I went to my first Christian counselor 30 years ago.
It wasn’t something the general population did. Seeing a therapist back in those days was taboo.
In fact, it was something you kept quiet. I told few people. If I did, I would have prefaced it with some sort of validating explanation as to why I felt the need to see a counselor. Otherwise, I feared folks would think I was crazy, a nut job.
The church I attended during that time taught that Jesus was all we needed, and if we needed “outside” help, then we didn’t have enough faith in the work of the cross. I get what they were trying to say, but it simply wasn’t true, and there was a lot of shame surrounding that message.
But when I entered that counselor’s waiting room on two separate occasions, I ran into two other people from the church I attended. I made eye contact with both of them, but quickly looked away, as if to give them each the privacy they wanted and deserved.
At a later time and place, we talked briefly about why we were there and how hard it was to “deviate from the norm” and see a counselor. We were each experiencing things we were ill-equipped to handle on our own, and we were willing to get the help we needed.
We’ve come a long way from looking down on those who seek the help of a professional. And that’s a good thing, but it seems like we have more work to do when it comes to supporting and encouraging those on the journey of becoming emotionally healthy.
It was God’s idea for us to be whole from the very beginning.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 1:2 NASB).
God wants our souls to be well. He wants our entire being to be healthy and prosperous as we grow in being holy as He is holy. God created our emotions. It is we humans who have designated emotions as being positive or negative.
I get that most of us would rather be happy and full of joy all the time, instead of being angry and sullen. But here’s the thing: feelings are just feelings. They are fickle, and they are fleeting. They can and do change without notice or fanfare.
To acknowledge and perhaps talk with someone about our feelings or even journal about the things we are going through or dealing with takes away the power of those “negative” feelings we experience and empowers us to remember the truth in the midst of intense emotion.
Why are we so afraid of our emotions? Why do we feel the need to change the reality of what we are going through, and alter the way we feel?
The Bible clearly tells us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen where we are to deny our feelings, pretend they don’t exist and stuff them deep inside with the hope of never having to deal with them.
We bring a lot of stress and anxiety on ourselves when we don’t give proper place to our feelings at the time we experience them.
Feelings, as temporary as they are designed to be, have an uncanny way of showing up in our lives at a later day and time, often gaining momentum and wielding more power over us than necessary. They are sometimes exhibited in inappropriate ways: lashing out in anger, addictions and obsessions and the inability to sustain meaningful relationships.
So how are you feeling, really?
What are some of the emotions you so dislike you’d do anything to avoid dealing with them? Whatever they are, by avoiding and denying them, you are ultimately giving them more power and importance in your life than they merit.
Feelings are just feelings. They are what they are, and they come when they come. You get to have a say in whether they become greater and more destructive by how you choose to deal with them.
I speak from experience. I’m a recovering feeling-avoider. OK, I just made up that term, but by the grace of God, and with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within me, I am now able to identify and acknowledge whatever it is that I feel these days and allow myself to feel it.
I sometimes choose to share those feelings with a trusted friend or counselor if need be, so I can find out where those feelings come from and begin to move forward.
When we choose to acknowledge our feelings in light of the truth of the Gospel, it can lead us to a place of peace and assurance that we are who God created us to be—not how we feel.
Laurie Lyons works in Southeast’s Campus Care Ministry.