Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Lost Life of the Feeler

"...but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law {...} Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit..."

On a wet, dirty and bleak New York morning in May of last year, my wife and I carried our then four-year-old daughter into an operating room and we laid her on a table. There, what seemed to be a million lights pointed almost accusingly in on one singular, powerful and beautiful point: her heart.

I say powerful because the daily working of this one piece of God's craftsmanship has immense hold on us as her parents. There is shattering power in the sound of our daughter's heart when one of us places our head to her chest these days... to hear it pounding and holding up her life on behalf of her Maker.

We feel terribly at its mercy.

That spring day, that moment we lay her down... as she lay screaming, terrified, looking at us past gloved hands and masked faces... her heart wielded more power over us than we thought anything in creation could. The torrent of emotion that hit us all at once... roaring waves of fear and anger all rolled into one... were simply beyond explanation.

Everything seemed uncontrollable. We had no handle on our emotions. No control on our feelings. After years of holding it all back, it all finally came rolling in. They  filled the room and it seemed the sky and rocked us all about. It seemed we were drowning, and I think it felt our own feelings and even our minds, were betraying us.

I know I personally was being taunted, accused and unraveled.

I felt lost in the past. I was beginning to feel that somehow in the grand scheme of God's cosmos maybe this was all my fault... that maybe my biggest regrets in life, no matter how long ago... are to blame for what is happening right now. If only I had been whatever... wiser... more righteous... maybe none of this would have happened. 

I was also lost in the future. My personal fears wrote terrible endings that broke my heart over and over.

At this point, even as I'm reading what I've written, please remember that as much pain as I know we were going through, this fades to nothing... in comparison to the fear, suffering and pain Moriah was walking through.

We knew it and this, in addition to all of our own raging fears, emotional and spiritual junk... this tide cascaded over and over on our hearts. It seemed there was nothing but fear. Nothing but pain.

I think sometimes the scariest place to exist is where there is nothing but raw feeling.

And I am ashamed to say that I used to be pretty judgmental about this kind of thing when I'd see it in the lives of others.

I'm ashamed because sometimes my thoughts have not been very gracious in the past when seeing people, whether on TV or in movies, collapse in emotional heaps, raging or tossing about in emotional pain. There was occasionally this tinge of, 'really?' and maybe a bit of either skepticism or judgmentalism... both of which reflect an a gross amount of ignorance, arrogance, pride and sin on my part.

But there in New York, in that series of dark moments in May, everything changed... and ushered in was a dramatic shift to my own thoughts, giving me a wider perspective on the power of feeling: because of the very real effect of what we were feeling, a nurse had to literally hold both of us up and walk us to the waiting room.

This perspective, to me, was no small thing.

Feeling cannot be taken lightly. It profoundly affects even the physical. Very real emotion = very real physical effect.

And it isn't just about being really sad and how this physically affects us. It's about living in a world where we are tremendously influenced every day by our own feelings... our own emotions... and those of others.

I mean it certainly impacts my every day. This may come as a surprise to you, but I'm somewhat emotional.

Kind of.
Sort of.
I mean a little teensy weensy bit.
(That is how you spell weensy by the way.)

I mean I only cry watching "Homeward Bound." Good grief... what kind of hardened criminal doesn't?

You call me wuss.

I call me, complex.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I've been sort of tossed into the female salad by a lot of both men and women, by being labeled as such. (I mean by being labeled complex... I don't think anyone has actually labeled me a salad. If they did, I'd hit them with my purse.)

Being pretty emotional, I not only engage the world intuitively by how things 'feel', but its the language I often use in trying to articulate my thoughts on basically everything around me.

The problem is, I'm beginning to think that the church world isn't too friendly on feelings these days. I mean if ever. This poses to me all kinds of problems, considering so much of our lives, our day to day... our choices... are directly impacted by feeling.

Because sometimes it feels like our permission to feel has been removed.

I cannot describe the number of conversations I've seen within the context of Christianity where someone, through the way they speak with me or with others, will say something like, "Wow, it seems you're pretty emotional about this."

