Where the Wild Feelings Are

“How are you feeling today?” It’s the question I must ask my kids at least five times before they even leave the house. When someone bounces down the stairs with a smile, I assume they are feeling confident. If a door slams, someone is ticked off. We can go from happy to tears in a matter of minutes. It’s not just teenagers, as a mom of a newly-minted teen driver, I’m both excited and a total basket case.

Feelings are funny things… we know we aren’t supposed to let them get the best of us, but we also like to analyze them to try and make sense of things. It’s human nature to want to know ourselves better, so we simultaneously indulge our feelings while shrugging them off. We say things like “well this just feels right…” or “I’m not really feeling that, so I’ll pass..”

I was just reading a plug for a new book in which the author talks at length about her evangelical beliefs being challenged to the point where she now just asks “What feels like Jesus?”

What feels like Jesus? That’s an interesting question. You see, the examples given that have her second-guessing her evangelical roots weren’t based in Biblical truth to begin with – they are all rooted in the sin of man. In a nutshell, church folks were haughty, judgmental and cruel, therefore the church must be rewritten: with works-based, feelings-based temporary fixes for an eternal problem.

All this made me stop and think about how we are never going to properly identify “what feels like Jesus” until we actually know Jesus. In my frustrated moments, I may not feel His presence, but does that mean He’s left me? Of course not. In my temptations, I certainly don’t always feel like being obedient to His commands, so does that mean I shouldn’t? For sure no.

I love the way author Rachel Jankovic cuts right to the heart of this issue:

We are accustomed in our times to think of our feelings as information. We believe that when we feel something, it is not only revealing an actual thing that is going on, but probably insightful about what ought to go on. We Christians need to stop thinking of our feelings as insights. Our feelings are instead something we need to manage. We should be far more inclined to view our feelings like a bunch of monkeys that we are responsible to keep in cages, train, and disregard completely when they are acting up. We live in a world full of people trying to follow their unleashed monkeys through life. The monkey is bound to know the way! Follow your heart! And what our society has reaped from that unerring pursuit has been exactly what you might expect: a lot of wildly undisciplined and confused people, anxiously following their own wildest ideas, doing every self-indulgent and ill-behaved thing they can think of.”

Rachel Jankovic, YOU WHO?

I love this so much. Our feelings are God-given indicators of lots of things, they just aren’t meant to be our daily guide, much less our moral compass. Not an hour goes by in which we aren’t inundated with some new call to jump from our Jesus boat out into the swirling waters of self-serving and self-promoting. But eventually, these waters overwhelm us.

So when the fancy writers, spiritual gurus or life coaches come at us with a big feelings-based, counterfeit version of our best life we need to know how to discern what is Biblical and what isn’t. The hilarious monkey analogy continues:

Take that particular monkey – that identity feeling – and ask the Lord what He thinks of it. And I will guarantee you that what He thinks is not what you think. This is what brings us to the daily crux of a Christian’s personal holiness: you are commanded to act like what you believe to be true is actually true. Your feelings tell lies; deal with it. Your treasured emotions are probably deceitful little monkeys doing the work of the enemy in your life. If you are self-absorbed, wallowing around in how you feel, they may be winning. Turn the whole monkey house over to Him, and ask Him to teach you the truth. Ask Him to show you how to live your emotional life as becomes a follower of Christ. Ask for nerves of steel as you walk past the cages and follow Him. This is the amazing reality of following Christ: when we ignore our feelings, they follow. They can learn to obey, too. These ridiculous monkeys are terrible leaders but the most wonderful followers once they figure it out.

This is a good word, friends. In the Biblical times, the Greeks and Romans often relied on the teachings of Stoicism, which called for one to rein in feelings, passions and desires. Christianity asks us for a different kind of self-denial, one that acknowledges feelings, but hands them all over to Jesus who has the final say. I love that the beautiful and natural result of ordering things correctly leads not to a stifled life, but to great freedom.

While on this earth and in these bodies, we will never fully conquer our feelings. We will feel like failures one day and victors the next. It’s not self-suppression to get those crazy monkeys back where they belong.

Proverbs 3 gives us a big reminder: “do not lean on your own understanding…”. In fact, we need to stop leaning on the opinions of just about everyone until we check with Jesus. It’s quite a dangerous little pill that has convinced people that feelings are the most important thing.

The highest good our culture seeks is having good feelings. Therefore, a problem with your feelings is your biggest problem. The church has is’t versions of this emotional obsession. We evaluate things based on whether we feel Jesus’ beauty, or feel less anxious, or feel closer to God. These feelings are wonderful in themselves! We ought to be moved by God’s Word and rejoice… but its easy for a healthy appreciation of emotion to slide into unhealthy emotionalism that makes emotion itself the point.

Alasdair Groves, Untangling Your Emotions

Are your beliefs being challenged? Praise God. Dig deep in the Word and let His truth be both your olive branch and shield. God isn’t calling His church to be harsh, unfeeling stoics. Just the opposite! Allowing emotionalism to dictate how we serve others always leaves us at the mercy of all the wrong kinds of things.

We should feel deeply what you believe, but we can’t always believe what we feel!

One thought on “Where the Wild Feelings Are

  1. M. Dennis says:

    Thank you for this timely and important reminder. I have been pondering how to describe the proper role of our feelings in life, and you expressed it spectacularly.

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