Stopped at a red light, I turn the car stereo up another couple notches. I don’t want to hear anything but the music right now – especially not the voices in my head. I don’t want to hear the questions. I don’t want to hear the pain. I don’t want to hear the echo of the eerie void. But no matter how loud the external noise gets, I can’t drown out the feelings yelling from deep inside. It’s so hard not to feel…
Yet hard as it is, avoiding feeling can get easier over time. It gets easier not to listen. It’s possible to carve out an existence where we guard more, feel less, and simply survive. We can shove it away, get down to business, and avoid the pain. It might pop out sometimes – when something triggers that internal switch, or the stress level reaches a certain threshold. But for the most part, life temporarily can go on as “normal.” Or, when just shoving it away doesn’t work, we try to drown it out with our addictions – anything from movies, to music, to drugs, alcohol, sex – you name it. We know how to avoid the feelings.
Yet these unhealthy cycles often relate to a lie we’ve been fooled to believe. We’ve been fooled to think that pain is the enemy. But in reality, pain is not the enemy. Sin is.
And now you’re thinking, “Oh great, another lecture on why I’m doing wrong and need to fix up my life.” But “sin” is not the enemy just because it’s “wrong;” sin is the enemy because it’s what separates us from life. Isaiah 59:2 says that sin separates us from God – the source of true life. And that’s exactly what the devil knows. He knows if he can turn our feelings, our pain, into a reason to turn away and separate from God, we’re done.
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Are our feelings sin? In Ephesians 4:26 Paul quotes Psalms 4:4 saying “Be angry, and do not sin.” But then in 1 John 3:15 it says that “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” No, our feelings in and of themselves are not sin, but they can lead there. Anger can become hate. Pain can become unbelief and bitterness. Even happiness can become idolatry as we pursue it instead of God.
You know, I’ve always wondered about texts like Romans 8:28 which says “all things work together for good to those who love God.” But I think we misunderstand this verse because we don’t read on. The previous sentence finishes with “to those who are called according to His purpose.” And what is that purpose? The next verse answers: “For who He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” In essence, all things are NOT good. But all things can work FOR good as they can drive us toward our ultimate purpose – to be restored to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Thus, in every situation, with every feeling that runs us over, we choose to be driven one of two ways: either away from Jesus into sin (separation) or toward the feet of Jesus (restoration).
We can walk through our feelings, by faith.
This is why avoiding feeling means we actually avoid growing in Christ. We’ll never know if He can be truly trusted until we face the feelings – the joys and the pain, and find out if our Savior is truly strong enough to hold them. You’ve probably heard Christians say, “we need to walk by faith, not by feelings.” But I’d like to change that: We can walk through our feelings, by faith. We don’t avoid the feelings; we surrender them. We don’t have to run anymore because they don’t rule us anymore.
“God, I choose to hurt right now.” I couldn’t believe I was hearing myself say that. Who wants to hurt? But somehow, as I choose to face it – to feel it – I think I choose to heal as well. I allow God into those hurting, angry, or empty strongholds. And then He can actually come in and work there. The numbness wears away. And with the choice to feel pain comes the possibility of feeling joy as well – the possibility to not just numbly make it through but to be fully present and really alive. So by faith, today I choose to feel.