Archive for the ‘Feelings’ Category

Recently, I was going to the doctor’s office to get the results of my annual scan of how well a stent that was put in three years ago was doing. It was for an aneurysm. I expected good results as I had had in prior years. But the report was not good. I had another fast- growing aneurysm. I felt devastated.

The doctor said that we needed to operate soon. I felt fear as I faced a sea of scary thoughts and questions. I felt unsafe. I asked God what was I to do?

First, I decided to quiet my shaky heart. So, I turned to praying Scripture. As I prayed, God used the Bible verses to guide and lift me up. For example, the verse, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, thy consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 34:4) led me to ask God for his joy and comfort.

I also quieted myself so that I could feel my emotions and what they were saying to me. One thing they said was that I didn’t trust his help enough to keep me safe. So, I prayed that I would trust at a deeper level the verse, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will help strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Then, the next day I had a time of prayer with Jesus where I poured out my worries and fears silently and asked for his help. Through my thoughts, Jesus responded to my fears and offered his love and safety. I sensed that I had talked to Jesus at a deep level. I felt a little safer talking and listening to Jesus through this time.

I don’t expect to ever get over my tendency to fear bad news. And that’s OK. God still loves, accepts and respects me the same. Instead, what I do expect is that by praying, meditating on God’s Word, focusing on my deep emotions, and his help I will grow to feel safer in this unsafe world.

Relying on God’s help is the only way we can feel safe at a deep level. The safety we feel from other ways is false. Things such as good circumstances, immortality, success, and being respected can’t be trusted. But God can.

He says, “Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you” (Psalm 91:7). He guarantees our safety until we have lived out the days he has planned for us.

Two other ways we can feel safer in this unsafe world is to praise and thank God several times a day for who he is and what he has done for us.   Praise will help us grasp that he is powerful. Giving thanks will help us give him the credit for the good things he gives. May you take one step today to grow in feeling safe in an unsafe world.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grieving Our Losses

We all have losses in our life. Some really affect us and some don’t. But it can be surprising how much our losses can hurt us.

Because losses sometimes hurt badly, I have often ignored how they make me feel and try to get busy and forget them as fast I can. But is this the best way to deal with losses?

What Our Losses Are

The following are common losses we experience:

  • The loss of a girl or boyfriend
  • The loss of a job
  • The loss of a friend
  • The loss of a loving childhood home
  • The death of a parent
  • The loss of youthfulness
  • The loss of a dream

These are just a few examples of the losses we can have. They can make us sad, distressed, sorrowful, and embarrassed. We tend to run from the pain of these losses. However, it’s important that we face them head-on.

Why Face Them?

We face the pain of our losses in order to experience reality. We deceive ourselves when we pretend that our losses don’t hurt, grieve or make us sad when they do. This unexperienced pain can lead to addictions, chasing idols, psychosomatic pain, and a lack of self-awareness.

We are not weak or defective for feeling grief, sadness, and fear when we lose something. God has planned that our lives have periods in which we suffer. There will be “times to weep and times to laugh, times to mourn and times to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, paraphrased).  Stuffing the pain of our losses instead of experiencing them can hinder God’s purposes in allowing losses in our lives. He could, for example, be wanting to develop compassion for others through experiencing the pain.

Facing the pain of losses can throw us upon God’s tender mercies as it did David. “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also” (Psalm 31:9). This dependency increases our faith.

Facing our sorrows enables us to experience God’s comfort. We then grow in our capacity to comfort others as they face the pain of their losses (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When we repress the hurt of our losses, we forfeit the opportunity to receive comfort and growth.

Experiencing the pain of our lost job, relationship, or a dream does not doom us to depression for the rest of our lives. God says to us “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). We can dare to experience the pain knowing that he won’t give us more than we can endure and will deliver us when he has accomplished his work.

Another reason to face our grief is to obey God. He wants us to be real with him. He wants us to pour out our hearts to him and honestly tell him how bad it hurts. “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6). We become wiser as we face the pain of our losses.

So, let us not be so quick to brush over our losses. When we suffer the loss of our looks, or miss a promotion, or a friend moves away, may we slow down and allow ourselves to experience the pain. May we cooperate with God in grieving our losses.

