Feelings: Yours and Mine

Christians often have a difficulty time with feelings, especially those feelings that they consider to be sinful. After all, didn’t Jesus talk about lusting in the heart is the same as committing adultery? So, doesn’t that mean my feelings can be sinful? A good question that I have been asked several times. The question usually comes from people who have a sense of guilt about feelings they have or have had. Or, they have feelings that have trapped them in the past.

First, you need to understand that your feelings are important. Without them you would be less than human. Your feelings can show what is going on inside of you and indicate either wellbeing, or, that something is amiss and needs attention. Feelings are important in understanding your personal relationships with other people. Your feelings motivate you to respond in various ways to your environment. These feelings are all essential to your day-to-day living.

Sometimes our feelings can be difficult because we can be trapped by painful feelings. Our minds remember unpleasant things that have happened in the past. We think about things that were said that should not have been said. We remember slights. Our memories can create feelings that trap us in the past and our feelings are in control.

By allowing our feelings to take control we can sometimes act and speak in ways that we later regret. Feelings can keep us from doing what we need to do. This is especially true when we have “the blues” or even deeper depression. Our feelings can affect our health, for the mind-body connection is very real.

Our feelings are not under our conscious control. They come in response to the way we perceive the world at any given time. This is a function of our mind. We interpret what is happening where we are and what others say and do. We make value judgments about what we see and hear. Our feelings arise in our mind and are produced by the way our mind is working in a given situation. Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong; they are just feelings.

Though we can’t control when we have feelings, we can control them once we have them . We can choose to deny them, bury them, express them, and/or control them. In Psalm 32, the writer understood the danger of denying and burying his feelings. In his case, he had unconfessed sin that had been buried. He said, “I was worn out from crying all day long” (v.3), and “my strength was completely drained” (v. 4). The psalmist was having physical reactions from buried feelings. You and I will also have physical reactions from buried feelings.

Home, school, and society have programmed us in such a way that we are reluctant to express our feelings. We don’t want the possible fallout from others. We don’t want God to punish us for our feelings. To control your feelings instead of letting feelings control you is difficult, but you and I can learn to express our feelings in a responsible way. In verse 5 of Psalm 32 is how our friend solved his problem:

Then I confessed my sins to you;
    I did not conceal my wrongdoings.
I decided to confess them to you,
    and you forgave all my sins.

The writer connected his feelings with unconfessed sin. That is not always the case with you, or with me. I would not even suggest that your painful feelings are caused by unconfessed sin. You can be harassed by feelings that have nothing to do with something sinful. The writer of Psalm 42 asked, “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled?” He didn’t know why he felt the way he did, and the same can be true of you. You just feel sad and troubled, and want help.

Regardless, if you will let them, the painful feelings you have can make you aware of how much you need God’s help. Just as God helped the psalmists, He can help you to accept and to deal with your feelings in responsible ways and to revive whatever joy and peace has died in you. God can enlighten what’s dark, strengthen what’s weak, mend what’s broken, bind what’s wounded, and heal what’s sick in you.

The writer of Psalm 42 concluded: “I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.” That can be your conclusion, too.

Do You Have Caregiver Fatigue?

About ten years ago I heard the term ”caregiver fatigue” for the first time.  I was experiencing stress, insomnia, restlessness, and general dissatisfaction with life the way I was living it.  I called a counselor friend and made an appointment to see him.  He wanted to see me as a friend with no charge but I insisted on being “on the books.”

I shared the feelings listed above, but these feelings were accompanied by a desire to move to another place and start again.  I had questions about my place in the universe and what difference would it all mean after I died?  I overreacted to minor nuisances and felt tired and rundown.  I was anxious and slightly depressed.  My life revolved around ministry to people in hospital and nursing homes.  Death and dying were always there. How could I help people have hope when I was beginning to lag in hope?

I had the feeling of giving and giving until you have no more to give. You wonder if people like/love you because you do things for them or because they like/love you as the person you are? Would they like/love me for who I am if I did nothing for them except be a friend?

I shared the feelings I was having and my counselor friend said I had “caregiver fatigue.”  Anyone who is any kind of a caregiver can experience caregiver fatigue.  This includes ministers, fire fighters, police, those in medical fields, or anyone who is in a caregiving role.

What I am calling caregiver fatigue is often referred to as compassion fatigue and is defined for nurses as a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress.  It is also related to burnout. 

In professional literature compassion fatigue is usually related to personal trauma experienced in connection with vocation.  Burnout is defined as a cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress and is NOT trauma-related.  Regardless of the term, the effects on the person are the same and are very debilitating.

 If you have more than one of the following symptoms you could have the beginnings of caregiver fatigue:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Reduced sense of personal accomplishment or meaning in work
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Decreased interactions with others (isolation)
  • Depersonalization (symptoms disconnected from real causes)
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Little or no leisure time.

 I am in early stages of caregiver fatigue again.  How will I deal with it?  I am considering my workload and work schedule.  Do I really need to see everyone who wants to be seen or everyone who is ill?  Can I delegate more to others who are looking for ways to be useful?

I am trying to have more leisure time and spend time with friends and family.  I must learn the favorite word of every two-year-old: “no.”  I must devote more time to “me” and my needs.  I must learn to relax, to have fun, and enjoy life.  I must strengthen my devotional life.  I must change some of my behavior patterns, like going to a professional baseball or football game on Sunday afternoon instead of napping or studying.  I have started making friends with children.

In Scripture we see Jesus on numerous occasions leaving the multitudes and going alone to a quiet place for prayer and renewal.  He knew the value of replenishing his inner resources and you and I must follow the example of Jesus.  We simply need to act upon what we know to be in our best interests

 Yes, there are those who will be critical if a minister seems to be giving less than 150%of effort.  I was reared in that culture and it has taken a lifetime of experience for me to learn that God does not want us to burn out or to have caregiver fatigue.  He wants us to relax and enjoy the few years we have on earth.