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Thinking about our feelings

The discussion in a recent marriage class was about learning how to make our emotions work for us rather than against us. Dealing with our feelings as individuals is challenging enough, but when you are working as a couple toward oneness, things can really become complicated. Here are some principles to build from.

1. Feeling are like coffee grounds—they bring flavor to life when filtered properly. Nobody wants a cup of coffee with yucky grounds in them but a cup of fresh brewed coffee (with no grounds) can be quite pleasing. In the same way, our emotions are powerful forces that have the potential of being absolutely delightful or terribly damaging—depending on how we handle them.

2. Our feelings are real. This is a dominant truth in our world today. The prophets of popular culture (entertainers, talk show hosts, and social media in general) have all programmed us along these lines. But it is not unique to this generation. I grew up in a time when we were taught to say, “I feel” rather than “I believe” or “I think” because that was something that was indisputable. While that’s certainly true (as is the idea that are feeling are real), it’s also true that over-reliance upon this and over-emphasis on our feelings as the basis for approaching life can gets us in a lot of trouble. How so?

3. Our feelings are not always rooted in reality. My emotions (and not just those of others) are not always reliable. I heard a story about a group of young children who came across a small, puppy. They were delighted by its playfulness but wondered whether it was a boy or girl. Not knowing how to determine such a matter, they took a vote and decided it was a boy. From that point on, they “felt” like the puppy was male. When our feelings flow from erroneous information, incorrect attitudes or other false factors—they are not reliable.

This is why “My feelings are real” functioning as a dominant truth in our culture (or any culture) isn’t healthy. Look at Nike’s latest ad campaign: “Believe in something, even if it costs you everything.” This is emotional marketing at its worst. Think about it—doesn’t this describe perfectly the feelings of a terrorist who straps explosives to his body and then detonates them? Rather than “believe in something” we should be interested in believing in what is true, right and good. You can be assured that the people at Nike know better than to just “believe in something.” They did their market analysis and knew their slogan would sell shoes with the demographic they had targeted. They weren’t relying on their feelings. Our feelings are real, but they are not always reality and we must understand the difference.

4. It is easier to act our way into feeling better than to feel our way into acting better. When we wait until we feel like doing something, it often goes undone. When we go ahead and do what is right, feeling “good” about it will follow—maybe not immediately, but it will come. Doing something despite not feeling like it is not hypocrisy, it is maturity. Where would the world be if no one got out of bed until “they felt like it?” We get out of bed and the feeling follows.

5. Our goal in life shouldn’t too feel good about everything. The reality of our world is that sin has entered into it and as long as it is present, we won’t be able to feel good about everything. Jesus didn’t and neither does God. That’s a false goal that shouldn’t be pursued. Moreover, feeling bad about something can be a strong impetus for correcting a wrong circumstance or an unhealthy situation. Deciding to “feel good” about it (rather than doing something about it) is a form of escapism that no one benefits from.

In conclusion, emotions are wonderful servants but lousy lords. When they are filtered through God’s word, common sense as well as the feelings of others, they enrich and bring flavor to our lives.

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