If my emotions could be summed up in a tangible image they would be a wind tunnel; my feelings are fiercely strong and fickle, changing direction quickly and often, and, if unchecked, ravaging everything in their path. I come by it honestly; both my mother and my father are two of the most compassionate, tenderhearted people you could meet. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when the overwhelming intensity of my feelings began to make themselves known while I was still very young. My mom, in her amazing wisdom, set out to teach me a truth that she had only learned as an adult—that my feelings, though valid, are not necessarily indicators of truth.
This was one of the greatest gifts she has ever given me.
It started before I was fully able to reason. I am, after all, the kid who, at age three, got to the scene in the movie Dumbo where the title character is taken away from his mama and sobbed inconsolably for three days. Three days. I couldn’t finish the movie until I was twelve.
Obviously, my mom had a big job ahead of her. When I was very young and acting out because of my feelings she would look me in the eyes and gently but firmly say, “Natalie, your feelings are lying to you.” As I grew older, she switched tactics and began to ask, “Natalie, are your feelings telling you the truth?” and then patiently waited through my sniveling until I was able to give the correct answer: no, my feelings were lying to me.
In some ways I haven’t aged much beyond that passionately emotional three-year-old. I still have times of intense discouragement, the kind where the world appears unendingly bleak; I still find it so easy to slip into a blinding rage; and I still have moments when I doubt everything about myself. On the flip side, there are days when I am so overwhelmed by the love I feel for God or for my husband or (on a really happy day) humanity in general, that I feel like my body is too small to possibly contain it all.
But thanks to my mom, I know that my feelings may not tell me the truth, so I lay them out side-by-side to compare with the Truth—the Word of God.
Feelings can lie, but that doesn’t make them wrong.
God experiences emotion, and when He created each of us in His image and likeness, He gave us feelings too. Our feelings are really useful tools, enabling us to identify a variety of situations in life.
I like to think of our emotions as the nervous system of our soul. Our nerves are designed to help us sort the good activities from the harmful—warm sunlight on the skin: good; scalding water on the skin: bad. Without our nerves working properly we can unknowingly become seriously injured.
Similarly, our feelings show us how our hearts are being affected by daily life, enabling us to sort out the good from the bad, the safe from the unsafe, the comfortable from the uncomfortable. If we allow ourselves to be too ruled by our feelings we can risk making poor decisions and hurting ourselves or others. If we distrust our feelings entirely and shove them away so we cannot be hurt again, we risk our hearts remaining unhealed.
Emotions are not sin; its what we do with them that can become a problem. The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” It does not say “don’t be angry.” Throughout the Bible there are references to both God the Father and God the Son experiencing anger. When we realize that God feels the same intense emotions that we do and yet does not sin, we can no longer justify our lack of self-control in response to our own feelings.
Instead we can choose to be obedient to God’s Word, because obedience is not a feeling, it’s a choice. It’s nice when our emotions align with our obedience, but it’s not necessary. I am convinced that God is never prouder than when I choose to walk in His truth, even though every fiber of my being feels like running the opposite direction.
If you feel worthless, choose to believe that you are worth dying for.
If you feel despair, choose joy.
If you feel bitter, choose to forgive.
If you feel worried, choose to trust Him.
I struggle to make these decisions every single day of my life. Some days are easier than others, but I have found them to be easiest of all when I have someone I trust to help reign me in. I know there are people out there who don’t feel things as extremely as I do—I happen to be married to the most even-tempered man alive. If you are struggling with the enormity of your emotions, find someone who can be a cool head and wise counsel for you. Find someone who will ask you the hard question, “Are your feelings telling you the truth?” and then patiently walk through the answer with you.