emotions you so dislike you’d do anything to avoid dealing with them? Whatever they are, by avoiding and denying them, you are ultimately giving them more power and importance in your life than they merit.
Feelings are just feelings. They are neither right nor wrong. They are what they are, and they come when they come. You get to have a say in whether they become greater and more destructive by how you choose to deal with them.
I speak from experience. I’m a recovering feeling-avoider. Okay, I just made that term up, but still. By the grace of God, and with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within me, I am now able to identify and acknowledge whatever it is that I feel these days, and to allow myself to feel it. I sometimes choose to share those feelings with a trusted friend or counselor if need be so I can move on.
I think it’s important to hear messages shared from the pulpits of our churches, like How Ya Feeling?, the six-part sermon series taught by Kyle Idleman and Matt Reagan. It helps give us God’s perspective and allows us to live lives of integrity and honor. When we choose to acknowledge our feelings, it allows us to come from a place of peace and assurance that we are who God created us to be. Not how we feel.