Feelings

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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.

 

cassiephotoCassie 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.

Put On Your Boxing Gloves

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My father-in-law was an amateur boxer. For a long time we had his old punching bag hanging in our garage. It really came in handy during times when one of our kids needed to release some anger or frustration and just chill out. So often as a pastor’s spouse there is a range of negative emotions needing to be released or boxed out: betrayal when you are gossiped about by someone in the church, pain when someone leaves the church, discouragement, apathy, frustration, depression, and loneliness–one of the top feelings consistently reported by pastors’ spouses. How do we combat (or box) some of these challenging emotions in ministry? I have three suggestions that have helped me over the years:

Abide
Abide is a word I have been mulling over the past couple years. I have John 15:5 displayed in a couple different places: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It is a reminder to keep abiding, to keep praying. I have especially needed this reminder when feeling lonely, distant, and upset with God.

Recently I was taking a walk and talking to God about an extreme burden I had. For days I felt like there was a rock on my chest. I was having trouble breathing and sleeping. Every time I prayed, I felt no different. I pressed on with abiding and had it out with him one night. I boxed with God. I lay out all my raw emotions and told him I either needed to get on sleeping/anxiety pills or he had to do what I could not do. I prayed, “God, take this burden from me.” I reminded him that he told us to give him our burdens and that he would give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30). I demanded rest physically and emotionally. I told him he needed to respond by taking my burdens when I brought them to him because I felt like giving up. It wasn’t immediate, but I realized the next day that I slept better that night. The rock was gone. I felt lighter. Every time that the burden returned (sometimes ten times a day) I gave it to him and he has been faithful to keep the rock off me.

I have been thanking and praising him for this answered prayer. Had I not persisted in abiding, despite the silence I was feeling from him, I would not have experienced the joy of finally hearing him. And it is so good. When these feelings of discouragement, worry, fear, frustration and loneliness enter your thoughts, immediately take those thoughts and release them to God in prayer.  He will meet your deepest needs. Have a heart-to heart, a boxing match, with God. Thank God in faith for what he is going to do. Then, release it. Box with God. He can take it. When was the last time you boxed with God and laid out all your raw emotions before him?

Exercise
There is something to say about the endorphins being released, and the relationship of exercise to emotional health. I wish I could boast consistency with exercise, but alas, I can’t. And since I can’t, I can only attest to the difference I feel emotionally when exercising versus not exercising. One of my favorite things to do is speed walk, either by myself or with a friend. Exercise is something I long to make a lifetime habit. My husband has developed this habit over the years and has been inspiring me with his dedication. He recently participated in his first triathlon on Father’s Day. The kids and I couldn’t wait to cheer him on.

Play
I see play as synonymous with rest. It is easy for us to forget to play in ministry, but it’s so important to don our boxing gloves and make room for this. The list is endless: travel, a retreat, book club, supper club, have a neighbor or someone over for lemonade (Len and I have a list of those we want to invite over this summer for lemonade on the porch or for ice cream sundaes on Sunday), connect and socialize with other pastors’ spouses who may also be feeling lonely, jump on the trampoline with your kids, take a day trip or a longer trip with your spouse or some friends or a sibling. My mom, sister and I are going to plan a trip together (inspired by my husband who went with his dad and sister to the Grand Canyon). Sometimes it just simply helps to get away from your ministry work and come back with a renewed perspective. It’s like when I get away from my kids. I come back a better mom because of the break.

You might also develop or foster a new hobby. My husband and I have reached our midlife years. I turned 40 this year (gulp). Just yesterday on a lunch date we talked about the importance of continuing to try new things to combat staleness and help break up the grind of normal life routines. My husband talked about taking a cooking class, I talked of learning to rock climb. We talked about taking a ballroom dance class together. I am rhythmically challenged, and I think this will provide lots of laughs between us. Perhaps if I state my plans to you this will ensure I will follow my own advice! Sometimes our role is to help our spouse to play by planning something fun. Maybe we need to take the lead in adding spice to our lives.

 

Amy Luchetti-ExecutiveTeamAmy Luchetti met her husband, Lenny, at Houghton College where he was studying to be a preacher and she a teacher. They have been in many ministry positions together ranging from a small rural church to larger multi-staff churches. Lenny has served as youth pastor, assistant pastor, and lead pastor. He now invests in pastors as he teaches at Wesley Seminary on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University. Amy has served alongside Lenny as a partner in ministry. She also loves her work as an academic specialist at a local elementary school. Amy’s greatest blessings are her husband and three children.