Feelings. We all have them. I don’t know about you, but a lot of times I don’t let myself feel them. Actually, a more accurate description would be that I don’t let myself feel for most days then something big or small will set the caged feelings free. Then I’m a monsoon of emotions that sweep not only me but those I care about into a storm.
A hard situation at church compounded with a hard situation in my family, let the feelings monsoon free. I went into a survival mode and withdrew from life. I quit things at church. I quit calling friends. I quit doing more than necessary at home with my kids. I just hung on for dear life hoping I wouldn’t drown in emotions that I couldn’t seem to handle, that I didn’t know how to handle.
I think being a pastor’s spouse compounded this problem. A lot of these feelings I had were directed at the church. The church and I have a long history filled with ups and downs. Some of these feelings were directed at people in the church – people who had made inadvertent uncaring remarks, some who had made intentional stabs, some who just didn’t seem to see the actual me behind the wall that is my husband’s title. And me – trying to be a good pastoral spouse – stuffed these feelings.
Surely it is not ok to feel anger, fear, hurt, loneliness, sadness, shame and guilt. I should be grateful for what I do have; I should forgive and forget; I should be above such feelings. Right?
Wrong! Oh, how wrong.
Tired of drowning in feelings, I started going to counseling. What did my counselor want to talk about? Feelings: More specifically the gifts and guidance that feelings can give. He directed me to a book called The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd. Friends, it was a life preserver.
I learned that feelings are essential to living a full, rich life. I need to feel anger, fear, hurt, loneliness, sadness, shame and guilt. If I don’t acknowledge these feelings, dwell with them, learn from them, and grow from them, I am living a shadow of what I could be. You see, avoiding feelings leads to depression and anxiety.
In depression, we press the emotions deep down. We don’t want to feel the things that hurt, the things that make us angry, the things that make us feel sad so we push them way down into the floor of our souls. As we push these emotions down, we also push down gladness with it. So we are left feeling nothing. No sadness or anger but also no gladness and joy.
In anxiety, we want to protect ourselves from feeling hurt, sadness, lonliness, etc. We are afraid of what could happen or repeating the hurtful past. Anxiety leads us to avoid people and situations that have previously wounded us. So we try to protect ourselves by controlling the world around us. We orchestrate our lives. We plan. We manipulate. We withdraw when we don’t feel in control. We miss out.
As each feeling comes, I need to embrace it. Feelings don’t go away. If I don’t embrace it now, it might wallop me later when it swings back around. God gave us feelings to navigate life. To know ourselves: where we begin and end. To know when we need to reach out to another person. To know when we need to reach out to God.
Jesus was a man of strong emotion. He felt deep sadness. He was lonely. He became angry. He became disturbed by people around him. He felt compassion. I also like to think he laughed frequently. Each of these emotions drew him closer to the Father.
Each feeling has something to teach us, to guide us into a fuller expression of life. Chip Dodd in his book explains what these gifts can bring:
When we hurt, we allow ourselves to acknowledge our woundedness and begin the healing process. If we never acknowledge a wound – how will it heal? It will instead fester. Feeling hurt sucks. It really does. But healing brings wholeness. Has your church hurt you? It is ok to acknowledge the fact. Say it out loud. Begin the process of healing.
Sadness brings the gift of acceptance. If we don’t lament what was or what should have been, we never get to the place where we accept what is. Sadness says that the thing we grieve mattered. We bring honor to what we grieve. The life that is no longer with us mattered. The friendship we lost mattered. The time that we have missed with our spouses matters. When you were slighted, it mattered because you matter. Please allow yourself to feel sad.
Loneliness shows us that we need to ask for help. It shows us we need to reach out for relationships to others and more importantly to God. Loneliness speaks to our great need to be in community.
Fear protects and prepares us. Fear keeps us from some situations that we should not be in. Fear also moves us to ready ourselves for the unknown. Fear allows us to see we cannot do things by ourselves; we need help. Fear can move us to live in deeper community with others. Fear brings wisdom.
Anger moves us. Anger stirs us to action. Are you angry about something in your life? Do something about it, be a force of change. Anger also warns us that something is happening inside of us. Are we angry because of feeling sadness, fear, loneliness or hurt?
Shame teaches us that we cannot do everything. You cannot be all things to all people. You have limitations. Shame also teaches us compassion. I know I have messed up in the past, so surely I can extend compassion to others who have messed up as well.
Guilt brings forgiveness, with forgiveness we find freedom. Forgiveness in turn brings us into closer community with others and ultimately God. Have you hurt someone? Seek forgiveness and find freedom.
These emotions, these feelings we try to avoid bring about fuller life. A life where we know ourselves and let ourselves be known. A life where we ride the waves instead of being pounded by them. Yes, feelings bring many ups and many downs – but what a crazy ride. A ride that brings us closer and closer to the heart of Jesus. A ride that brings us closer and closer into community with one another.
Cassie Fuerst is a quiet soul, who needs a lot of time and space to process life around her. She stays at home, acting as administrator of chaos for her three children – Phoebe, Tommy, and Junia. Her husband, Tom, has been in ministry for 10 years. She loves creating community by going to coffee with friends, having people in her home, and talking to people on the edges. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee.