A Slave to Feelings
Almost 10 years ago, in 2008, God began to lead me through one of the most difficult trials of my life. I reached a point, fairly quickly, where I decided to seek help with the whirlwind of emotions that began to overwhelm me. The counselor needed counsel. I was a relatively new Christian when God chose to allow this storm in my life. I had only began to seek Him and read His word a few years prior. I certainly hadn't read all of the bible at that time and honestly, I had only begun to discipline myself in daily reading earlier that year. One thing I did know, I wanted my counselor to be a Christian.
I was led to a wise, Godly, older gentlemen, who, within the first couple of sessions, asked me to write down the following on a post-it note:
"Faith is believing the word of God and acting upon it,
no matter how I feel, knowing He promises a good result."
Then he told me that my homework for the following session was to memorize it. Honestly, I left his office rolling my eyes and thinking, "Yeah right?! Like that's gonna happen!" I didn't see how memorizing some sentence was going to help me, I mean, I was drowning! I was an emotional train wreck. I remember often feeling like if I actually looked on the outside how I felt on the inside, people would be calling 911, rushing me to the ER, attempting to save me from the blood gushing everywhere! Because that's how I felt, I felt like I was dying from the emotional pain. Yet, no one could see the devastating wounds that I carried just below the surface. They weren't visible to the naked eye.
These emotions began to consume me. I wasn't eating. I wasn't sleeping. When I wasn't crying, I was either filled with rage or in a state of complete numbness. I would often go through my days like a zombie. I became an absolute slave to my feelings. I felt like I became a burden to the people around me. No matter how much someone loves you, their efforts to comfort your pain can only go so far. I couldn't stand to be around me anymore, so I certainly wasn't pleasant company for anyone else.
Well, that little post-it note sat in front of me day after day and I kept reading it. I wasn't trying to memorize it as much as I was trying to understand it. I kept getting stuck on the "no matter how I feel part." Quite honestly, as painful as my emotions were, I really didn't want to give them up. I felt entitled to them, I had come by them honestly and in my mind, I had earned them. How dare this counselor suggest that it doesn't matter how I feel?!
Let me back up a minute, you see, this entire experience almost shipwrecked the little faith that I thought I had. I didn't "feel" like I had any faith. I would look at other believers in church and think to myself, "Wow, I wish I felt like that." Whether they were singing their hearts out in worship service or smiling and being friendly and joyful in greeting others, all I knew was that I didn't feel that way and that maybe that meant, I just didn't have any faith, at least not the kind that was worth anything. I even started to question God and think that maybe He just didn't have that gift of faith for me. I wanted it desperately.
So, back to the post-it note: I kept reading and re-reading it. Maybe it was immediately obvious to you, but I can be pretty thick sometimes, and it finally hit me that my counselor had given me a definition of faith. And this definition had absolutely NOTHING to do with my feelings! Wait a minute! You mean I might actually have faith, even if I don't "feel" like it? This was like someone opening a window in a stuffy room, actually more like a room choking me with toxic gases and this was the sweet smell of life-giving oxygen to my soul!
If my faith had nothing to do with how I felt, then what was it based on? According to scripture, it's based on knowing what is true and ACTING on that knowledge. Now this again, may be obvious to some, but this would mean that in order to know what is true and "believe the word of God," we must be reading it, otherwise we have no idea what things God would have us "act" on or do. (Check out my related post, "How to Let Go and Let God" to read more about studying His word.)
I must admit, that the most appealing part of the entire quote is the last part, "He promises a good result." All I knew for certain, was that I was not experiencing any sort of good result coming from my enslavement to my emotions. It didn't mean that I suddenly didn't have those emotions, I did for a season. God used that time to continue to refine me and deepen my dependence on Him. Instead, it meant that my emotions did not get to dictate my actions, which included my attitude. We all have the same opportunities to choose how we talk and walk. Yet, God's word, through His Holy Spirit, actually gives us the power to walk the walk! We cannot simply make up our minds to change and then do so in our own strength. Sure, anyone can for a period of time, but eventually, we burn out, get overwhelmed, tired, frustrated, and give up. These are all sure signs that you're trying to change in your own strength.
I began to search God's word for how He would have me "act." God never tells us we aren't allowed to feel whatever we feel. Rather, He asks us to submit those feelings to His care and to let Him call the shots in our attitude and actions. When we "follow our hearts" or allow our emotions to lead us, we are rejecting God's authority in our lives, we rebel and become our own god. There's no promise attached to letting your emotions lead your actions, matter of fact, it most often leads to greater sin, with the initial one being a refusal to submit and obey. So God says, in essence, "Feel whatever you want to feel, but do what I call you to do." Look at Ephesians 4:26a which says,
"Don't sin by letting anger control you"
Clearly, God doesn't say, "Don't be angry," rather He warns us about the actions that can come from being controlled by that emotion. This is where the rubber meets the road in our choosing to act according to His word.
One cannot truly call themselves a Christian, without accepting the Lordship of Christ in their lives. Like soldiers in an army, we have a Commander that gives us our marching orders, we trust Him with our lives and choose to obey His commands and allow Him to lead us through any battle. One difference between an earthly commander and God (of course there are too many to list), is that an earthly commander cannot promise a good result for following him, while the Sovereign Creator of the Universe can and does do that faithfully.
I challenge you to take the time to memorize that simple definition of faith. We can't get rid of our emotions. Unlike the picture in the title caption, there's no "off" switch for our feelings. If you're reading this, then I think it's safe to say you're human, and if you're human, you will spend the rest of your life with various emotions attempting to enslave and control you.
It's been almost 10 years ago since I committed that definition of faith to memory and it continues to encourage me today. It reminds me of God's promises, when I trust Him with my emotions. He gives me what I need not only to endure pain and suffering, but to be obedient in my attitude and actions so that I may experience His joy and thrive even in the midst of life's storms.