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.

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Can I Forgive? Part II

In the last blog I wrote that I can forgive if I know what forgiveness is not. That is because many people have an uninformed view of forgiveness. In this blog I am saying that I can forgive if I know how to forgive.

In plain English, forgiveness means we give up feelings of resentment against another person. It means we renounce anger against another person. Forgiveness means we refrain from imposing punishment on someone who has offended us.   We do not demand satisfaction. That is how God has forgiven us.

Throughout the New Testament the followers of Jesus are repeatedly called to forgive those who wrong them. Jesus said we are to forgive our brother. Who is our brother? Jesus does not spell it out for us. Jesus intends for us to forgive others as he as forgiven us. In Mark 11:25 Jesus said “you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.” Apparently, God’s willingness and ability to forgive us is limited by our unwillingness to forgive others. More about this later.

Paul wrote to the Colossian Christiansforgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.[3:13]. Notice that Paul does not identify who anyone is. We are not to forgive only family or friends; we are to forgive anyone. This means that if God dismisses or lets go of our offensive behavior toward him, we must dismiss the offensive behavior toward us from other people.

Forgiveness is costly and that is why we don’t like to forgive. So, I want to forgive, but how do I do it?

First, I forgive repeatedly. In Matthew 18 Peter suggested, probably with pride, that it was a great thing to forgive someone 7 times. This was being very kind, because according to Jewish tradition, one is expected to forgive only 3 times. This belief was based upon a misunderstanding of a text in the prophet Amos. In chapter one Amos repeatedly uses this formula starting in verse 3: This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. In verse 6 the same thing is said about Gaza. Then in verse 9 the same pronouncement is made against Tyre.   In verse 11 it is Edom and so on. God brings judgment upon such-and-such a city. So, the rabbis taught, God himself never forgave more than three times.  Jesus turned that teaching on its head.

We are expected to forgive, again and again – it’s a commitment that is to be sustained every day of our lives. It is not a single action, feeling or thought. Forgiveness is a way of life!

Second, I forgive even when I don’t feel like it. Peter had gone the extra mile when he says “up to 7 times.” But Jesus surprised him and said, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus was making it clear that you forgive even when you don’t feel like it.

How do you forgive the same person seventy-seven times? Not by feelings, I assure you. You do so out of the conviction that God has forgiven you by choice and because you are responding to his love and forgiveness. It’s a matter of deciding to obey God.

One outstanding example of forgiving when we don’t feel like it occurred when Corrie Ten Boom met a former Nazi Officer who had abused her and her sister when they were in a prison camp during World War II.

After the war, Corrie had been traveling from place to place speaking on the need for forgiveness. After one speech, a man came up and said, “Yes, it is good that God forgives us.” The man was recognized instantly. He said he had become a Christian and asked Corrie to forgive him. As he reached out his hand towards her, Corrie resisted. Then, in obedience to God, as she extended her hand towards him she felt the surge of God’s Spirit pour through her in a supernatural act of forgiveness. Corrie could let some things go and give forgiveness.

 Third, I forgive for the sake of my own well-being. In my anger or pain, I may feel that I should withhold forgiveness until the other person has said, “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. This really isn’t very helpful. It sets me up to be a victim twice.  I am giving power to the person who has hurt me. Hanging on to grudge is like parking it in the living room. To withhold forgiveness is like taking poison and thinking the other person is going to die.

I should forgive for the sake of my own well-being and inner peace.   All of that anger and disappointment doesn’t hurt the other person at all, but they are making a nervous wreck out of me – and you. Forgive them for your own sake.