Feelings. Did you cringe a little at that word? Did you become slightly uncomfortable? Somewhat wary and guarded like I did? When I hear the word feelings my default response is to squirm. I’ve never been good at acknowledging and expressing my emotions. It has always seemed safer to ignore and deny them.
When God created humans in His image, He intentionally gave us emotions. All of them. Even Jesus, the only sinless, perfect person to ever live on earth experienced feelings that many of us consider sinful, negative, to be avoided. Anger. Grief. Sorrow. Loneliness. Disappointment. These feelings were weaved throughout the life of God’s Son while on earth. And yet I am regularly guilty of evasion rather than accepting them for the honest feelings they are.
Because they are an honest emotional response. That doesn’t mean my feelings are right or wrong, or based on fact or truth. It doesn’t mean they are always appropriate for the situation. But they are real, and pretending they aren’t is not helpful to my heart’s condition. My soul cannot endure the crushing weight of suppressed emotions. My body cannot continue to suffer the consequences of my efforts to soothe and numb emotions with chocolate chips and peanut butter.
I need to learn to wrestle well.
“To wrestle well means acknowledging my feelings but moving forward, letting my faith lead the way.” Lysa TerKeurst – from her brilliant book It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way.
Acknowledging my honest feelings. They matter. To me and to God. Sometimes my feelings will conflict with my faith. But that’s okay. The problem lies in my attempt to hide my feelings and struggle from myself and God. Faking being fine while the deception slowly destroys my soul. If I’m sad, I’m sad. If I’m discouraged, stressed or scared, I am. That doesn’t surprise God. He knows. He isn’t shocked, disgusted or angry with me. He loves me unconditionally. It is in that unfailing love that He patiently and kindly waits for me to tell Him all about it. And truthfully, sometimes He waits a long time, and sometimes, well, I confess He is still waiting.
And if God is still waiting, then logically, I am not moving forward. Acknowledging my feelings doesn’t mean allowing them indefinite, complete access to every corner of my heart. They have their time. And then they don’t. And if they are lingering around, then maybe, just maybe, they are taking up precious space that belongs to God.
Human relationships fracture and fail when communication wanes. I don’t think it is any different with my relationship with God. Intimacy cannot grow, it cannot even be sustained when I withhold my true feelings from God. And although my feelings are very real, they are not always a true reflection of what is happening around me or to me. I need to listen for God’s voice, for His perspective, for His truth.
That’s where the wrestling comes in. I find myself holding onto my messy emotions. Offering them to God, and then taking them back again. Disagreeing with His whispers. Challenging His shouts. Doubting and questioning His answers and direction when it isn’t what I want to hear. But …. still bringing my troubled heart and thoughts to God. A dialogue continues.
That is my understanding of how to wrestle well. To include God in my struggle. To let my faith guide and carry me through the painful feelings, discouragement and disappointment. To seek God’s truth and not my own. Especially when I don’t understand the purpose and reason for the darkness of my creeping shadows.
My faith grows stronger when I wrestle well. My feet and voice become less shaky. Just as physical wrestling develops and strengthens the body’s muscles, my faith muscles gain firmness and resiliency with each use. That is a good thing. A positive outcome. An affirmation that my struggles aren’t in vain and that God continues to transform me into the likeness of Christ. Even when I feel very un-Christlike. Even when I am.
God created humans in His image. With emotions. Including the difficult ones. When I wrestle well with my honest, messy feelings, my faith deepens. As my faith expands, so does my confidence and assurance in my Saviour’s love for me. He keeps me steady. Whatever I feel.
Wrestle well, my friend.
You have written a lot of good points here. Like you've written about, there are feelings that I have tried to avoid or didn't think I should have or acknowledge, but not acknowledging them wasn't helpful. That didn't make the feelings go away; it just left them unprocessed. All of our emotions are part of our human experience. They're there. It's more authentic and it deepens our human experience and growth to acknowledge, validate, understand, and process our feelings. Wrestling well is a good way to think about it. Thanks for writing about this.
Your article immediately brought to my mind the hymn “It is well with my soul”. And how like waves we can be tossed about by our feelings. But then comes the calm and the peace of knowing that there’s a new day on the horizon. Lots of visual pictures as I read through this.
I love the book of James... 1:2-4
“consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let your perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. NIV
And now I need to sit and write ....