Read an Excerptfeel the power of listening to your heart
By MATTHEW ELLIOT
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 2008 Matthew Elliott
All right reserved.
I sat with Ben over coffee.
A family friend for many years, Ben was talking with me about my favorite subject these days-how so many of us have been disconnected from our feelings and emotions. Then Ben told me one of the saddest stories I've heard in a long time.
A man from his church had asked to have breakfast with him. This friend of Ben's was spiritually strong, a pillar in the church. Anyone would say he was doing all the right things in pursuing the model spiritual life.
Over plates of eggs and bacon, the two of them talked about family news, their church, and books they'd read recently. In time, they finished their food and conversation. Ben thought their breakfast was about done.
But as Ben was getting ready to stand and leave, his friend blurted out, "I have to tell you something."
Ben realized then that his friend had invited him to breakfast for a different reason-that it was something hard for him to say, and he'd taken the entire meal to muster the nerve to say it.
"I am living out all the things I should be doing for God," he finally said. "I'm doing what I'm supposed to, like I've been taught. But I'm not happy. I'm not passionate about anything. To be perfectly honest, I'm not even passionate about God. I feel nothing."
He was overcome with emotion as he confessed what he had kept secret for so long. "Ben, I'm dead inside."
As Ben told me this story, his face displayed the anguish he felt for his friend. Then he asked me this penetrating question: "How might your understanding of feelings and emotions help this man?"
The sad thing is this man is only one of many who suffer in the same way. I've been there. I suspect you have as well. We've faithfully pursued a spiritual and godly life, yet somehow we find ourselves numb, without passion or pleasure, emotionally dead.
For years we've been taught by our culture and in our churches that emotions are not to be trusted; that reason and knowledge and logic are the firm foundation on which to build our faith and our spiritual lives; that it's our attitudes and actions that matter, not how we feel about things.
This disconnect between our faith and our feelings has been the focus of my heart ever since I was a teenager. I've been intrigued by what it means to truly love God and hate evil.
Trying to figure it all out, I studied philosophy, culture, and the Bible, and I've come to believe that we have fallen victim to two things that are terribly wrong.
First, we have made our relationship with God more about fulfilling our duty than expressing our passion. We make our spiritual lives into a list of dos and don'ts. We pursue this list more than we actually pursue Jesus. And this leads us to a life that eventually becomes tired and numb, devoid of feeling, dead.
Recently, I was talking to a friend whose small group was studying holiness-that is, being pure and pleasing in God's sight. Around the circle, each person commented about what it meant to be holy. Most of them mentioned something they could have done to be better or more perfect-something they thought they needed to achieve in order to be more holy. Some spoke of how hard it was to do everything they were "supposed to do" as Christians. (My friend commented that everyone seemed so tired.)
One woman shared her experience of serving a shift at a homeless shelter between two and four in the morning. My friend was in awe of that kind of commitment, but the woman went on to berate herself for failing to say a helpful thing to a fellow volunteer that morning. It was something "on her list" that she had failed to do. And in her mind, it was one more thing that kept her from being more holy.
My point here is not so much about whether doing this one thing would have made this woman more holy. It's that this sort of thing, multiplied many times in a single life, robs a person of the exuberance and passion and excitement of life with God. In time, you would expect her to wind up like Ben's friend: numb and dead inside but always looking for the next item to check off on the list, the one more thing to do to become more holy. In the meantime, she's losing her ability to feel.
The second thing that has gone terribly wrong is that we have become indoctrinated in the belief that emotions are unreliable, dangerous, and bad. Philosophy, psychology, our scientific culture, and the church have taught us that logic and reason must reign supreme, while feelings are trivialized and seen as something to be suppressed or ignored. Many successful contemporary writers have brainwashed us into believing that we must stifle what we feel in favor of what we think.
The messages I have read recently in popular inspirational books include the ideas that emotions leave us in a fog and cloud our thinking; the notion that in order to live a godly life, we must control our emotions; and the belief that following our emotions often leads us to sin.
I've heard nationally known speakers assert that anger, sorrow, and jealousy are signs of spiritual weakness; that our feelings cannot be trusted; and that God cares about what we believe, not what we feel.
These are all myths. None of them are true; none of them hold up to good science; and none of them are from the Bible.
And yet, by buying into these myths, many of us live distorted lives. We repress the very emotions that would give us life. Some of us have abandoned looking for God altogether or have left the church because we felt we couldn't find the new heart we were looking for.
But many spiritual leaders through the centuries got it right. We need to recapture some of the truths they taught. In the words of A.W. Tozer, "A state of emotion always comes between the knowledge and the act.... God intended that truth should move us to moral action. The mind receives ideas, mental pictures of things as they are. These excite the feelings and these in turn move the will to act in accordance with the truth.... But be sure that human feelings can never be completely stifled. If they are forbidden their normal course, like a river they will cut another channel through the life and flow out to curse and ruin and destroy."
I have come to believe that our emotions were given to us by God to drive us to our best.
I have come to believe that emotions are among the most logical and dependable things in our lives.
