Random Blog Clay Feet: September 16, 2008
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Getting Real About Emotions

When we deny the reality of what we feel, we force ourselves to live a form of self-deception. It also results in consequences for others.... It produces either dishonest relationships or no relationships at all. - Jon Paulien.

These are words that I read this morning from Jon's devotional book that made a deep impression on me today. He talked about the fact that there is a lot of reference to emotions in the book of Revelation. Emotions are part of God's design for us and as such, to live in denial of them is only to ask for trouble and dysfunction in our lives.

This was particularly interesting since just moments before I had opened up my heart to God in a deeper way emotionally than I have been able to do for a very long time. For whatever reason I found myself capable of a level of honesty, an ability for my left brain to more accurately give voice to the deeper feelings of my right brain than is usually accessible. As I did so I also experienced a deeper level of bonding to God and more assurance than I usually feel which creates greater trust and faith as a result.

For some this may seem like a discussion of what should be obvious. For others it may sound like dangerous heresy. I happen to come from a background more oriented to the second reaction. And though I have had trouble at times controlling my emotions and that has gotten me into trouble at times, especially when it comes to authorities, at the same time I have been subtly taught to repress my emotions for so long that I now find myself helpless to even connect with many of them that still need outlet in appropriate ways.

This issue of how to relate to emotions can itself generate a great deal of emotion among people. My own view of this has changed quite a bit over the years and I am still in great need of more training by the Spirit of God as to how to not only live in right relationship to my own emotions but how to rightly relate to others when they are experiencing emotions that may frighten or overwhelm my own. What I still find is that my own reactions to other people's emotions range from isolation and disconnect to urges that if followed through might compromise my integrity. This is likely the area of my life that is in the greatest need of more maturity.

One thing that I am learning however, and that was brought out by Jon Paulien in today's reading, is the important fact that it is not wrong to honestly express how I feel to God. In fact, that is likely the most important lesson that most of us yet have to learn and that can bring an enormous amount of release and peace into our lives if practiced regularly.

One of my good friends named Doug some years ago shared his experience with me of how he learned this important lesson. He was living the double life of a very practiced hypocrite in the church and had it developed to a fine art. However, his inner soul could not sustain the immense pressure that always accompanies such a life and one day while standing in front of the congregation he confessed to them that he had decided to go to a recovery house designed for drug addicts and alcoholics to get help for his addiction to religion.

As he related to me, this did not go over well at all with the people sitting in the pews and their faces reflected little emotion or compassion for him. Instead, what he felt was something like rejection and horror that he should be so brash as to blow his cover and threaten their own nicely manicured facades. He did go to the recovery house and ended up spending more time there than most of the other addicts because his problem was so deeply embedded. In fact, the leader of the retreat told him that he was one of the worst cases of religious addiction that they had ever seen.

While trying to work to a place of recognition of his problem there, he told the story of how he finally cracked the shell of his facade and broke into the reality of his true heart. During a group session he was finally triggered and angered to the point that he went off to a room by himself and burst into violent accusations and an intense outburst at God directly. He began to call God every vile epitaph that he could imagine and his heart just gushed with rage that had been pent up for many years.

He assumed that this would be the end of any relationship that he might have ever had with God and that God might even be so upset that He might send a bolt of lightening to end this outburst. But to his absolute utter amazement what he keenly sensed as his tirade exhausted itself was something the exact opposite. As he stood there emotionally exhausted and spent and in fear of what might happen next, he had a most distinct perception that God was looking down on him from heaven and was clapping vigorously and even smiling. He had the impression that God was very excited about him and was eager to establish a whole new relationship with him based on the new honesty that had finally emerged from this release of emotion. He heard God in his heart saying, “Finally! I've been waiting for years for you to get this off your chest and out of the way. Now we can start to build a real relationship.”

This story that I have heard from Doug many times never fails to be given without fresh emotion each time it is told. And because of that it has had deep impact on many with whom it has been shared. And while each person comes from their own background and will have very different experiences in their journey to being real, I have no doubt that God's deep desire for each one of us is to get real and honest about what is really in our hearts instead of obsessing about keeping our appearances in order and propping up the facade that we have so carefully constructed for most of our lives. As one of my favorite speakers and writers, Clarissa Worley Sproul has said, “God doesn't meet with shadows and He doesn't dance with facades.”

Learning to be real and to be honest about our own emotions is a very delicate and tricky business many times. But it is also what Jesus was talking about when He insisted that unless we become like a little child we will never be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. I often find it so refreshing and energizing sometimes to just intensely observe little children who are still open and honest enough to live life without a facade. It is like a glimpse into the potential of what God created humanity to experience all the time but has been largely obscured by the oppressive darkness of hypocrisy and deception that nearly all adults practice in this world.

While it is very frightening to even consider moving toward that place of living in total honesty and transparency, it is also one of the important requirements for being able to function within the true body of Christ in the kingdom of God. But at the same time it is generally well beyond my own capacity to accomplish. That is exactly what I was discussing with God this morning. For if God does not work in me and transform me supernaturally by His grace to bring me to that place of complete openness and truth then it can never happen at all. For it is not something that I can ever do in my own effort.

Jon finishes his reading for today by offering this advice. We can begin to achieve God's design by expressing our feelings to God. Jesus did that on the cross. God can take it. He prefers an honest disagreement to a dishonest submission! And He already knows how you feel, so it is safe. Feelings can hurt, but they can also bring us healing, togetherness, and love.