A while ago I wrote about how I had a depression-influenced misunderstanding of the phrase “holiness over happiness.” Today I want to tell you about another well-intentioned Christian idea that, when misinterpreted, can also wreak havoc on your life: the idea that what you feel doesn’t matter. Forget your feelings; you just have to do the right thing. Love isn’t a feeling, faith isn’t a feeling. Feelings come and go, but promises last forever. Etc., etc., etc.
Just like last time, let me say again that I understand what this expression really means. You can’t let your feelings control your life, because it’s true: feelings are not always trustworthy. Any woman who’s experienced PMS knows that. Any person who’s been married and has had a day when they’ve felt very irritated with their spouse knows that they shouldn’t act impulsively on that feeling and divorce them on the spot. There should be a balance between reason and emotion in your life. I get it.
But here’s the problem: just because we know that we can’t unthinkingly follow our feelings doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t feel our feelings at all. This may seem obvious to most of you, you people with a healthy understanding of emotions. But let me tell you, it wasn’t to me for a good portion of my life. I remember second-guessing Sara Groves’ (who is hardly a liberal Christian) decision to include the line “I’m gonna feel all my emotions” on one of her songs. You see, I didn’t think we were supposed to feel our feelings, because you can’t trust them or follow them anyway. You’re supposed to act in spite of your feelings, so why bother with them at all? It’s so much more efficient to just “skip to the end,” as the prince says during his wedding in Princess Bride, right?
Plus, it seemed not only inefficient but just wrong to feel them, especially certain suspect emotions like sadness or (heaven forbid) anger. Yeah, sometimes things are hard, but God works all things for good, so everything’s really fine. Wheeeeeeeeeee! Just ignore the fact that you feel angry or resentful or sad, you ungrateful wretch! Don’t you know you’re okay because Jesus is the ultimate trump card over your feelings? Just suck it up, clench your fists, and keep doing the right thing, dangit.
But guess what, my friends? Shockingly, this doesn’t work, and looks a lot like numbing your emotions and denial. You know, like what alcoholics or drug addicts do, but with God instead of booze or substances. That sounds like a healthy lifestyle choice. Plus, the emotions are still there. I can tell you that this method certainly didn’t help me not feel my emotions. I just felt even more bitter instead. And I’m sure it helped my depression and anxiety a whole lot.
The fact is that you can’t cheat your way to peace in God. If you have emotions that need to be worked through, WORK THROUGH THEM. Have you ever read the Psalms? Those were some people who were honest about their emotions. Yes, they put their hope in God, but they pour out their hearts to Him first. Or take Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He still did the right thing, but he cried out to God in complete anguish first. Or how about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? He knew he was going to raise him from the dead, but still he wept. I can imagine a conversation about that with his disciples going something like this:
Disciples: Jesus, why did you cry? You knew you were going to raise Lazarus from the dead. You knew the end game. That wasn’t very logical of you.
Jesus: DON’T TELL ME HOW TO FEEL.
So you can see that “skipping to the end” isn’t biblical and doesn’t even work. It doesn’t even work in the Princess Bride: skipping to the end of the ceremony doesn’t make Buttercup married:
Buttercup: Oh, Westley, will you ever forgive me?
Westley: What hideous sin have you committed lately?
Buttercup: I got married. I didn't want to. It all happened so fast.
Westley: It never happened.
Westley: It never happened.
Buttercup: But it did. I was there. This old man said, "Man and wife."
Westley: Did you say, "I do"?
Buttercup: [confused] No. We sort of skipped that part.
Westley: Then you're not married. If you didn't say it, you didn't do it.**
And if we don’t “say it” (aka work through our feelings), we don’t “do it” (have actual peace) either.
So don’t skip to the end. Work through your emotions. If you need to do something anyway, be honest about how you feel and ask God to help you. Honestly, I’ve been learning that just saying something makes it less powerful. Believe it or not, my overall fear of chicken juice has greatly declined since I wrote about it here. If it’s a more serious situation, work through it with a counselor so that those hard things don’t have that power over you anymore.
It will be 100% worth it. And it will even feel good.