Friday, September 07, 2007

Why Submitting Feelings to Truth is Important

In reading Living a Cross Centered Life, I was struck by a chapter that made sense of some trials in my life. C.J. Mahaney wrote that before we can be impacted by the truth of the cross, we must learn to put our emotions in their proper place. Feelings are real, and powerful, but they do not always reflect reality. Life only works when we base our decisions on truth, regardless of how we feel.

I knew that. I’ve taught that. Truth has been a theme in my life this summer. In fact I have always been fascinated by truth: by right answers, apologetics, systematic theology, consistent worldviews. Some months I am learning that my quest for truth, or for proclaiming truth, needs to come second to my relationships. God is truth, but I need to know Him more than I need to know about Him. The two greatest commandments, Jesus said, are “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbor.” Funny. Those commands seem to involve feelings.

In fact, they are commands to feel a certain way. Post-modern culture, with all its baggage from last century, finds that incomprehensible. “Obey your feelings,” is its creed. You can’t help your criminal or immoral behavior, let alone the urges that instigated your choices. The Bible, in some of its most famous verses, is arguing to the contrary. You can control your feelings. You should choose who and how you love others.

So you’re supposed to submit your feelings to truth, but you’re also supposed to center your life on a feeling. When I learned the first part, my initial reaction was to disengage from relationships. If I can’t control my emotions while in a relationship, then I had better stay out. Then the second part, the command, crept in, and I realized I was making my life about me. I didn’t think I could handle love without losing control. But I had to learn, and God was going to teach me.

I love writing autobiographies. Maybe that’s a complex. Occasionally I’ll see all my past life in a new light, and I have to write out how each part contributed to the one theme that I see at present. But I will tell you that I feel vulnerable to tell this part of my biography. I don’t usually tell anyone except people whom I have observed for a long time, and grown to trust.

The point cannot be fully made without testimony, however; so on I go. When I was fifteen, I heard people talk about sweet sixteen, and I laughed. Boys had never meant anything very special to me, so I wasn’t worried they would at sixteen. Acquaintances who were tossed about with every wind of romance were low in my estimation. And then I turned sixteen. Not immediately, but soon, I found myself suffering from the maturity process that unleashes not only massive amounts of hormones, but also a world of new experiences.

Every feeling seemed of utmost importance, and each was so much more intense than any I’d experienced in the past that I assumed it had to be “true love.” Except there was doubt. Let me explain.

I grew up on movies, books, and examples that took love, dating, and marriage very seriously. (Actually, I don’t think any book I have ever read involved dating. If you think about Jane Austen’s novels or the classics, there was no series of evening meals spent alone at a restaurant, nor trips to the movie by couple…) A prime example is Brigadoon, starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, two fantastic dancers in a tale of time, sacrifice, and the miracle of true love. When we first meet Fiona (Cyd Charisse), she is explaining to her sisters and the other girls in the village why she isn’t married yet. “I hold a dream, and there’s no compromising. I know there’s one certain laddie for me… Waitin’ for m’ dearie, and happy am I to hold my heart ‘til he comes strollin’ by.” From my parents’ implications I understood that crushes had to be controlled, even suppressed. Dating would not be allowed at the inexperienced age of sixteen, and flirting was out of the question.

By the grace of God working through what I didn’t understand, I set about a course of submitting my crush to God. Through three years, I was thrown onto my knees consistently and continually, each time I found that a young man was filling my thoughts rather than God. I can’t tell you here how many things I learned about myself, about friends, and about true love (and what it isn’t) in those three years. What was happening unwittingly in me is that I was learning through slow, painful experience that it is better to walk by faith in the truth than by my feelings. And I was practicing doing that.

A few years later, there I was again, with a different young man, wondering what God could want to teach me that He didn’t manage the first time. Of course God, who knows all things and promises to guide us with His eyes if we lean not on our own understanding, had a purpose. At this post-high school point, I was learning the other side of the coin. God wanted me to submit my feelings of attraction to Him, but He also wanted me to love the young man, selflessly, as a neighbor. There were nights I told God it wasn’t fair; the task was too hard. But I was learning. Eventually God let up on the training, and the door closed for us to even communicate with each other.

And then the foundation that had been laid started to come in handy. Not sensing the need to go to God so frequently for help, I drifted. I didn’t feel like praying. I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t feel direction from God, or inspired to follow. My Bible readings were rote, and while there were glints of truth and of God’s involvement, overall I felt adrift.

Feel, feel, feel. I had to cling to something, because this path was not pleasant. In fact it is empty. We need time with God to make us content. I need Him for everything: every dream, every intention, and every choice. So in this time I learned to affirm that God is who He says He is regardless of how I feel. God loves me even if I don’t feel it. He is always good. He is always there. He is always faithful, and the giver of every good gift.

I’m still learning. Still struggling against the temptation to let my feelings tell me what to do. When I feel lonely, or tired, or compass-less, or weak, I am learning to seek God, to claim His promises. Frank Peretti wrote about truth in his book Nightmare Academy. In it is a scene where the main character is in a virtual reality room, and his senses are all telling him that the ever-changing virtual reality is the only reality. Until he creates a delay in the computer program, by which he gets a glimpse of the cement wall beyond the hologram every six seconds. And he sees a ladder. He grabs a ladder that the computer-generated reality insists to his senses isn’t there. And he pulls himself up, clinging to the ladder like we cling to the truth found in the Bible. That’s how I walk a confusing world.

By surrendering my heart to God in the matter of romance, I trust that in His timing the “true love” He will commission me to feel will be more potent having behind it the confidence of truth. And this is how we look at the cross, reflecting on its truths, in order that our hearts might be deeply touched by feelings generated out of ultimate reality.

To God be all glory.
Thanks to Snapshots of Joy for the picture.

1 comment:

åslaug said...

Wow, people should read this! They should comment it!

It's so important to that facts (and Truth) is more important than feelings. Feelings fluctuate too much. You really DON'T want a life based on feelings. You want the truth.

Thank you so much for writing such important things, Lisa, you're so much an inspiration and encouragement!!

wishing you God's best,