The Christmas season tends to evoke a range of emotion in us. While we express tidings of comfort and joy, we may feel anything but comforted or joyful. It’s good to pay attention to those unsettling feelings and listen to what they are saying.
“Why would I want to do that?” you may ask. “Won’t that get me into trouble or make me feel worse?”
Perhaps you recall this train from Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws. Fact is the engine, Faith is the coal car; and Feeling, the caboose. The point of the illustration is that Christians need to rely on the truth of God’s word to guide them no matter what they are feeling. “The train will run with or without a caboose,” the booklet explains.
This is helpful advice for new believers who experience emotions that can derail their unseasoned faith. But as we mature, we need to take another look at the feeling caboose. We still don’t want it driving the train, but we have to stop uncoupling it from our lives. Our feelings, even the unpleasant ones, are holy ground. We can encounter God in them.
To do that, we must first become aware of God’s presence. St.Theophan the Recluse, a nineteenth century Russian Orthodox priest, said, “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.” So begin there. With your mind, imagine yourself meeting Christ in the core of your being. Stand before him. Look at him looking at you with love.
In his loving presence, tell Jesus about the event that incited the strong feeling you experience. It may help to picture the emotion as an angry cat, hair-raised and pacing. Now name the feeling. For example, it could be jealousy or loneliness. Don’t judge it or analyze it. Just let it hiss and meow there with you and Jesus. When there is a bit of space between you and your feeling, ask it what it wants to tell you. You may hear something like “I feel invisible when other people get the attention I crave” or “There’s something wrong with me; that’s why I’m alone.”
Watch how Jesus responds when he hears what your feelings say. Notice his compassion. What does he do and say next? Underneath your words is a longing Jesus wants to fill.
Once you’ve been with Jesus there, you’ll find your feisty feeling curled up in your lap, as harmless as a kitten. And you, having encountered the living God, will be transformed.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
– Psalm 139: 7,8 (NIV)
Amen! Change the name of that caboose from “emotion” to “grief”. Trying to decouple grief and outrun it is not a good idea. Trying to stuff it away into a moldy, locked closet won’t work either. The only way I can deal with grief is to face it, to draw it closer to me. I must allow it time and space to do its work in me … and to encounter the redeeming power of God and Grace in the process.
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Thanks, Jim. I’m sure we can all relate to that in one way or another. It reminds me of what Henri Nouwen said about how important it is to grieve our losses. If we don’t we become bitter. I am so thankful that we don’t need to grieve alone and that God and others are with us.
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