Monday, March 27, 2017

FEEL... growing to see the gift and strength of emotion

A few years ago, we listened to a sermon series from Tim Keller that later became his book The Prodigal God.  When we finished, I made a mental list:  Things Our Kids Must Hear / Read Before They Go... (and grow out of our home).  Keller's series is the first on the list.

Nancy Pearcy and Francis Schaeffer are on the list.  There will be something from the Rebelution crowd...  And a few from Piper (of course).  And now also this book by Matthew Elliot:  Feel:  the power of listening to your heart.  It's a Biblical look at emotions, a very practical, helpful guide to sharpening your understanding of your own heart; this book was a  very needed gift.  As I read, I felt like I was in a growth spurt, climbing up some emoto-meters on a sacred doorframe.  This message seems to me an enormous help toward maturity and holiness and sensitivity for whole soul health and relationships.  

It must be noted that, I think, the book has a pretty terrible subtitle.  Bad enough to solidify in one or two of us Ks a serious enough (mis)judgement that we were ready to skip this gem altogether... just because of that one dumb line.   Having now devoured the book and profited from every page, I firmly believe that the subtitle is the last dumb line in the whole book.   And true, the book actually does address where and how and why there is goodness in "listening to your heart" but the way that our culture sings that song, even with those exact words, (in too many princess movies and all sorts of lines of deception and lure) I think it would have been much better to invite people in, to read the substance of the book before using Disney's words to mean something far better than Disney's ever dreamed.  

So... emotion.  It turns out, as Matthew Elliot exposes it, that much of what the wider Christian community has assumed is a "Christian view" or understanding of emotion, just really wasn't a fully bodied appreciation of the gift that the God of the Bible has delighted to create in us.  I think as Christians, we have tried to compensate for what seems often like a sinful emphasis on "just do whatever feels good to you" and have ended up tossing out a gift that we've actually been commanded to guard and grow, that was meant to lead us in wisdom, and to be a sparkling, winsome display of the fruit of the Spirit in our ordinary lives where we live in a dry and weary land.   

A wise and beautiful friend shared with me this past fall how she's been learning in counseling that her sadness isn't a bad thing.  For so long she assumed and acted as if feeling sad meant not trusting God.  Not so.  Sadness is needful and entirely appropriate in it's time.   

Another dear friend saw me right after we said good-bye to Matt's parents last month.... We would fly back to our China home the next day and I had a thousand weights on my heart about good-byes, preparations, the days of travel ahead of us, and landing back to in difficult place.  My friend said to me something about feeling deserted by God.   True, I was a wreck:  so sad and low strength.  But I wasn't doubting God's goodness or His faithfulness to His promises to me.  Not at all!  I was feeling sad.  And it was a worthy moment to feel exactly that.  Even knowing well and clinging to God's goodness, nearness, faithfulness.

I've felt so helped in reading this book to realize that my emotions are indeed something that I should pay careful attention to, be honest with myself and others about, and wisely choose how I let them guide me.

The book tied in to another gift that Matt and I received in January.  We met a few times  with a wise counselor friend and were very surprised to realize that though I am an intense "feeler" and can be crazy longwinded, I don't communicate my emotions, or actually name my feelings, very well at all.  Too often he would hear me trying to explain a hard situation as me being hard on someone else (whoever I was interacting with).  Instead, what would be so much better is to simply express is how I'm feeling... That way he can comfort me (which is what I want and need) rather than respond by trying to fix the situation or address or defend the other person (which is not where we need to go at all.)   

Our counselor suggested such a simple thing as asking each other "How are you feeling about...?" (instead of our normal "What do you think about...?") or "How do you feel when I do/say....?"  Or, a big one for the wife whose husband isn't the most verbose of all men, "dear, it looks like you're feeling.... Am I understanding you rightly?"

An unexpected and fantastically helpful blessing of this emotional awareness has come for us in parenting.  Since trying to apply this learning even in just the simplest ways to our discussion and interactions with our kiddos, I'm thinking that this might be quite a game changer for us.  Too often it's been my tendency to try to talk our kids out of what they're saying, without even acknowledging their feelings.  

They might say of their siblings, "No body wants me to play with them!"... and I would respond on the contrary.  "That's not true... They really love you even if they've been unkind...." or  "No... you're not seeing the situation rightly...."

How much better to dialog with them gently with words like:  "oh man, I can see that you're feeling really hurt and sad.  I really want to understand how you're feeling because you matter so much to me.  Can you tell me why you're feeling like that?"  

Our kids have responded so much better to us since we've seen this and tried to slow down and speak into their eyes and ask questions that get right into the realest depths of their treasured hearts.  Now, this and every other little trick we've tried has yet to give us a ticket out of the Fall that's broken all of us, and most days we're feeling remarkably broken still, but we're clinging to grace. And still, trying to hear each other's hearts and love each other in our realest feelings has been a sweet new gift to enjoy as we limp forward in grace together.