Heads up: Untwisting Scriptures that were used to tie you up, gag you, and tangle your mind: Book 3 Your Words, Your Emotions will be free on Kindle until November 9th, 2021. Download your copy here.
Perhaps you’ve been taught that your feelings lie to you. That they will lead you astray, away from God and down Satan’s path, so you shouldn’t believe them.
That really never made sense to me (even in the days before I understood trauma), because feelings are just expressing feelings. They’re not making a statement of truth or falsehood.
You can say, “I feel like God doesn’t love me. That’s a lie, right?”
But that’s not really an expression of your feelings. The expression of your feelings would be, for example, “I feel shame when I think about God looking at me.” (And that leads you to conclude that God doesn’t love you.)
Shame is the feeling here. (One of the Six Big Negative Emotions that I address in this book.)
Ah! Instead of immediately rebuking yourself for believing a lie (“God doesn’t love me”) you can perhaps gingerly look at or touch that powerful feeling of shame. Why is it there? Where did it come from?
Perhaps you’ve been taught that your feelings should be the “caboose” in your life and your “faith” should be the train engine. (This means your “truth statements” are supposed to be the engine. That is, your decisions in your intellect.)
This didn’t make a lot of sense to me either, because I thought that if you actually believe something to be true, then it would feel true without effort. (For example, I actually believe that what I see when I look out the window accurately represents the scene I will experience when I walk outside. That feels true without effort.)
But there’s often a disconnect between the intellect and the experience. In order to live the kind of Christian life God talks about in the New Testament, those two have to come into alignment.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “I know that’s true, but it just doesn’t feel true.” They’re expressing the disconnect between the intellect and the experience.
So let’s say I have the house temperature set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit with the cold air blasting out of the central air vents. You come to me complaining that the house is hot.
“No, look,” I say. “It’s not hot; it’s actually cold. It’s set at 55. I have to wear a jacket in here, see?”
You say, “Ok, I see that. The room feels like it’s blazing, but I see that it’s really not. It’s really cold.”
I think almost everyone I know would rather base their lives on what’s actually true rather than simply what they feel. But they sense a problem with lining up the feelings with the truth that they intellectually know.
I grew up with, “Don’t trust your feelings, don’t base your life on your feelings, live rationally, live from what you know (intellectually) is true, act like you believe it, and your feelings will follow.”
So you say, “I’ll try very hard to believe that it’s really cold in this room, even though I feel hot.”
Going on intellectual facts when the feelings aren’t in alignment has been called faith, but it can feel like pretending.
So you lie on the couch with your limbs spread wide telling yourself, “It’s really cold in here. It’s really cold in here.”
Your checks are flushed, but you’re telling yourself to ignore those feelings of “hotness” and simply intellectually believe the truth of “coldness” that I showed you.
In one of the most beautiful prayers of the Bible, Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16-19,
that according to the riches of his glory
[God] may grant you to be strengthened with power
through his Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—
that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“It’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold,” you murmur over and over. And you are burning up.
This isn’t what Paul was talking about. Not at all.
He prayed that the people he was writing to would know the love of Christ
. . . that surpasses knowledge.
The second know is the knowing of intellect, like book learning. Paul is saying here that the love of Christ is beyond intellectual grasping.
The first one is the knowing of the senses, the perception, the experience. The feelings.
In fact, Paul knew that experiential knowing was far more powerful than intellectual knowing.
When we have known something experientially, when it “feels true,” it will be a far more solid belief than something we hang on to intellectually.
Paul knew that feelings weren’t simply to be dismissed, but were a thermostat of the deepest level of belief. He wasn’t afraid to pray that our feelings would be affected by the deepest kind of knowing. He wasn’t afraid to pray that our knowing would be experiential.
We must not be afraid to pray that either.
When we find that the heat you were experiencing came not from the room but from a raging fever, we realize that feelings serve an important purpose as that internal thermostat. Something is wrong, something needs to be taken care of. There’s more than just lack of belief to try to overcome—there’s also healing to be done.
When that’s accomplished, there won’t be any need to continually remind yourself that the room is cold. You’ll believe it because you’ll experientially know it to be true.
So, to answer the question in the title, how can you know when you should listen to your feelings?
I would argue that you should always listen to them. Without becoming so introspective that you can’t function, don’t ignore them; seek to understand them.
I would argue that emotions don’t lie. You just need to find out what it is they’re telling the truth about.
And you want to be able to perceive what is standing in the way of aligning your emotions and your deepest experiential beliefs with the truth God has told you about Himself and about you.
Depending on the depth of trauma and moral injury, this can be a long process. But as you seek to truly know the true Lord Jesus Christ, through His Word, through the Holy Spirit, through His creation, and through the input of wise (and trauma-informed) Jesus followers, your own feelings can more and more agree with what Paul prayed, so that you yourself can truly say, from the depth of your experiential knowing,
According to the riches of His glory
God has granted ME to be strengthened with power
Through His Spirit in my inner being
So that Christ is dwelling in MY heart through faith.
I am rooted and grounded in love.
I have strength to comprehend, with all the saints,
What is the breadth and length and height and depth—
And I KNOW the love of Christ, that surpasses knowledge.
Indeed, I am filled with all the fulness of God.
May more and more Christians be filled with this experiential knowledge of the goodness, grace, and love of Jesus Christ, so that their feelings will express the truth they know in the innermost parts of their hearts.
I talk about emotions in more detail in the second half of this new book, which you can get without charge until November 9th.