By nature of using this line, we've now de-legitimized whatever the other person is feeling or trying to communicate.

Because you've heard the sermons. I've heard them. I've even preached them.

Emotions are untrustworthy.
Emotions are carnal.
They will mislead you.
They are fickle.
They are dangerous.
Maybe to you.
Your relationships.
Your marriage.
Your career. Stability.

And I guess I'd still, even now, say, "Well yeah."


Since when was the logic of the human mind any different, or all that reliable? Since when did all of our stopping and thinking give us some sort of glowing track record?

Human logic is just as vulnerable to the gravitational pull of brokenness and self. The way we think is just as wielded by the "gods" of lust (et al) in our lives as our hearts are by the impetuous tangle of unfettered emotion.

Emotion isn't some sort of physiological jewelry or icing on the cake of humanity. There is real, intrinsic and I believe spiritual function behind the ebb and flow of feeling and our emotions' impact on us. God guides us just as much through them as anything else.

And, by the way, how many people do we know who have been rationalized into becoming fully devoted followers of Christ?

There is this lost life of the feeler when we command people who have the capacity for nearly incomprehensible masses of passion to just... ignore it. To dam it up, to put it under lock and key, to consider themselves maybe just a little less mature in Christ, or maybe a little less stable, if they cannot do so.

I used to say that maturity was the ability to control your emotions, to not let them control you.

And to say this isn't true isn't true. You absolutely cannot trust your emotions sometimes. You absolutely cannot trust how you feel sometimes.

But sometimes you can.

Sometimes God is guiding you, through passion, into something. Sometimes its unexpected, scary and beautiful all at once, and sometimes, yes... it defies all logic. There is a relationship between not only faith and logic, but faith and feeling.

So maybe it's just incomplete. Maybe the only way is through His Spirit.

Maybe we are closer to maturity when it isn't our emotions controlling us, it isn't our minds controlling us, but it is God's Spirit controlling us, by way of speaking into both our minds and our hearts, and the way we do life accordingly.

I know, I know. Duh.

But take five minutes and look at your life and how often you fall back and forth between the two, overcompensating in either direction, because usually, you try to muster balance on your own. At least this is the case for me. One day I'm all logic. Another I'm Joe Emotion. It seems impossible to find balance on my own.

But this is doable.

Not perfectly, as we are still on this side of Heaven.

But doable, nonetheless. You can literally walk "In the Spirit."Or maybe a smarter way of articulating this is that you and I can lean into walking "In the Spirit"... because I know that in the broken shell of humanity, at best we're working it out in fits and spurts.

But He does want us to lean into this.

One of the manifold miracles of an unending God is that He goes beyond saying, "Yeah, I love you" and He goes even further into saying, "Oh yes... I can and I will live through you."

Through your gifts. Through my gifts.

Through this person, whose cup overflows in the area of the mind, and maybe through that one, whose cup overflows in this powerful heart. Or maybe that person whose cup is decently filled in both. This is good too.

I fear being so afraid of the heart that we would lose our ability to feel and sense God's movement in real time; in the here and now.

And further, I'm afraid we'd begin believing that God is only logical. Not passionate. Not unbridled. Not reckless and raging in His love for us, as Rich Mullins would have put it.

And yes, for those of us whose hearts are at times devastated... maybe physiologically, maybe externally through some sort of series of traumas... maybe through the simple fact that the climate gets dry, stretched out, cracking and empty... there will be times that balance has to be chosen through our minds walking in and reminding us that on this side of eternity, there will be times we still have to white-knuckle pieces of life.

But never forget the beauty of what even your broken heart offers. Never forget that sometimes the most fragile hearts, the most wounded have often been the most softened to hear His voice. Not always, I know. But sometimes... particularly when we invite Him to the scarred and calloused rooms there.


Feel on.

