While our family has heeded shelter-in-place for the last month, the sudden visitation of many emotions has caught me off-guard and made me wonder, Is this okay? One moment I’m doing housework or reading a book or talking to my husband, feeling fine, and the next, I’m ugly-crying and heaving sobs of sadness on our couch––feeling anything but “fine.”
Yet, the tears feel good. To grieve is cathartic. But something stops me, and I can’t help but wonder, Is it right to feel this way? Is it Christian?
I know I’m not alone. Many Christians, even pastors' wives and leaders, somehow believe that, of all people, we are the ones who shouldn’t struggle, who shouldn’t feel––or, at least, who shouldn’t feel certain things.
I think there are a few reasons for this.
First, weakness (and the expression of that weakness) runs against the grain of our sinful nature. The prideful “little lords” in us want to be self-sufficient, powerful, and in control, so we naturally resist anything that defies this and makes us appear weak, exposing us for what we truly are: not God.
Second, Western psychology has so over-validated and over-emphasized human feelings and expression, making them king, that for Christians it seems right and biblical to resist this cultural tide. We know our feelings don’t rule; Jesus rules, and He gives us strength and wisdom to lead our feelings by faith. Yet, in our good intentions for resisting the lordship of feelings, we tend to err too far in the opposite direction.
Third, our discomfort with emotion reveals a misunderstanding of who God is. As we learn of our Father through His Son and by His Spirit, we learn to approach Him more openly, honestly, and yes, emotionally. For many of us, a faith that lacks feeling––or that struggles to express it––is often a faith that lacks knowing God as He is.
Faith That Feels
So, friends, if you’ve been struggling as I have been with the place of emotions, I hope these three perspectives (opposite to the above) will encourage you, comfort you, and––yes––even free you to feel in a biblical and “Christian” way.
Faith that feels embraces weakness.
The world is fallen, and we are finite. We cannot fully see what God is doing in His sovereign power, nor can we wholly reconcile pain and suffering with His good purposes. Nor are we meant to. Only Christ is Lord, so we confess that these limitations are hard for us while acknowledging His perfect wisdom and infinite power.
Although our flesh naturally resists weakness and the emotion that exposes it, Scripture encourages us to embrace weakness and let it drive us to Christ. In Paul’s manifold sufferings––beatings, stoning, shipwreck, incessant dangers, sleeplessness, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure––he could have thought it “Christian” to bottle up his emotions, but instead he says this:
Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Cor. 11:28–30)
Paul freely embraces what he feels: pressure, anxiety, and weakness.
Ironically, true faith in Christ takes pride in weakness––not as an end in itself, but as a means to knowing more of Christ’s strength. Faith that feels acknowledges, accepts, and even embraces all that would draw us to depend more wholeheartedly on the fullness of Jesus, our infinite, limitless, powerful Savior and Lord. Opposite to what our flesh tempts us to believe––that Christians must “be strong” and that “having faith” means stuffing our emotions––Scripture frees us to feel. It urges us to embrace weakness––to boast in it––for the purpose of embracing Jesus, in all His wonderful glory and infinitude.
Faith that feels submits to truth.
God created us as whole people with bodies, minds, and souls. The three are intricately woven, and we can’t easily separate them, nor should we. Where the culture errs by giving too much weight to emotion is often to the detriment of our souls. Whatever the human heart feels, the Western world says, must be right and true and, therefore, submitted to as ultimate––even to our eternal destruction.
Yet, Scripture warns us that the heart is “deceitful . . . and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). Our emotions can lead us into confusing, unhelpful, even damaging places if we aren’t careful. Such was the case for Asaph, who confesses that his envy of wicked people tempted him to say untrue, accusatory words to and about God:
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (Ps. 73:13–15)
He then confesses how his emotions affected his soul: When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. (vv. 21–22)
His feelings lead him into dangerous, sinful territory––but thankfully, he doesn’t submit to them as ultimate. Instead, by faith, he leads his feelings into truth: But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. (vv. 16–17)
Faith that feels feels, but it doesn’t stop there; it submits its feelings to reality and instead allows reality to shape and direct emotions. So we confess the truth along with Asaph:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (v. 26, italics added)
Feelings aren’t king––God is––and so we submit all we feel to Him and let His truth direct and rule our hearts.
Faith that feels draws near to God.
How often is our hesitancy to feel rooted in wrong theology? How often do we believe that God is aloof, disinterested, disappointed, ashamed of, or even angry with us, especially for feeling certain emotions?
We will be helped by letting Scripture shape our theology––our grasp of who God is––and therefore our emotions. A right knowledge of God will actually free us to feel. How?
The more we know of God as our heavenly Father who invites us to approach Him with confidence, the more freely and honestly we will draw near to Him. The more we know of Jesus as the reason we can approach God the Father with such confidence––as His very Son who was cut off so we might be brought in––the more worshipfully we will draw near, even in the messiness of grief and lament. And the more we know of the Spirit as our Comforter and Helper, who both groans with us as we pray and also aligns our prayers with truth, the more securely we will draw near and pour out our hearts to the One who hears us.
Feel by Faith
Friends, to feel is indeed Christian. Our faith doesn’t mean we have all the answers and, therefore, that we trust God; it means we trust Him even when we don’t have all the answers. It means we feel as we entrust ourselves to this trustworthy God who has given us access to Himself through His Son, who can handle anything and everything we are processing, and who is able to use it for our good and His glory—until our faith turns to sight.