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.