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I never paid much attention to whether or not I was emotionally mature. So what if I was afraid, or discontent, or had difficulty accepting my limits? As long as I was godly and accomplishing things for him I was successful.

Little did I realize that I couldn’t become godly if I were stuck in impulsiveness, anger, and competitiveness. Or did I realize that my emotional maturity reflected my spiritual maturity.

Emotional maturity includes

  • Experiencing our feelings
  • Sharing our feelings responsibly with others
  • Experiencing and processing our anger responsibly
  • Not needing the approval of others to feel good about ourselves

What emotional maturity can do for us is

  • Avoid being overly sensitive to being hurt or offended
  • Accept responsibility and not blame others
  • Know and accept our limits
  • Be open to constructive criticism

Why Emotional Maturity Is Important

Emotional maturity is necessary to love others well, which is the goal of the Christian life (1 Timothy 1:7). People can be gifted speakers, know the Scriptures well, and lead competently elder boards and still fail as Christians because of being unloving spouses or unteachable, insecure, and defensive people.

It is who we are deep within that counts. We can look like an adult on the outside but still be an emotional child below the surface. When we are driven by a fear of failure, passively resist others, run from loneliness, and ignore our feelings we are often exhibiting signs of emotional immaturity. This immaturity affects our capacity to focus on others and to love them well. 

How to Become Emotionally Mature

Emotional maturity involves experiencing and processing our emotions wisely. Since our feelings are driven by our beliefs, relying on the truths about ourselves, God and others is vital to becoming emotionally mature. We can’t believe a pack of lies about life and still be godly.

Living God’s truth will set us free from our emotional immaturity (John 8:32). For example, knowing that what people think of us does not define who we are, frees us from our fears and helps us to love them. Also, knowing that we are always acceptable to God even when we fail, keeps us from beating ourselves up or blaming others when things don’t go well.

May we grow in emotional maturity by becoming aware of things we do and feel that reveal emotional immaturity. For example, we may seem to be extremely self-centered or experience considerable anxiety much of the time. We can then ask God to help us discern what we are depending upon that is driving this behavior or emotions.

In his time, he will show us what beliefs or habits need to be transformed. For example, I have had considerable anxiety about my health stemming from major surgery I had three years ago. So I asked, “God, what am I not believing that makes me feel so scared?” What he eventually revealed was that I did not believe I had a trusted shepherd who was watching out for me physically. This was not true! But this belief was driving my emotions. Now, as I ask God to help me believe the truth, I will be growing more emotionally mature as well as godly.

So, are you emotionally mature? Do your emotions and your behavior reflect a heart that is spiritually mature? May we all continue to seek to grow into emotionally mature and godly adults.

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Are Feelings Important?

Feelings have often been a mystery to me. What to do with them? How to manage them?

They can brighten my day or make me miserable, and everything in between.

I seemed to have learned at a young age to run away from feelings that didn’t feel good. But the feelings were often still deep inside, along with the thoughts that triggered them.

I later learned in engineering to ignore them because they often got in the way of objective decision-making.

However, I think most of us would agree that our feelings are important, but what are we supposed to do when they don’t feel good?

Why Feelings Are Important

I was taught as a young Christian that feelings were not that important. What was important was what God said in the Bible. It was dangerous to let our feelings guide us through life.

But in recent years I have learned that feelings are very important–for they can tell us the truth about our self, not necessarily the truth about life. For example, if we are afraid of what people think of us, that fear may be lying to us. The fear may be saying to us that what people think of us is who we are.

But the truth is we are what God thinks of us, which is, “We are precious, honored and loved” (Isaiah 43:4, paraphrased). Our feelings are lying to us if we fear rejection; for what God thinks of us is what counts and he will never reject us (Hebrews 13:5).

Yet, our fear of what people think of us tells us a lot about our self. The fear shows that in our heart, we still cling to the lie that we are what people think we are. This awareness is a call from God to be transformed in rejecting the lie and embracing the truth that we will never be rejected. Sure people can reject us, but it means nothing to God, for he never will.

