Thursday, December 9, 2010

Feelings

Feelings are, with a few exceptions, good servants. But they are disastrous masters.*
It is easy to be controlled by our feelings. We get up in the morning, look in the mirror to ensure that our face is still in the right place and then we check our feelings. We might also look out the window and see what the weather is like before determining how we feel. For many of us, this mood check becomes a guiding factor for the rest of the day. People ask us, "How are you?" We answer with some variant of the feelings we detected while staring at our face in the bathroom mirror. But allowing ourselves to be mastered by our feelings is unhealthy and unnecessary.

Dallas Willard notes that
Addiction is a feeling phenomenon. The addict is one who, in one way or another, has given in to feeling of one kind or another and has placed it in the position of ultimate value in his or her life.#
By contrast, the person who happily lets God be God does have a place to stand in dealing with feelings - even in extreme cases such as despair over loved ones or excruciating pain or voluptuous pleasure. They have the resources to do what they don't want to do and to not do what they want. They know and deeply accept the fact that their feelings, of whatever kind, do not have to be fulfilled. They spend little time grieving over non-fulfillment. And with respect to feelings that are inherently injurious and wrong, their strategy is not one of resisting them in the moment of choice but of living in such a way that they do not have such feelings at all, or at least do not have them in a degree that makes it hard to decide against them when appropriate.^
We dare not deny our feelings and we dare not be ruled by them. If we identify the underlying condition that gives rise to the feeling we can assign feelings their appropriate place. Then our actions will be guided by "insight, understanding, and conviction of truth" rather than the feelings of the moment. For further understanding of these principles I highly recommend Renovation of the Heart.

*Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, p. 122.
#Willard, 2002, p. 125.
^Willard, 2002, p. 119.

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