Thursday, March 1, 2007

Debunkable feelings...

are not those which occur during pillow fighting between brothers over who gets to sleep on the top bunk bed. 

I've been constructively criticized, as well as deconstructively criticized, for having a low opinion towards feelings.  Typically, feelings of all sorts and ranges, sometimes even those that fall into a lack of self-control category, are held as particular virtues of women, simply because it's a feeling.  Women are supposed to be the nurturers that teach their little girls the good and proper display of emotions and allow their little boys to cry without being made to feel less than boy on his way to manly-man land.

I have feelings and emotions.  I was trained in feelings and emotions.  I grew up with one sister, one mom and one dad.  My extended family consisted primarily of aunts and female cousins--the uncles and two male cousins very consistently avoided the gaggle of estrogen.  Being from a Southern family definitely meant that I was always splashing around in the emotional pool of high voices, shrill tempers and blow my nose from laughing so hard giggles. 

I know the power of emotions and feelings.  I've seen grown men crumble in light of a feeling expressed by his wife.  I've seen a child wilt from the emotion displayed by a mom who has bent over backwards to serve said child.  I've seen family grudges of sixty plus years continue and affect present generations because of an expressed feeling.

I cry at movies and sometimes at books.  I have experienced the death of a child.  I know feelings and emotions on a superficial and primal level.

So what's my real feeling thought towards feelings?  Feelings are helpful expressions of genuine emotions, but feelings should not supercede objective truth.  I believe that when feelings begin to creep in as the basis for decision making and worldview taking, then there is reason for sound caution and discernment that takes it cue from objective truth.  There is sufficient reason to measure the emotion and the feeling against unmoveable truth. 

That's just my definition.  I want to put Websters to the terms.  Emotion is defined as "any strong subjective feeling, as of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, or love."  On Wikipedia, emotion is defined as "an intense mental state that arises autonomically in the nervous system rather than through conscious effort, and evokes either a positive or negative psychological response.'  Feelings are defined as "to experience (an emotion)".  Again, Wikipedia says "feelings are affective states of consciousness, triggered by physiological changes arising from both sensory perceptions and memories in comparison to internally stored norms or ideals."  Both Wikipedia articles go on to deal with the interconnectedness of the two, admitting that both are difficult to define.  Perhaps it's a which comes first, chicken or egg, question.

However, based on these definitions alone, I can state why I do not seek to rely on my feelings and emotions--because feelings and emotions are moveable.

When I was a child, I perceived from one experience that I disliked broccoli.  Now as an adult, I'll eat it almost anyway you can cook it.  Sure, my taste changed and my perception changed and therefore, my feeling towards broccoli changed.  I also didn't like the color yellow, again because of some negative experiences.  Now as an adult, yellow is great, and I decorate with it.  (Okay, decorate is too strong of a word.  There are yellow things in my house.  Truth in blogging.)  Anyway, my perception changed, my experiences changed and so my feelings changed.

Obviously the link between experiences and feelings/emotions is strong.  Negative experiences have the capacity to produce negative feelings and emotions.  Positive experiences have the opposite chain of effect.

Look at this example.  Fifty thousand people go to a football game.  They all experience the same environmental conditions, whether rain, snow, heat and so on.  They all experience the action of the game.  But when these people, arguably having the same overall experience leave, half of them have the emotions and feelings of great joy while the other half have the emotions and feelings of great disappointment.

What made the difference?  Their perception and experience of the outcome.  Winning team people happy, losing team people sad.

Is there any objective truth in that game?  Yes, a game was played between two teams.  One team lost and one team won.  If you have no interest in either team, then while you can mentally process the objective truth, you have no feeling or emotion about the outcome.

I've made myself a victim of my feelings and emotions to the point of personal destruction.  Better experiences and perceptions did not pull me from that morass.  It was the unmoveable Word of God that renewed my mind, cleansed my heart and changed my life in deeds and words.  Sometimes it was years before the feelings lined up with the thoughts, but the starting point was, and is, the truth according to the Lord. 

I like the way Elisabeth Elliot states this, "Do not debunk feelings as such.  Remember they are given to us as part of our humanity.  Do not try to fortify yourself against emotions.  Recognize them...and then lay them open before the Lord for His training of your responses."

Thank you, E.E.  That's where I'm trying to go with this.  I believe that emotions and feelings have their place in my life, given to me by God, but that place, like anything else, is His to occupy in priority.  Emotions and feelings cannot replace His wisdom.  Wisdom has to come from God.  Giving emotions and feelings over to Him for His training is tough.  He requires obedience that usually doesn't line up with my feelings because my feelings are innately tuned to serving myself.  (More truth in blogging.) 

The only standard that trains my responses is the true Word of God.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will."  Romans 12:2


  1. Well said. How weird that I blogged about feelings today, too! Okay, maybe not weird - maybe there's a theme going on in blogland today???

    Thanks for this post. Feelings and emotions are a valuable part of our lives and they add color and enjoyment to life and help us to empathize with others, but our underlying worldview and basis for how we live needs to rest on the Truth of God's Word. Great post!

  2. I was just thinking on this subject today as I was reading back through some of *The Glad Surrender* by Elizabeth Elliot. This is an excellent post and you verbalized some of my thoughts exactly!

    Great job!

  3. This is just an awesome post! Thank you for this.

  4. Spoken (or typed) with true wisdom and insight. We allow our feelings to guide our thoughts, but if we would change the way we think with the truth of God's Word, we would eventually change the way we FEEL.

    GREAT post!

  5. I really like this Elle. The more I read, the more alike I think we are (our families sound awfully similar, too!). And of course, there's our initial bond, Jack...

    He he!