(Don’t Be) Afraid to Feel
Blissful numbness. It was all that I wanted. Freedom from feelings that hurt or left me anxious; even excitement and anticipation became the enemy because it would inevitably disappoint. I didn’t want to feel any of that any more. So I stopped.
But the reality of numbness wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Not caring” may have limited the pain, but it also restricted the joy. While rollercoaster highs and lows can be exhausting, we weren’t made for flatline living either. I shut down hope. I turned off connection because love is to pain like Nutella is to weight gain, basic cause and effect.
Though it’s taken several years, thankfully, I’ve learned how to feel again. I’ve learned the difference between what feels true and what is truth. I’ve learned that I can feel even what is often considered to be negative emotions without it affecting my faith one bit.
And that is where I think many Christians cripple their healing and growth.
Did you know that God feels? He feels with God-like intensity. He feels love and joy and peace. He also feels anger, jealousy, and betrayal. This makes us feel uncomfortable because we like a god that we can control… but our God is too big for that. God feels deeply, his feelings are always justified and he always acts on them in righteousness (a correct response.)
As people, we were made in the image of a feeling God. As Christians, we have the ability to respond to our feelings in righteousness and react based on truth. We are free to feel, but are called to act on what we know. We are not slaves to our emotions, but that doesn’t negate them either.
I was talking to a friend who’s had a rough couple of days. She expressed that people are expecting her to get over her feelings and move on. My response, “In what universe do they expect people to have experienced what you’ve experienced and not feel how you feel?” That’s just weird! A lobotomy is not a prerequisite of Christianity. We don’t need to deny our feelings, neither should we be ruled by them.
She had made a hard decision and felt sad that it was necessary. She shouldn’t be made to feel bad about feeling bad, rather praised for making a good decision even when it hurt! Her feelings reveal her strength, not her weakness.
For me, the past 6 months have been full of many changes and challenges. It didn’t always feel good, in fact, there were many times that felt horrible. I remember talking to a few friends and saying, “I’m afraid I might go back to shutting down and numbing, and I don’t want to do that again.” So, I purposed to allow myself to feel the whole range of emotions that came my way. I would not shut down, instead, I’d feel deeply and let God deal with that pain. I was honest with God, saying things like, “This feels like crap, but that doesn’t change the fact that you love me. This hurts like hell, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re good.” and my favorite quote, “God, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.”
And it worked.
I felt pain and loss, I also felt peace that passed my ability to comprehend it. I was in a season of alone-ness, but I wasn’t lonely. And through it all, I wrote 3 of the 5 songs on the album I released a few weeks ago (in addition to probably 4 or 5 other songs). Pain can be very productive if you allow it to be.
Feelings are not the enemy, lies are. We need to reject the lies about our feelings, not the feelings themselves. People don’t cheat because their spouse wasn’t good enough, people cheat because they are broken inside and are constantly looking for new people to confirm to them that they are wanted and have value. Disappointed hope doesn’t mean that God isn’t faithful, it means that we were hoping in the wrong thing. The feeling isn’t wrong until a lie comes and distorts it.
Feelings are not something to be afraid of. They reveal the God whose image we are made in. They connect us deeply to other people, allowing us to enter into their struggle and support them. Feelings show us our needs and, if we allow them, reveal to us God’s sufficiency to meet them.
Please, don’t be afraid to feel, and feel deeply! Take it from a recovering stoic, shutting down only prolongs the pain. Feeling is the catalyst of healing and the proof that we’re alive.