I have come to believe that emotions give us a window to see truth like nothing else.
I have come to believe that the true health of our spiritual lives is measured by how we feel.
That is the great power in listening to your heart.
BLOG 01: FEEL
ANDREW ].....[ I don't remember the day I decided to buy into those ideas, but you're right. I did. But I wasn't the victim. I chose them, and in some ways I like them. Feelings and emotions are dangerous. But the more I dwell on the teaching of Scripture, the more I realize how dangerous "controlling" my emotions has become. Sadly, I bought into the teaching-teaching that I believe is false teaching. How many facets of my life has it affected? Yet in all this discussion of feelings versus duty, is there still a place for duty (in the sense of loyalty)?
REBECCA ].....[ As I read this first chapter, I realized that I have often felt like Ben's friend. Life oftentimes just feels like a routine, going through all the motions and doing all the "shoulds" in life, but never being satisfied with where I am going or who I am becoming. Sometimes I even lack a passion for life; my life feels empty, hollow, and like nothing else matters anymore. But, I often think to myself, good Christians shouldn't feel this way. However, it is only when we begin to acknowledge what we struggle with, and recognize how to best help others understand that these feelings are "normal" and "OK," that we will be able to see a change in the world and people around us.
This past year, I had major spine surgery. I was pretty upset because it not only took me away from my job as a teacher, but it kept me out all semester and away from things I really enjoyed, like sports and working out. The past 8 months, I have not been able to do much of anything physically. While I am gradually able to do more and more, like walking and swimming, for the first 5 months, I was homebound, lying in bed, and pretty much confined to the four walls of my room. I mention this story because, as I think about this experience, I realize that maybe this surgery was what I needed to stop the monotony of the every-day-routine that I was in, rarely taking time for what mattered, too consumed with work or other things. I asked myself, as I had much time to think and ponder, what was I really living for? What gave my life meaning? And those are questions I continue to ask today. But what I do know is that it was OK for me to feel that way; it was OK to be upset and scared, because there were a lot of unknowns. But through feeling these things, I was able to work through some of those feelings and begin to have an appreciation for what I could do. I know that now I can be more sympathetic to those around me who are much worse off, who can't breathe on their own, who can't walk, and who won't ever recover. So it is my continual prayer that God continues to allow me not only to heal, but to genuinely share the emotions I went through, because I know others can relate in some way, shape, or form.
MARIAN ].....[ I made my decision years ago-feelings are too painful to be indulged in. Barriers are safely in place-how dare I feel? Perhaps my dysfunctional family background was to blame-a mother suffering with mental illness and in and out of psychiatric hospitals; father, self-centred and looking for relationships outside the home. How do I cope if mother hates me today? Or perhaps I would be the one in favour? What if I displease my father? I never could figure out what I did that was so wrong. No, feelings are not safe. Best to shut them behind iron walls. But as an adult ... hear my cry, Lord, to be able to relate to You with a passion that responds to Your love. Is there hope, Lord? Can I once again find freedom in You?
But perhaps I am not so alone in being unable to really feel. Maybe the path to wholeness lies in being like Ben's friend and admitting to our struggle. There must be more to being a Christian than just working for You, Lord, and trying harder.
SARAH ].....[ This view of emotions is one that has been taught to me since a very early age. I have been taught that worship offered in an emotional way leads to a worldly, tainted offering to God that is sensuous and self-centered-in other words, how wrong this was. I have been brought up not to feel toward God, in all my interactions and worship. But I also believed that God was One Who does not feel toward me. If God is unemotional, how can I interact on a personal level with Him?
JULIE ].....[ I'm so looking forward to digging into this book, because I feel I'm "dead" inside. I know a lot of truths about the Lord, and I've been walking with him for 18 years, yet oftentimes I feel like I don't KNOW Jesus. I don't know the sweetness of his fellowship and communion. I'm a type A, list person by nature, so it's difficult to put aside my "to do" list to hear and respond to Jesus. There are so many other things vying for my attention and time. I long to replace the "deadness" with "life." I long to know the joy of my salvation.
I have heard many messages/sermons about emotions, and they have led me to conclude that emotions can't be trusted; therefore, it's just easy to stay in this "dead" state. It doesn't help that I was raised in a family that didn't deal well with emotions (conflicts were brushed under the rug, and most kinds of confrontation were avoided or sidestepped).
JARED ].....[ Sometimes we do things that we do not feel like doing. Although this is an important lesson for the developing psyche of a five-year-old, I have noticed in myself that without the feeling, the result is bland. My most memorable achievements in life have been those things that I might have been hesitant about, yet sensed the inner urgings to proceed, to jump in, to go. I am still learning to listen and to heed, but I know that those feelings are God. Prodding and nudging, He garners a response: positive or negative. Those feelings, and that response, get us going toward the kingdom.
Enter the discussion at www.faithfulfeelings.com.
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Excerpted from feel the power of listening to your heart by MATTHEW ELLIOT Copyright © 2008 by Matthew Elliott. Excerpted by permission.
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