Feelings are also important to us because they can add so much pleasure or cause so much grief in our life. Wouldn’t you like your feelings today to be peaceful, joyous, loving, compassionate, and empathetic? It sure beats feeling hatred, rage, lusts, and dissatisfaction all day. These feelings can help us determine if we are living in God’s power.

Another reason feelings are important is that often God talks to us through our feelings.

He says about our feelings,

“Come to Me in prayer when you are feeling under the pile” (Matthew 11:28, paraphrased).

“Check what you are thinking about if you are full of fears” (Philippians 4:8-10, paraphrased).

“I always give you peace when you go My way” (Proverbs 3:17, paraphrased)

What We Should Do With Them

So, what are we to do about our feelings?

Certainly, we should not stuff them by getting busy, escaping through drugs or alcohol, or trying to ignore them some other way.

Psychologists tell us that not paying attention to painful feelings can cause us a lot of problems. For example, ignoring our anger could cause a root of bitterness to spring up causing us to hurt a lot of people (Ephesians 4:26-27; Hebrews 12:15).

We can also use our feelings for guidance as long as they don’t lead us to violate biblical principles and other forms of God’s guidance. My experience has been that if I genuinely want God’s will, my desires will line up with his direction (Psalm 37:4).

We need to always remember that our feelings flow from a heart that is tricky and impossible to understand (Jeremiah 17:9). Often, we are not experiencing the real feelings when we are feeling anxiety, anger, and confusion. These feelings are intended to “protect us” from our deeper feelings of hurt, grief, fear, and sadness.

So, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit to help us know what our true feelings are so that we can face the false beliefs and dependencies of our heart, and be transformed by God.

We can ask him, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

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I certainly have been. From my earliest days, I learned to avoid feelings that I did not want to feel. I escaped from feelings of depression and fear that way.

Later, when I studied engineering, my ability to ignore and repress my feelings helped me to be more objective. I commended myself for being able to make rational decisions untainted by emotions.

My ability to run from feelings also helped me as a young Christian. I was not as distracted as some in letting my feelings get in the way of depending on the truth.

So, what’s wrong with running from, repressing, and denying our feelings?

One big reason is that our feelings can be a window into our souls. They cannot always be trusted to tell us the truth about life, but they can be valuable in telling us the truth about ourselves.

For instance, David says in Psalm 27:13, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

He knew that if he felt despair, he may not be relying on the truth of God’s goodness. The feelings were a trigger to ask God to search his heart to see what was going on (Psalm 139:23-24). By ignoring his despair, he would also be ignoring putting off unbelief and putting on the truth (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Repressing our feelings can also hurt us physically and spiritually. I have personally suffered much physical pain that was the result of bottling up my emotions. I have had backaches, neck aches, hand aches, toothaches, and knee aches, largely caused by sitting on anger, hurt, or sadness.

We also give Satan an opportunity to create bitterness and hatred in our hearts when we repress our anger and fail to deal with it. “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

So, are you afraid of your feelings? Do you self-medicate with food, alcohol, and TV to dull your feelings? Do you keep busy all the time to escape from your feelings of guilt and emptiness?

I encourage you not to run from your feelings as much as possible. Face them in dependence on the Lord. Remember, “You can do all things through him who strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13).

May I suggest that you ask God to help you discern two or three strong feelings you have right now. Spend a minute experiencing each one. Then, talk to the Lord about what dependencies, beliefs, or other factors are triggering each of these strong feelings.

Finally, claim his promises to take away your fears, help you, and uphold you as you rely on him and his truth (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 26:3).

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Grieving a Loss

When we lose someone or something that means a lot to us, we often feel grief. Grief is a deep emotion that flows from the loss of a loved one, a job, a hope for a new ministry, or a relationship. We can grieve for almost anything that we have depended upon, and it or the person is no longer there. The deepness of our grief can vary a lot depending on how important the loss was to us.

One thing we need to do when grief hits is to face the painful feelings within us. We do not want to run from them by getting busy, or pretending they are not there. Experiencing the grief, labeling the feelings as grief, and talking over the situation with God can move us forward in the grieving process. We do not want to get stuck in denial, anger, bitterness, or depression.

