Sharp and spikey like a conker, slippery like slime, fragile like the thin layer or ice that covers
puddles on a December morning, warm and comforting like a sweet cup of tea in your
favourite mug. Feelings are tricky things to get our heads around; at different times they
seem to relate to each of these images: spikey, slippery, fragile, comforting! Think of th
scene from James and the Giant Peach when James spills the magic beans (although they
look a bit more like toxic luminescent caterpillars in the film!) and he frantically tries to grab
them, but as he’s doing so, they quickly disappear into the ground at the foot of the peach
tree. Feelings can seem like that: that they are always wriggling away from us, like shape
shifters that change form and texture. And yet they have a profound significance in our lives
and drastically affect us; our hearts, minds, and our actions that flow from them. So what on
earth are they and why did God give us them?!
Before I share a few thoughts, I feel that I should say that I am no counsellor, psychologist or
academically trained leader in emotional development or the impact of our emotions on our
physical health. I am aware that there are probably thousands of books out there on this
topic, many of which will be well worth a read, but this blog is more a tiny window into what
God is teaching me personally at the moment, as opposed to an evaluation from study.
I have often struggled with feelings; both the breadth and variety of them, the impact they
have on the rest of my life and to know whether they should even be trusted in the first
place. At times, my feelings can feel heightened and almost super-charged towards certain
topics, people or situations. This can be linked to something that I particularly care about, so
my heart and body have a response to it or them. Sometimes my feelings can be linked to
hormones (I hear you ladies!), changes in my energy levels or external influences. As well as
the areas where I am expecting to “feel”, there are also more untrodden paths where my
feelings can be surprising and seem to sneak out when I am not expecting them. These
situations can be trickysome because these feelings are often uncensored.
On the other side of the coin, I have also experienced many occasions when my feelings are
subconsciously stuffed down and swallowed, and I live naively thinking that I’ve ‘dealt’ with
them, simply because I can’t specifically identify them. Whether we like it or not, all of us feel. Some of us are more ‘in tune’ with our feelings (i.e. know what they are showing or saying), some choose to share them more than others (or they leak out unintentionally!) and others still can present a hardness towards sharing their emotions, but we all fit somewhere on this scale.
As well as my own feelings being both wide in type and changing in their timing, it can seem
that God’s thoughts on feelings are confusing too. The Bible warns God’s people about the
fragility and sensitivity of the heart. Jeremiah warns us that the heart cannot be trusted
(Jeremiah 17: 9-10) and later in Proverbs, the writer places such significance on the heart
that he says it should be guarded (Proverbs 4:23). On the other side of the scale, the Bible has an enormous amount to say about the heart, God’s purpose for it and our responsibility to steward it well:
On our side, God calls his people to love him with ALL of their HEART, mind and soul and then in Joel
2:13, God says to ‘rend your hearts not your garments’. What this means is to not just sort out the
outside stuff, the visual, temporary or consequential bits, but rend (literally meaning to ‘rip apart’)
your heart – give an undivided heart of devotion to God. And finally, God calls our hearts to REJOICE
in his unfailing love and salvation (Psalm 13:5-6). Knowledge about God doesn’t stay in our heads, it
moves down into our hearts and out of our body. Knowledge, that leads to love looks like
something. These are some of the things that God has to say about our responsibility with our
feelings and our hearts, so what about His responsibility?
On God’s side, God specifically says that He looks not at the outside appearance, status or
presentation of man, but at the inner workings of the heart (|1 Samuel 16:7) therefore stating their
supreme importance to God. God promises to give a new heart of flesh rather than stone to those
who love him (Ezekiel 36:26) and He gives a reward for those who will seek Him with all that they
have. The reward being that they will find him (Jeremiah 29:13)…The bible is full of story after story
of people encountering God, being moved in their hearts towards him and responding with their
lives. It is a book full of God’s relentless love for His people and is packed full of God’s truth about
the heart, so we can see clearly that feelings and hearts are extremely important to Him.
These biblical declarations of the importance of the heart and its’ contents mean that emotions are
important and directly challenge my false understanding of them. It can sometimes seem as though
our feelings are like the enemy who cannot be trusted and therefore the natural response is to shut
them down and pretend they’re not there…but the trouble with this is that if God hadn’t intended us
to have them, he wouldn’t have made them!
So, what is needed?
It means looking at God’s model and how He shows us to handle them. God is a feeling God, He’s
not hard, uncaring, lacking in power and heartless (as Elisha condones the prophet of Baals gods as
being in 1 Kings 18), but the God of the Bible, our Maker and Creator, is one of fierce passion, justice
and power (check out His response to the Baal gods at the end of 1 Kings 18!). He is a God who feels
pleasure in what He has made (see Genesis 1:31) He feels compassion when Adam and Eve first
sinned and he clothed them. He feels regret, love, anger (see Jesus’ response to the use of the
temple), etc….and he certainly doesn’t brush them under the carpet. God’s feelings LOOK like
something: the most intense display of this being hung on the cross for His creation as he took the
weight of its’ (my) sin, shame and separation from Him.
God is perfect and righteous. This means that even when His feelings in action look big, bold and
sometimes incomprehensible to me, they are good. I, in comparison, am one who is being made new
(2 Corinthians 3:18) but I am made in His likeness, so I know that I have His footsteps to follow in and
therefore have a responsibility to steward my emotions. This will take practice and discipline, and
bumps along the way, but it is absolutely necessary in my following after Jesus.
For me, it means bravely facing my heart and my wonderful, unique and slippery emotions. My
feelings need calling out for what they are and examining under God’s loving gaze, seeing how they
line up with God’s truth. What are they showing me? What is the root of this? What is the right
expression of this feeling? Is this revealing a sinful habit in my life that God is convicting me of to
repent, receive conviction and choose to walk in His way in? Is this based on my perception or
God’s? How can I express this? Phew, so many possibilities!
It means using vocabulary to talk about them – use a Fight Club friend, Community group member or
other trusted friend for this – and coming before God’s throne of grace with them: the good, the bad
AND the ugly. My wisdom and understanding aren’t big enough to cope with them, but God’s are |(1
Corinthians 1:25). Furthermore, when I commit to and surrender to following God’s way, to fear him,
follow him and love him, His promise is to grant me wisdom (check out Psalm 111) – so I need to
give them over to God.
I so want to learn more of this; the freedom and joy that comes from a heart that is surrendered and
rendered before my all-loving God. Coming with my delicate, precious sea of feelings and all. It
feels fragile, unchartered territory in many ways, but to do anything else is disobedient at worse and
a cheap substitute at best.