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Simple truths about feelings
- Jacob Ninan
When we are overwhelmed by negative feelings, many people try to stop feeling like that. But that is very difficult, if not impossible, because we cannot change our feelings directly. Feelings are aroused in our mind depending on what we think about the people, events or circumstances that we are faced with. The way to get to a better feeling is to change our thinking.
This is where the Scriptures become very useful. If we turn in our mind to what God has said about Himself, about what He has promised to do for us in such circumstances, and what He has done for others in similar situations, and then trust in Him, our feelings begin to cool down. If we are feeling fearful not knowing where we can get help, and then we realise that God is always there to help us (Ps.46:1), our fear will begin to disappear. In a difficult situation if we feel alone and helpless, and conclude that even God has left us, remembering that He will never leave us (He.13:5) can reverse our feelings.
But we find many times that just remembering the promises is not sufficient to soothe our feelings. That shows us the difference between just believing in our head and believing in our heart. If it is just in our head our feelings are able to overpower it and continue to hold sway over us. Many times, right at the time when we are going through negative feelings, we don't find ourselves strong enough to believe and hold on to God's promises. (Some other times, we are able to do this, with God's special help.) What we need to do is to strengthen ourselves in times of peace--off-line, so to speak--by meditating about God, His word and promises, and receiving that strength into our hearts (Jas.3:18). Then when we are on-line, facing real situations, we have strength to hold on to God.
This off-line processing of negative feelings includes trying to understand what causes them, how else we could respond to those triggers, how to respond on the spot when we realise these feelings are rising up in us, what steps we can take to avoid losing control, etc. One foolish thing we can do is to pray and then expect that these feelings won't come up the next time, without our doing anything to change our thinking or behaviour. God wants to help us, but He wants us to take responsibility for our behaviour.
Feelings are natural, and negative feelings are indicators of something going wrong. There is nothing sinful in negative feelings themselves, but what we do when we feel like that decides whether we act sinfully or not (Ep.4:26). Feelings rise up in response to situations, controlled by what we assume about those situations. This is why two people respond differently to the same situation. Therefore it is not inevitable that once a situation develops we are forced to feel in a certain way. But by thinking about the situation in the right way, we can direct our feelings in the right direction. It is the knowledge of God that helps us to think right.