Feelings color everything we do. Some feelings are wonderful. And sometimes worry, anger, loneliness, depression, irritation, overwhelm, fear, or other negative emotions may seem to be in charge. But your feelings only run the show if you let them. Can your feelings change? Yes, and here’s how to make that happen.
You always have good reasons for feeling the way you do – circumstances, other people’s actions, your genetics, your past. But remember that different people can respond differently to exactly the same circumstances. What makes the difference? That’s where your choice comes into play.
A word about “positive” and “negative” feelings. When Jesus was here He experienced all the human emotions that we do; sadness, loneliness, sexual desire, fatigue, anger, joy, love. But can you imagine Jesus ever feeling fear, worry, bitterness, pride, greed, or lust? Here are the two things Jesus demonstrated about feelings:
- While Jesus felt feelings, He was not controlled by them.
- Whether positive or negative, Jesus’ emotions were always submitted to His Father.
A feeling is not a temptation simply because it’s negative, but if your feelings need to change, there’s a lot you can do. You can come to the same place where you embrace appropriate emotions without letting them be in charge. And you can learn to keep your feelings submitted to God’s direction.
Here are four practical steps to getting there.
Choose to see your emotions as Information, not the whole truth.
Jesus felt emotions at a level perhaps more deeply than any other human being. But He never allowed Himself to be ruled by feelings. Emotions were never in the driver’s seat. Regardless of how He felt, Jesus was always going about His Father’s business. He kept focused on His mission, on the truth beyond His feelings.
Be honest about your feelings, but keep them in their proper place. Emotions can tell you a lot about yourself, your environment, your past, etc. But feelings make an extremely poor guide. Notice your emotions, and ask what information they are telling you. Then when making decisions, when determining what to believe, when evaluating what is real, always make sure to look for the rest of the truth.
Evaluate your thoughts and beliefs.
Thoughts and beliefs always precede feelings. Sometimes those thoughts and beliefs are holdovers from your past, but you can challenge them. Are you feeling afraid? Ask yourself how much you truly believe that Jesus is with you. Feeling angry? Perhaps you’re worried too much about your own rights. Can’t get un-lonely? Consider how much you’re focusing on who’s NOT there instead of who IS.
If you don’t like the way you’re feeling, carefully evaluate your thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes it helps to journal about them, or to talk with a wise friend who can call you on your “stinkin’thinkin’.” Persistently choosing different thoughts WILL result in different feelings. Learn to intentionally choose what thoughts you think, such as Paul talks about in Philippians 4:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5.
Direct your feelings to God.
David is perhaps the best example of this ever. So many of the Psalms demonstrate how David poured out his angry, fearful, guilty, or overwhelmed feelings to God. His shoulders are the only ones big enough to handle whatever you’re feeling. And He won’t think any less of you for feeling as you do.
Whatever it is, direct your feelings to God. Cry, beg, scream, or whatever you need to do. Bring your overwhelming emotions into God’s presence and let it all out. But then stick around. As David demonstrated in many of the Psalms, if you stay there long enough God will speak. If your feelings need to change, His presence is where that change will happen. God will come through, change your perspective, and show you the next thing to do. As one friend of mine said, if you’re in the middle of a mess and don’t know what to do, stop and write a Psalm.
Do the next thing.
If you wait to feel different before doing something different, you’ll never get there. Don’t ever again let “I don’t feel like it” be an excuse. If you’re angry, either take action to fix it if you can, or do the hard work of forgiveness. If you’re afraid, do it afraid! If you’re lonely, reach out and help someone else. If you’re depressed, take a walk or read a book or call a friend. If you need some help to know what to do next, get it. But then as Nike says, Just Do It!
Nothing will change your feelings more reliably than taking action. Harnessing your thoughts and beliefs, and seeking God’s perspective, will be so important in knowing what action to take. But once you have some idea of what that next thing is, do it!
These steps to changing your feelings are Biblical, they’re consistent with how we are created, and they work. If you do them, your feelings WILL change. It’s the same process whether you do this on your own, or whether you need the professional help of a pastor or Christian counselor.
You can have the mind of Christ, including feelings that are under control. It’s one of the best parts of the transformation God has for every one of us.