Do your feelings sometimes get the best of you? Feelings are vital and deserve recognition and respect ... but they need not control our lives, as Elizabeth Laing Thompson helps us understand.
Facts versus Feelings By Elizabeth Laing Thompson
The trouble with feelings is - well, a nice way of saying it is they are gifted. But like all superheroes, they possess a character flaw: sometimes they lie. Twist the truth. Exaggerate. Magnify minor details. Sometimes they misinterpret situations and people.
Here's the thing: no matter what kind of feeler you are, intense emotions always feel real. And far be it from me to suggest that the feelings themselves are not real. They are always real in the sense that they exist. Because sometimes our feelings are just feelings, not truth. Just because we feel a thing does not make it true. For example:
We may feel like a friend is mad at us . . . but our friend feels no such thing!
We may feel like God is out to get us because life is hard . . . but God adores us and wants to see us through hardship.
Feelings aren't the same thing as facts. And (as you well know) this inconsistency can get us into trouble. In families. In friendships. At church. At work. In faith. In prayer. In our struggle to accept forgiveness from God and from people. Do some feelings reflect truth and reality? Of course. But not all.
When negative feelings get the best of us - particularly feelings of depression and discouragement, doom and defeat - the facts can be our friends. When our feelings take over, when we are down and discouraged, let's seek truth. That leads us to our first skill in separating fact from feeling.
Skill #1: Make your feelings face the facts.
We have to learn how to make our feelings face the facts by searching God's Word for truths that transcend time to touch our own lives. When you feel godly emotions, bolster and expand those feelings with support from Scripture. For example:
Feeling: I feel loved by God today.
Fact: I am loved by God today - and every day!
Scriptural support: Psalm 147:11
When your emotions do not reflect the truths of God, learn to contradict those feelings with Scripture:
Feeling: God's grace isn't big enough for me.
Fact: God is rich in grace, and he lavishes it on us generously.
Scriptural support: Ephesians 1:3-8
Let Scripture edit your feelings. It may not delete them, but it can clarify and revise them. Sometimes it might even rewrite them altogether.
Whatever you feel, let Scripture in.
Skill #2: Distinguish feelings from facts.
We have a second important skill to develop: distinguishing feelings from facts. Because it's tough to meet your feelings with facts if you assume your feelings are the facts! So how do you tell the difference? I like to break it down into three steps:
Address or adiós
First, acknowledge what you're feeling. For example: I feel like my friend is mad at me.
When you have a heavy-weighted thought like this, it helps to drag it out of your secret thought world and thrust it into fresh air and sunlight. You may even want to name your feeling out loud to another trusted friend or write it down. Sometimes thoughts that sound oh-so-convincing in our heads prove themselves imposters on paper.
Now assess whether the feeling represents truth. I find it helpful to ask myself a series of questions. Why do I feel this way? What specific proof (if any) backs up this feeling? Again, I often do this on paper, because feelings can be notoriously slippery shape-changers; it's easier to nail down a feeling when you print it in black and white.
So in the I-feel-like-my-friend-is-mad-at-me example, I would assess it like this:
Why do I feel like she's mad at me?
I feel distant.
Why do I feel distant? What specific events or interactions have made me feel that way?
Last night she didn't text me back; in fact, she's been slow responding to my messages for the past week. And this morning when a group of friends met for coffee, she didn't talk to me as much as usual.
Have you and your friend had any conflict lately that you think she might be still upset about?
Not that I can think of, so . . . no.
Now I need to either address or adiós the feeling (and of course by adiós, I
mean we say goodbye to the feeling). In the is-my-friend-mad-at-me example, since the feeling involves another person, I may need to have a conversation to figure out step three. In my case, I may need to ask my friend if something is bothering her.
If she says she is angry about something, then we need to address the conflict in our relationship. We need to talk it out, apologize where necessary, and offer forgiveness.
If my friend says she isn't angry and everything is fine between us, then I need to take her at her word and release the feeling. She isn't mad at me. My feeling is simply untrue. Adiós insecurity! I need to choose to let it go and think about other things.
This ability to release is liberating and life changing, once you learn to do it. Once you workshop a feeling and decide that its season is over or it was never based in reality to begin with, take it to God in prayer, and ask him to help you let it go.
Before we give our feelings license to run free in our hearts, affecting our mood and our relationships, let's stand them up beside the facts. When strong feelings clamor for our attention, let's take a moment to insist, "First the facts! Just the facts!" Only then will we be free to feel all the feels - the real feels.
Elizabeth Laing Thompson is the author of the newly released All the Feels. She also wrote When God Says, "Wait" and When God Says, "Go." She writes at LizzyLife.com about clinging to Christ through the chaos of daily life. As a speaker and novelist, she loves finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four spunky kids, and they make her feel humbled but happy, exhausted but exhilarated, sometimes stressed but often silly - well, you know . . . all the feels.
Adapted from All the Feels: Discover Why Emotions Are (Mostly) Awesome and How to Untangle Them When They're Not by Elizabeth Laing Thompson, September 2020. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.