This year I am realizing that sometimes my feelings or moods, however strong they feel, may not be true.
Recently, I reread Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard. In this book, Willard, for better understanding for his readers delineates the human person into the mind, will (heart or spirit), body, relationships, and soul. In light of my current stirrings around my emotions, I paid particular attention to what he wrote about the mind and feelings. Willard explains how thoughts and feelings go together with feelings following thoughts. For example, if I reflect upon my day and see how much I have to be grateful, feeling thankful follows. If I recall comparing myself with someone, I may feel inadequate or jealous.
What has helped me is first to become aware of what I am feeling. A feeling in and of itself is neutral, neither bad nor good. Feelings are indicators of what is going on inside or are like the indicator lights on the dashboard of a car telling us what going on “under the hood.” I read recently in another book titled, Embracing the Body by Tara Owens, that our bodies don’t lie. If I begin to tense up or feel relaxed, my body is telling me something about what I am feeling. I may feel ungrateful or jealous, or peaceful, or joyful. These feelings can develop into moods that can take over take both good and bad ways. For example, I can feel a pervasive peace in my life at times or sense of prevailing sadness.
Once, I become aware of my feelings, I then ask what the thoughts are behind whatever I am feeling. If I am feeling ungrateful, I have to drill down to why I am feeling ungrateful. These can be some of my truest and most meaningful and insightful times of prayer expressing my honest thoughts and feelings to God. It usually involves confession, which is acknowledging my sin to God, not excusing or downplaying an offense, but expressing the truth about myself to God in that moment. Then remembering to express gratitude for being forgiven, recalling Christ’s sacrifice. It also involves remembering what the bible says is true about me; such as I am deeply loved by God, significant, and strong even when my emotions are screaming otherwise. I also try daily call to recall all that I have in my life to be thankful for, which is much when I stop and take the time to reflect. In addition, I ask God for help to change, to be, think, feel, see and act differently, which is repentance and transformation into becoming the person that I am truly in Christ.
As I have become more attune to paying attention to my body and what it is telling me about what I am feeling, this process often proceeds fairly quickly. I recognize a predominant feeling. If it relates to sin in some way, the Holy Spirit is the expert at helping me see my sin in a loving way. It can feel freeing to be able to name whatever is happening inside. Then I ask God for any next steps that He is inviting me to take. Depending on what is going on, that may involve giving thanks, sending someone an encouraging email, or confessing my sin to God and/or a person whom I have offended.
There are other periods of my life that take much longer. I see patterns of emotions that I have felt for years. I wish that I could offer a step-by-step answer for these harder places, but these ongoing feelings are not easily remedied. Recently the Holy Spirit helped me to see some poor ways of thinking. I was comparing myself with others and had thoughts that I needed more from relationships, more experiences, more things. Feelings of jealousy, greed, and ungratefulness followed from those thoughts. Once again, confession and repentance were part of my prayers. For me it is a process of perseverance in prayer coming to the Great Healer of my soul, and seeing God heal, renew, and restore me in ways that bring hope slowly over time.
I was comforted to realize that Jesus also experienced and expressed strong feelings that were not true. Reading and praying with the Psalms is a good place to go when wrestling with thoughts and feelings. Reading Psalm 22, a psalm of David prophesying Christ’s crucifixion, helped me to see that although Jesus felt forsaken God His Father was near and present.
“For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” Psalm 22:24 ESV
Janet Wineman is seeking God to transform her thoughts and feelings.