As human beings, we’re made to have feelings. And, expressed rightly, those feelings, (even the “bad” ones), are good. But it’s hard to get the balance right. Do we let them lead us and tell us who we are? Or squash ’em and pretend they don’t exist? How does A Christian process emotion – loud and proud? Or masked and mute?
First of all, it’s worth recognising that all sorts of factors determine how we feel about our feelings:
Family. Growing up (and still today) are some emotions tucked under the carpet? Did you talk (or shout) things out?
Culture. England for example, where reserve and afternoon tea is a way of life vs America, where you wear your heart on your sleeve.
Personality. Perhaps, like me, you’re a controller, (‘keep it down and keep it quiet’). Or maybe, you’re an expresser, (‘better out than in’).
Church. In some services emotion is right at the centre. In others, it’s quietly discouraged.
Our feelings are an important part of who we are: and we deny them at our peril. But they don’t define us and they’re not our boss either. So how do we avoid these two extremes? Let’s go back to the Bible..
Scripture has a high view of the heart. It is the first thing we love God with (Deut 6:4) – and also the first thing we sin with (Matthew 15:18). Proverbs calls it the wellspring of our life (4:23). For those raised to have a stiff upper lip, this can come as a shock.
Our culture is also divided on the issue of feelings. One school says “follow your heart” – whatever it says and whoever gets hurt. The other prizes the mind and the will above all else. Logic rules ok. But actually in the Bible our thoughts come from our hearts (see Genesis 6:5 and Mark 7:21). Our minds are made up by the way that we feel.
Does this mean our feelings rule the roost? No. Jesus rules the roost and He rules through His word. According to the Bible this is what shapes our hearts – not our brain-power or will-power but the Spirit’s power, through the Bible. Listen to Psalm 119:
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you. (v11)
Turn my heart towards your statutes
and not towards selfish gain. (v36)
Your statutes are my heritage for ever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end. (v111-2)
Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word. (v161)
For good or for ill our feelings are a core part of our identity. Who we are flows out of our hearts, which means we should take them seriously. Just not as seriously as God’s word. Feel your feelings – don’t crush or ignore them. But having felt them, let God’s word speak to them. Allow the Holy Spirit to say:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God. (Psalm 42:11)