Eugene Peterson said in his book, Long Obedience in the Same Direction:
“I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshipped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith.… Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.”
Whether discussing worship or desiring to eat healthy feelings are great liars. In a feeling-driven culture, we assume right emotions will come when I need them. These same emotions and feelings will lead me into Truth. Instead of acting our way into fresh feelings, we wait, and wait more. Instead of trusting objective Truth, we look inward and assume God has abandoned us.
Feelings are important, but not the entire story.
Some have said we don’t feel our way into new actions, we act our way into new feelings. I’ve contemplated the daily roller coaster of emotions amid the pandemic. One moment is peace and calm. Then an hour later, after reading the latest news report on COVID-19, I’m ready to build a bunker in the basement and ride it out with my family and our stockpile of beans and rice.
Maybe that hasn’t been your day to day experience. You’ve ignored all media and spent hours in silence and solitude, experiencing only what I could describe as supernatural peace. No anxiety and worry and only a robust faith. A faith making saints of old jealous.
For the rest of us mere mortals, those riding the roller coaster of feelings, and have begun construction our Corona Bunker, let’s chat. Is there a better way to get a handle on our emotions and not allow them to dominate our daily existence? Especially during a pandemic.
We’re complex beings, and it’s hard to know where our emotions come from. Why do they change at a moments notice? Even the ancient wisdom of Scripture portrays in the Psalms moments of absolute trust in God, and calm, and the next minute what appears a click away from despair:
“Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.
5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land,” -Psalm 143:4-6.
The prophet Jeremiah says the heart is sick and riddled with complexity and confusion:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
The Hebrew idiom for the heart in the Scriptures is the center of our emotions, feelings, will, and thinking. Who can understand the difficulties of emotions? Should we trust these little buggers?
We’re in good company with the roller coaster ride of feelings. Yet, we need not allow them to become an all consuming reality in our lives. Especially when feelings overwhelm and incapacitate us.
We can act our way into new feelings.
Going for a walk when our emotions are raw can ramp up endorphins and makes us feel better. Solitude, silence, prayer, and Scripture meditation, can put us in a position to experience more of God’s love and peace. Allowing the truth of greater realities and Divine power to come more fully into our lives requires an act of our bodies and will. Feelings aren’t enough.
But like Peterson said:
“Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.”
The act of worship, eating nutritious food, and crushing an addiction require acting our way into new feelings, not the other way around.
Creativity: drawing, writing, sculpting, singing, and building something is a fantastic way to act our way into new feelings.
Serving other people, giving to a charity, and volunteering for an important cause are all examples of acting our way into new feelings. Try praying on your face or with open hands and see how different you feel?
You might resist doing any of these things, but after you do, you know the feeling? It can be euphoric. Why? Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than receive and said nothing about our emotions. But I think the emotions are wrapped up in the giving. In the action.
Seth Godin recently said,
“We might not be able to do anything about external events, but we have control over our actions. Sometimes, it’s hard to stare right into that opportunity, because it comes with a lot of responsibility.”
These are not times to allow feelings to overwhelm us to the point of incapacitation. We need you. We need you to be a calming presence in the storm. Your family, community, and neighbors need your presence, skills, and leadership.
And to be honest, my feelings, your feelings, and a posture of fear, panic, worry, and anxiety will not change a thing.
Jesus the master teacher and soul physician said worry was a dead end (see Matthew 6:25-34). Why? You can’t add a single hour to your day. Every day has problems and focusing on a future that doesn’t exist is a fool’s errand. What we can control is right now. Our actions in this moment. And maybe, just maybe our actions can lead to new joys, peace, and calm in the storm. We act our way into new feelings.
I’m in this with you and know people are feeling fragile right now. Our emotions are unstable and up and down. Let’s not diminish what we’re feeling and experiencing. Feelings have their place.
But maybe it’s time to act our way into new and fresh feelings.
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