Feelings & Fearings

I cringe just about every time I hear someone begin a sentence with the phrase: I feel like. Most of the time, people say “I feel like…” when they really mean, I believe or I think or I speculate. When people say “I feel like,” they are often not talking about their feelings at all; they are referring to their thoughts, their beliefs, their inclinations.

Now, this may not seem like it matters much — if at all. Who cares if people say “I feel like” when they really mean “I think”? — as in this headline, which describes a quarterback who “did not feel like he was tipping plays.” But it wasn’t that he didn’t feel like he was tipping plays; it was that he didn’t believe he was doing something that led the other time to pick up what plays he was running. If he thought he was tipping plays, he would have changed his actions.

And that’s my point. We often can’t change our feelings; but our actions, we can. Feelings are often unpredictable; actions don’t have to be.

My problem with the phrase “I feel like” isn’t a problem with feelings; it’s a problem we have in our culture of distinguishing the difference. In today’s world, feelings are paramount. Feelings sit in the king’s chair, with beliefs and actions dependent on those feelings. Saying “I feel like” has become a verbal demonstration of what we have come to believe in our culture: feelings are king.

When what we feel is key to determining who we are, than our most intense feelings most intensely shape who we are. Ecstasy becomes the treasure we seek, and fear is the kryptonite we avoid. When feelings are the most important thing about us, then we live life based on our deepest feelings. So, feeling good moves to the center of our lives, and we’ll pursue whatever we can to get that feeling. Likewise, feeling bad is the worse thing that can happen, so we’ll do everything we can to avoid it.

In short, when feelings reign, we become our worst and best feelings — always seeking to run from the former, and always seeking to hold on to the latter, as elusive as it may be.

But you are not what you feel — and so you are not what you fear.

When we have a better understanding of feelings, then we have a healthier view of ourselves. When we get a clear perspective on our feelings, then we have a better perspective from which to think, to act, to believe, to choose.

Not long ago, I was telling a couple of people about an important chapter in my life. I described how, just after finishing grad school work, my wife and I went on a five-week mission trip to explore the possibility of serving overseas. It’s a story I have told a number of times to a number of people in the 24 years since it happened.

But something was different this time. As I told of the challenges and uncertainties and questions the trip raised, my friend asked, How did that make you feel?

Well, I said, I felt like I wasn’t very effective.

No, she said, tell me how you felt. Not felt like. How did you feel?

Her question, and her insistence, got me to label and name feelings I had (and still have) when I think of that trip and that time. And that insistence, and that drilling down to core feelings, was a gift. And it was a gift precisely because, once I am able to honestly and clearly label my feelings, I can own them. I can face them squarely; I can see them for what they are. And I can then remember who I am. I am not first my feelings, or my fears. I am first: a child of God. Despite my failings, my fears, and the uncertainty of what I feel, each day I have the opportunity to choose to remember what I believe to be true: I am not my feelings or my fears; I am His.

As it turns out, those of us who find our identities in Jesus don’t ignore or suppress our feelings; we don’t pretend our fears don’t exist. We simply choose not to let them own us. Through the transforming of our minds, we see more clearly who we are — and where our feelings fit into who we are. As Christians, we don’t run from our feelings — but we don’t let them rule the roost, either. Instead, we are reminded who we are in Christ, and we see ourselves — our feelings, our fears, and our failures — in light of who we are.

And I feel like that’s a vital truth. Or, rather, that’s a truth I choose to believe; an identity I am confident is the very core of who I am, and who I am called to be.

What Time Is It?

In the Bible, there are two main words for time. The first is chronos – something we see appear in English words like “chronology.” Chronos is clock time; it’s minutes and hours and days. Chronos happens like clockwork (literally), for it is the regular passing of seasons and times. We see this in Acts 1.6, where the disciples ask Jesus, Is now the chronos for your kingdom to come?

But the other word in scripture for time is kairos. Unlike chronos, kairos isn’t that interested in the clock; it’s focused on the content. Kairos doesn’t so much measure time, as it makes use of time. Kairos is finding meaning in the minutes; it’s seeing (and making) purpose in this time, this moment, this now. We see this in Acts 1.7, where Jesus answers the disciples, You don’t know the kairos the Father has planned.

Everyday, you make use of chronos AND kairos. You get up, you get ready for your day, and you do the next thing. You get the kids ready for school. Or you get your spouse breakfast. Or you go for a morning walk. You head to work. You run that errand. Your day is full of chronos; it is one chronos moment after another. And those chronos moments are important. Decide one day simply not to show up for work, and not tell your boss, and you’ll likely find out pretty quickly how important it is to honor the chronos moments in your life.

But it’s also possible to do chronos and completely miss kairos. For kairos is not simply showing up for work, or doing the next thing on your calendar — it’s being present in them, with eyes and heart ready for the Spirit to show up in the midst of what you thought would just be another normal day. Kairos is expecting to see God at work in the expected, the everyday, the normal. It’s about being where you are and doing what you do, yes; but, even more, it’s about being fully present and ready for God’s love to be real through your words, your listening, your faithfulness, your presence. Living in kairos moments involves not just going through your day, but going ready – ready to see how God will use you, this time.

So, the next time you look at your watch or your phone, wondering “What time is it?” — don’t simply notice the chronos. Remember to live in the kairos.

What we desperately need right now is something any of us can do

We’re missing one thing in our culture today. In the America that we have become, there is one element that we’ve largely cast aside. More specifically, we have stopped showing this trait to those who are different than us. Democrats and Republicans withhold it from each other. People who disagree about hot-button issues of sex and gender and race and immigration and the Supreme Court all seem to be lacking in one key area.

Kindness. The ability to treat someone in such a way that isn’t based on the differences we have about the human condition, but is rooted in the fact that both we and they are human.

Kindness doesn’t require you to agree even one iota with another person. It isn’t about seeing eye-to-eye. But it does involve looking someone in the eye, and seeing in them a person who, just like you, has needs, doubts, hurts, struggles, fears, prejudices, convictions, questions — as well as things they believe passionately, and things they’re prepared to defend til their dying breath.

Recently, I have been listening to two podcast episodes that brought this to mind. The first is this conversation between Kate Bowler and Margaret Feinberg. Both women have been diagnosed with cancer, and they talk about the various responses they’ve received from others — like the person who wrote an extended email to Kate, describing her in the past tense, and the numerous folks who recommended Margaret try a coffee enema. Yes, you read that right. Coffee in reverse, so to speak, as a cure for cancer.

But those who are facing a complex diagnosis that defies simplistic solutions ultimately don’t need a oddball cure or a trite theological truth. What is most helpful for them is something that truly anyone can offer: simple kindness.

The other podcast is this interview Mike Cosper has with Rachelle Starr. Listen to the entire episode, and hear a powerful story of God’s grace — and of leading with kindness. Rachelle sensed God calling her to show that kindness to women who experience anything but kindness: women in the sex industry. After a decade of this outreach, Rachelle and her team have learned how powerful it can be just to offer a simple meal and a listening ear. In other words, kindness.

See, here’s the thing: you don’t have to understand someone to offer them kindness. You don’t have to agree with them to say a kind word. You don’t have to feel connected to someone to offer them the gift — the grace — of kindness. And in a day when it seems like we’re just yelling at each other in cyberspace or avoiding each other in real space, what a breath of fresh air kindness can be. In fact, what a breath of the Spirit it can be; for, as it turns out, the fruit of the Spirit is not arrogance, or debating skills, or even being right. No, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness….