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Judah Smith: Feelings Don’t Rule Our Lives

We live in an emotionally tuned-in culture. But what happens when all these emotions aren't telling us the truth?

A while back I played in a golf tournament at a local golf course. I had high hopes and expectations for my performance because I’m an optimist, and against all odds I always believe there is a pro golfer inside me who will manifest someday.

But I had a terrible game, to put it bluntly, and I was hurting inside. I held myself together for all 18 holes—only because I was playing with legitimate adults.

A couple of them knew I was a pastor, unfortunately. So I was like, “Oh wow, a bogey! No big deal. Who cares? Listen to the birds. Look at the blue sky.”

It was totally fake. That’s not me at all. Who cares about the birds and the sky? I just bogied for the fourth time, and I wanted to die. Or at least cuss. But I played it off like it was no big deal. “It’s golf. It’s just a game.” Inside I was thinking, No, it’s not just a game! It’s the most important thing in the universe right now! But I didn’t say that.

I shot an 88, which is bad for me. I knew that my golfing friends would call me and ask me how I played, and I was embarrassed. But I was still playing it cool.

Until I got to my car.

My whole family—my wife, Chelsea, and our three kids—was waiting for me inside the vehicle. I got in and shut the door. The first thing my 5-year-old said was, “Hey Dad, how did you do?”

That was when I snapped. I lost it. I started punching the dashboard like a loved one had passed away or something. Then between punches I heard my ever-observant 8-year-old say, “Not so good, I guess.”

Five minutes later, of course, I was mortified. Shocked by my reactions. Embarrassed by my behavior. Really, Judah? I thought. There is already a 5-year-old in this family, and it’s not you. It was a golf game. Get some perspective.

Have you ever been surprised by your soul? Shocked by your feelings? Stunned by your reactions? Do you know what it’s like when your emotions are so raw and so real?

You can’t help yourself. You are in a horrible space, a really low place because what you are experiencing is so tangible to you.

The source of pain can be almost anything—a word, an event, a loss, a fear. It can be big or small, momentary or ongoing. I’m using my golf game to make a point, but I certainly don’t mean to gloss over genuine tragedy. My point here isn’t so much what triggered the emotional spiral as what to do about it now.

What do you do when your emotions are so out of alignment that you can’t see straight? When your thoughts betray you, accuse you and confuse you? When both the world around you and the world within you are equally devoid of hope and happiness? What do you do when your soul hurts?

OUR EMOTIONS DON'T SURPRISE GOD

King David was an emotional kind of guy, too. He was a warrior, he was a king and he was a fighter, but he was also a lover and a poet. He was complicated, just like us. Two of the songs that David wrote—Psalms 42 and 43—are clear examples of the kind of soul turmoil that humans everywhere experience. Notice this refrain, which actually appears three times in the two psalms:

Why are you cast down, O my soul
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)

David is talking to himself, and we get to listen in. He better than anyone, and He loves us more than everyone.

If God designed the human soul, then it’s only logical that He would know how to fix it when it is out of alignment.

Three times David asks the question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And each time, he comes up with the same answer. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Hope in God. It’s a definitive and clarifying statement. It’s a perspective that pushes away the cloudiness, the murky moments, the confusing feelings.

I am convinced that an awareness of God's care for us is the key to emotional sanity. Life is too big, too unknown and too confusing for us to figure it out on our own.

Two things stand out to me about this.

DON'T BELIEVE YOUR EMOTIONS

David is willing to question his feelings. Why am I feeling this way?

This is incredibly important in our culture and society. If we want to be healthy on the inside, we have to question our insides. We have to question our souls. We have to question our feelings.

That seems so simple. But we are living in an age where feelings have become the unquestioned, unassailable bastions of individual truth and identity.

Question what I feel? No, that would be disingenuous. Unauthentic. I just need to go with what I feel. Be organic and real and unscripted.

I’m not being unkind to emotional, feelings-oriented people. I am one, remember? I would be totally in favor of this kind of personal, subjective way of living and acting—if it worked. I would be totally down with this philosophy—if it produced lasting joy, fulfillment and meaning.

What I have found instead is that fulfillment, peace, joy and health on the inside are, ironically, often found by doing the exact opposite of what we feel like doing in the moment. Our feelings don’t rule our lives.

That is why we must question them. It is helpful, healthy and humbling to admit that maybe what we feel is flat-out wrong.

HOPE IS MORE THAN A FEELING

The second thing that stands out is the answer the songwriter gives us: “Hope in God.” It’s a simple statement, but keep the context in mind. The author is lost, confused and hopeless.

So he looks at his options, and he comes to this conclusion: Either life is meaningless and my existence doesn’t matter—or God is the only hope I have.

When we consider the magnitude and proliferation of pain and suffering on this planet, those are really the only two conclusions we can come to. On one hand, maybe God isn’t real and life is an accident. If that is true, then our lives have no significance beyond the present.

But on the other hand, maybe there is a God. Maybe we are here because a creator, an architect, a being bigger than us is actively at work in the universe.

If that is true, it stands to reason He would reveal Himself to us. Not only that, but He would be committed to preserving and protecting and loving his creation.

When you find yourself tumbling down melancholy rabbit holes of discouragement and depression, therefore, you have a choice. Either you believe that nothing matters or put your hope in someone who is bigger than you are—God.

I think this mental wrestling match is exactly what is happening in these two psalms. We are witnessing the inner turmoil of someone who is facing his options. And he chooses hope. He chooses to turn to God, and that makes all the difference.

I am convinced that an awareness of God’s care for us is the key to emotional sanity. Life is too big, too unknown and too confusing for us to figure it out on our own. God is our God. He is our salvation. Our souls can find their hope in him.

Top Comments

Brian

7

Brian commented…

This is really good. I would add there are so many scriptures about controlling and guarding your emotions. If you understand that when the authors refer to their heart, soul and spirit (however there are exceptions on spirit in translations) they are referring to ones emotions but also thoughts. That is a persons inner man.

The Greeks had this idea that their was an outer man and inner man. So in the new testament you read a lot using this language that takes words that were commonly used with the idea of the inner man to explain concepts. This is so the audience would of know that you were referring to the idea of ones emotions or thoughts. We when you read guard your heart what the proverb is saying is guard your emotions and thoughts. When you read love God with your heart soul, mind and strength, you are reading that your emotions, personality and thoughts should also be about loving God aka everything that makes you you should be in the act of loving God. So this was such a great simple way of breaking this down because a mature Christian is also an emotionally mature human being.

Peter Giger

7

Peter Giger commented…

Exasperation can really be a problem. I even had "anger management" issues related to this topic. I find there is an impatience in me at times that "clouds over" my "mustard seed" of good faith. I always manage to "swing back" into intelligible equilibrium but it takes a "moment" sometimes and really you can do a lot of damage in that time. It's almost like a panic, or "outburst" (tantrum, maybe?) that (to me) just denotes a temporary lack of personal communication skills.

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