Recently, my hope died for a particular ministry at my church. I felt grief and could not sleep well the first night. Then, over the next few days I began to accept the reality of the situation and my peace returned. Yet, I still am very disappointed and at times lapse back into depression and some anger.

However, through facing my grief, talking and listening to God through the Scriptures, and through the encouragement of friends, I am moving forward in the grieving process. I am slowly growing in my acceptance of the situation and beginning to see the good that could come from the loss.

 

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Why Pain

We are born thinking that we are alone in this world and that we have to use our wits and wisdom to make it through it. We do not see that we are under the protective care of a loving and strong God who has created us for his purposes (Psalm 23). As a result, we think that we know what is best for us and that we have the resources to make it happen. God uses pain to help turn us from this independent living to learn to rely more on his faithful support to make it through life. God often uses pain in our lives, not for the purpose of making our lives miserable, but for the purpose of making us godlier. “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

When we are faced with unfixable problems like chronic pain, loss of a child, divorce, or failure at work or in the ministry, we realize that we sometimes do not have the resources to succeed. We realize that we are not in control and often reach out to him who is in control.  The pain that flows from our over-our-heads troubles is actually good because of the spiritual growth that can occur.[1]

I am currently faced with a ministry failure. Things did not turn out the way I wanted them to turn out. I feel grief, sadness, fear, and hurt. Because of feeling so bad, I have turned to God in prayer and his Word with deep dependence to find God’s will and peace in the midst of the pain. Through it all, I am sensing a greater freedom from an over dependence on good circumstances and the approval of others through this pain. I am also sensing a greater capacity to live and express my true thoughts and beliefs in a spirit of love.

When life is fairly comfortable, we often fail to ask ourselves the hard questions of life. We tend to value more than anything the desire to feel good, even if what makes us feel good is phony. So, when pain hits, we are thrown off-balance and in the process of trying to get our good feelings back, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves some hard questions that can change our lives for the better. Questions like, “How much am I worth when I am not performing?”, “Is God really enough to satisfy my need to be loved?”, or “Does God really have my best interest at heart?” Deep in our hearts we already have answers to these questions.

Pain can help draw these beliefs out in the open where God’s light can shine on any darkness or unbelief and change them. “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1John 1:7).  Pain has the power to grow us or destroy us. We all have met people who have never recovered from painful episodes in their lives. Not that the pain of divorce, getting fired or being abused will ever go completely away. But for some reason, these people have not moved passed the pain and found God’s intimacy, comfort and strength to continue walking in the light in these areas.

We often forget that God’s primary purpose for our life is to make us like him in spirit and truth. It is not to make us feel good. Jesus was a man of sorrows. As we grow more like him, our pains will more and more reflect the pains that Jesus feels and felt when he walked the earth 2,000 years ago. We will grieve for the lost and those who refuse to walk in the Spirit, we will be sad by the various satanic bondages that tie people up in mediocre living, and we will fear the painful correction that will come to those who refuse to repent. This kind of pain is not bad because it reflects that we are doing right and living the abundant life.

God promises us pain in this life, no matter how godly we are. It comes with the territory. Because man is not basically good, we hurt each other. This is where much of our pain comes from. We disrespect one another, we fail to show interest in one another and we say things that hurt one another’s feelings.

We also hurt sometimes by submitting ourselves to God’s leadership in our lives. He often wants to do things in us and through us that disturbs our painless hopes. We hurt when we can’t do things we want to do, when things don’t happen on our schedule, and when we don’t get the glory.

The pain we experience when we come face-to-face with God’s plans for our lives, helps us to turn away from the false god’s we may have of achievement, people’s approval, and comfortability. We have the opportunity in our pain to learn to allow God to meet our tremendous needs for worth and love, or double-down on our efforts to earn them. God is calling us in our pain to a more intimate love relationship with himself. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

It will be painful to turn away from our false gods to embrace our true God. We are like the Israelites in the desert who yearned to return to their lifestyle of bondage in Egypt, rather than learn to trust God to meet their needs in the desert. I have been intentionally seeking for several years to turn away from seeking people’s approval at the expense of being who God created me to be, having to be busy all the time to believe my life had worth, and taking how others treat me as the final statement on who I was rather than what God thought of me. I have experienced much anxiety as I have sought to transfer my dependence off my efforts onto God and his promises to meet my needs. At times, I have suffered the pain of criticism, disapproval, and exclusion from others because of relying on God’s approval instead of man’s. Yet, I am excited that through the pain I believe God has enabled me to better reflect his glory in living and speaking the truth in love.

