on the management of feelings

Posted: February 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

Once upon a time, I believed that I couldn’t move forward on something until my feelings said so.  I “couldn’t” do something because I was afraid, or because I resented the need to do it, or because the feeling of motivation wasn’t surging hot through my veins.  I would wait, struggling, trying to change my thoughts and emotions first, believing action couldn’t come until feelings directed them.

That’s a dangerous place to live.  If I wait until I feel like it, until confidence surges through me, until I want to, until I’m driven with helpful energy, until it makes sense to me, until there is no protest or resistance or resentment in me, I won’t do most things that are good for me and others and honor the God who gave it all for me.

If I do only what I feel like doing, I’m sure to be miserable (which is ironically the opposite of what we mostly tend to believe).  This is because my settings default to being fearful, lazy, self-centered, short-sighted, and gluttonous.  If I only do what I feel like doing, I will ruin my health, wreck my relationships, devastate my finances, and push my mind, will and emotions off into a place where stability just cannot be attained.

One of the nicest things about being just-about-50 is understanding what emotions are valuable for, and where they are useless.  Emotions are not bad things, though for quite a long passage I thought they were.  After all, they lie – they get all excited when I need to be careful, they misinterpret good things bad and bad as good, they allege that everything is horrible when the obstacle is really not such a big deal.  They take over when it’s least convenient for them to do so.  And they are powerfully difficult to pull into order.  So they seemed bad, and I treated them as enemies for awhile, as I was working out what their purpose was.

It was freeing to come to understand that my feelings are just a barometer or thermometer of sorts.  They aren’t there to tell me what to do or what not to do – they’re pretty stupid and untrustworthy on that front.  They are there to tell me what’s going on inside me.  They are helpful in measuring my expectations and resentments, both of which are things that must be dealt with firmly and put down if I want to live at peace and with joy.  They can easily help me catch myself in the act of believing a lie.  They often point a giant blinking neon arrow at some place where I’m hissing and spitting and clawing at God, which helps me see that it’s time to (again, for the billionth time) surrender.  They show me where things are not in order in a relationship with another person, and now I understand that getting it in order is not about making the other person do differently nearly so much as it is about making my own adjustments in thoughts, attitudes and choices of ways to react.  Or sometimes they tell me very simple and basic stuff, like maybe I need to sleep, or get a drink, or eat something good for me.

Here in the midst of being middle-aged, I have better strategies for dealing with runaway feelings.  Oh, they make a lot of noise, but they don’t have even a fraction of the power that they first might seem to have.  My strategy for dealing with problematic feelings these days looks like:

  • Stop and really listen to what it is saying, rather than either reacting to it or stuffing it under (oh BOY was I a stuffer, for such a long time!)  Listen at length.  Listen with care.  Poke around.  Examine, not looking for how to assuage it with outer circumstance changes but just seeking to know what’s really being said by any given emotion.
  • Offer the feeling to God, trusting that He’ll do some stuff with it that I can’t, and that where healing is needed in me, He’s got that covered too.
  • Be gentle with myself, as far as intentionally not condemning myself for the feeling nor expecting that if I were a better person, such feelings wouldn’t come.  I’m a person.  Feelings, even and especially out-of-pocket feelings, are just part of the human experience.  No need for shame.
  • Meanwhile – not AFTER doing all of the above, but CONCURRENTLY – choose to do right things anyway.  Just put on my big boots and step right over the protest squealing and writhing, and just do the next right thing.  The feelings will sometimes act like the freakin’ world is ending, but repeated experience has shown me that doing the next right thing inevitably brings an order that gets me past the “I’m dying” passage with the only death being death to self, which is a thing Jesus was and is all about.
  • Insist on meditating on good truths.  Focusing on a problem feeling generally just makes it get bigger and harder to handle, at least for me.  Focusing on good truths tends to shrink the problem feeling.  Clarity and healing come over time, as I choose to focus on what brings life instead of what builds the crazy.

Following this plan helps me manage feelings.  The longer I follow it, the more feelings – even the yucky ones – become my friends as I understand them better, and they spend less time and energy wrecking my life and relationships.  Feelings WILL fall into line under this strategy – or at least that’s what my own extensive personal experience has shown me.  Another great benefit of doing it this way is I’m developing ever-increasing discernment about those “good” feelings that have been known in the past to fool me into going down a wrong road.  I suppose that’s just a benefit of knowing myself and the world around me from a more mature perspective.

All this is just one thing on a long list of reasons I am thrilled to be turning 50 in less than a month.  This passage ROCKS.

If your feelings are kicking your butt, may these notes give you a strategy for changing that story.

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