Do Not Fear Your Feelings

When is the last time someone asked you how you feel? These days we all want to talk about what we think, but we habitually ignore the feelings that are often driving our opinions and our actions. 

We are created as whole beings, with bodies, emotions, intellect, senses and so much more. Yet for some reason the idea that emotions are bad has infiltrated popular Christian thought. We are cautioned, “Don’t go by your feelings! Follow the Bible!” There is good reason for this. We don’t want to be carried away by our emotions. Otherwise we end up seeking our own selfish goals or acting destructively. Emotions that are unexamined can lead to unwise actions. But that is not the only option open to us.

In Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection Within Christian Spirituality by Edwin M. McMahon, Ph.D. and Peter A. Campbell, Ph.D. contend that much of the divisive and violent nature of our society comes from ignoring or pushing away our feelings that can tell us a lot about ourselves and our stories. Going inside to pay attention to our feelings, regarding them with compassion, paying attention to how our bodies are carrying them and listening to what they can tell us, can help us face our concerns, hold them tenderly and yield them to the loving presence of God. Only then can we find wholeness and transformation in order to connect each other and the whole Body of Christ in the world.

Whether this makes sense to you or not, I imagine you can recognize the superficiality and striving for power/money/winning that seems so unhealthy in our culture right now. If we can connect with what is going on inside ourselves, we can realize that we do not always have to look good or be strong in order to be happy. Paul realized it when he could not get rid of his “thorn,” and God showed him that his weakness was actually the vessel for a different kind of power than the world applauds. It is the power of love for God, ourselves and one another.

I wonder if Jesus was wrestling with strong feelings when he spent time alone. Did he try to get rid of those feelings, or did he sit in the presence of the Father, acknowledging the difficulties he was facing and experiencing the peace of God in the midst of the struggle? God did not take away the feelings or the challenges. Somehow Jesus was able to coexist with those feelings, at the same time exhibiting peace and love despite all the confusion and opposition around him. Perhaps this is what is meant by “the peace of God that passes all understanding.” Experiencing emotions in our bodies and letting them lead us to healing is not an intellectual approach. It is a an organic, spiritual, physical way to wholeness that God desires for us.

As I introduce this practice to people in spiritual direction, remarkable things can happen. They experience the shift within themselves described by McMahon and Campbell. God's presence is felt at the same time they extend compassion for themselves. They sometimes get a clearer sense of what it is they need to ask of God. 

The cross is itself the greatest sign of God’s solidarity with our feelings, especially our suffering. Jesus endured it, felt every pang and sorrow in his own body, and ultimately defeated the powers that tried to kill him even while he was at his weakest. We, too, can experience God’s presence and life within us even when we feel the full force of our emotions. If we do not allow ourselves to feel them, they will keep popping up, begging to be heard. So let us not fear them but pay attention to them. Let us receive what they have to tell us about ourselves and grow from it, letting God’s Spirit heal us from the inside. Perhaps then we can listen to other people with the same kind of compassion we have for ourselves, and we can experience the unity and love Jesus prayed we would have with one another.  

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