How to Deal With Pain

In dealing with pain, it is good to seek for God’s perspective on the pain. One big reason for this is that if we are not careful, we will begin to lose our belief that God loves us and is all-powerful because he has allowed such pain in our lives.[2] How often have I been tempted to despair lately by the lack of results in the ministry. Yet, God continually challenges me with his perspective that “your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58).

As we seek God’s perspective, often we will not fully understand why the pain occurred. God says to us, “Trust in Me with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). We have to come to grips with the reality that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Often we need to trust in the goodness of God, rather than our own understanding of the pain. He promises in Proverbs 3:6, that as we acknowledge our dependence on him to help us through the pain, that “I will make your paths straight.”

Often the pain we feel is due to the substitutes we have been using for trusting in God to meet our needs.[3] When we lose the approval of others or fail to be treated with dignity and respect we often feel more pain that we need to because we have allowed others to define us too much. Certainly, how people treat us will always have an effect on our emotions. However, as we grow more dependent on allowing our identity in Christ to be our experience, we will experience greater freedom from bondage to painful feelings and beliefs that say to ourselves “I am what others think I am.” Instead, we will say to ourselves, “I am whom God thinks I am, which is that I am loved, respected, and totally acceptable despite how others view me.”

Another way to deal with pain is to deal with it. We are really good at running away from emotional and other pains by getting busy or repressing the pain rather than facing it. Repressing emotional pain has been a weapon of choice for me for many years. Rather than face the fear of low worth, or the terror of not being approved by certain people, I repressed the feelings and kept busy pursuing achievements and corkscrewing myself into identities that would get me approved. In the last few years, I have been experiencing greater freedom to be myself and not be such a slave to the expectations of others.

We also need to not let our pain define our reality. I have through much of my life let my feeling be my guide. If I felt important, I was important. If I felt appreciated, I was appreciated. If I felt like a worm, I was a worm. However, this is not true. We are important period. We are appreciated period. We are not a worm period. God defines true reality, not my feelings and the pain in my life.

I remember when I first became a Christian I was letting my feelings determine my reality. “Are you a Christian?” was the question. My answer was, “I don’t know because I do not feel like a Christian.” Yet, I needed to learn that my true reality was that I was a Christian based on sincerely receiving Christ and not on how much I felt like I was a Christian. Likewise, in pain, we are tempted to feel that God does not love us or does not have the power to change things. Yet, our true reality in pain is that God continues to be our Good Shepherd and promises a great future for us here on earth and in heaven (Psalm 23:6).

Application Questions and Exercises

1. What is a pain you are facing today. Ask God what he is accomplishing through the pain. What thoughts come to mind?

2. Is there a hard question you need to ask yourself in the pain you are now experiencing? What is that question?

3. Ask God if there is any pain in your life that you still have not fully dealt with in a godly way. What did he bring to mind?

4. Think of a time that doing God’s will created pain in your life. Thank God by faith, if necessary, for the good he accomplished through your pain.

5. Ask God to help you make a list of several good things that are in your life today because of your experience of pain?

6. How has relying on who you are as God’s precious child comforted you as you faced the pain of rejection, failure, or being ignored?

7. How important do you feel right now? How important do you think you are to God right now? Why the difference if there is one?


[1] Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams, (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2004), 26-35.

[2] Gary W. Moon,  “Finding God in the Midst of Pain and Suffering,” Conversations- A Forum for Authentic Transformation, (Fall/Winter 2011): 4-5.

[3] Ruth Haley Barton, “The Promise of Pain,” Conversations- A Forum for Authentic Transformation, (Fall/Winter 2011): 72-76.


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