May you pay attention to your heart, (and yes, guard it) for it is the wellspring of life. Through the movements of your heart and emotion, God may be giving you the eyes to see and the ears to hear the movements of His own untamed heartbeat.  Do not let go of a listening and passionate heart for fear of making unwise choices and crazy illegitimate decisions in your life.

May we just get wise about it.

Grab this heart of yours and all that you pour into it, and all that pours out from it, and wrestle it... have the courage to lay it at the feet of the Only One who can help bring you balance, speak into your mind, heart and life, and may you let Him guide you in the every step of today. Of tomorrow.

It is not too much to ask God to be with you in the every minute. It may seem too much for you, but it is never too much for Him.

It's then that we've regained the lost life of the feeler.


    1. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. I felt my own panic as a father in your story of Moriah. I am a deep feeling person, but I tend to trump that with my intellect. This is an incredible challenge for all of us to not only face, but embrace, that scary side of all of us. I want to be a fully integrated being. This is a mandate to be just that. Thank you, Jim. Now, let's get together and plan the future. We have a book we can write together!

    2. I'm having one of the most trying weeks I've had in years-- facing many uncertainties as well as bad situations from the past welling up all over again. I have not been this scared, and full of emotion, in quite some time. Thank you for the encouragement of this post. It's a very timely reminder. Blessings to you and your family!

    3. Ah Bill you are too kind man, thank you... for the link and your words. And re the book... absolutely!

      It really is scary, isn't it? I think that's why sometimes the voices (that are at times even our own) will gravitate toward the removal of permission to move in this area, because absolutely there is room for error. Problem is, we miss that the room for error is like a margin ALL around the page... not just on one side!

      Amen thanks my friend.

    4. "Do not let go of a listening and passionate heart for fear of making unwise choices and crazy illegitimate decisions in your life."

      Oh boy, does that speak to me right now. I'd been mulling over applying for a position that would have meant more money, while my heart has been gently whispering "no". I've been trying to tell my heart to shut up and it wasn't until I talked to my current boss that the fear subsided. Jesus was talking to me - as my boss became teary-eyed and I told her I loved her. I so deeply respect her and almost forgot about that and about the passion I feel for my job and my co-workers. I try to tell myself not to ignore my Savior when he hits me over the head with the sledgehammer, as I've done in the past, and I think I'm listening this time. Our hearts in relationship with God are very wise and are never to be ignored or cast aside. Thank you for this blog, it's very awesome and so true.

    5. It has struck me that people will say they are moved in their spirits when its actually feelings. We only see things as they appear and only know things in the way they present themselves to us. Only God knows things as they are (rather than how they are perceived) so it must be only in our spirits that we truly know.

      If we walk in the Spirit we must trust that God will give us understanding and move us emotionally according to the truth that only he knows. The intellect and emotions are only unreliable in so far as the motivation is ungodly. Much of our fear comes from the teaching of those who would separate us into body, soul and spirit as if 2 of the 3 are necessarily carnal.

      Such teaching is ignorant and binding and diminishes us as human beings. As such we cannot grow to the measure stature of Christ because we deny the humanity that Jesus embraced and celebrated

    6. Re: Spoonful...

      "It has struck me that people will say they are moved in their spirits when its actually feelings." - Absolutely; and I'm not sure anyone would be willing to debate that... Problem is that out of this is birthed a fear of embracing what you later said, "...God will give us understanding and move us emotionally according to the truth that only He knows..." We become so afraid of mistaking whether this or that feeling or emotion is of-Him or of-us, that it becomes easier to rationalize away ever paying any attention to what God could be doing in our emotions through the power of His Spirit.

      As you said, "Only God knows things as they are rather than how they are perceived"... and "...intellect and emotions are only unreliable in so far as the motivation is ungodly..." We can be completely convinced that our intellectual or emotional motivations are godly, only to discover that it was more likely our carnal selves rearing its head. Hence a constant "prostrateness of heart" (made that word up sorry) before Him, longing for His guidance and not our design of outcome, leaning into His Spirit in humility, is the one posture to have.

    7. PS Spoonful: thanks for the comment good stuff :)