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Feelings Are Real But Not Reliable

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“She’s not going to make it.” Those words rang in my ears over and over as my dad, my brother, and I sat in the consultation room with the doctor. We had been in the hospital for what felt like months, but it was only a few hours. The only world I knew was coming to a complete and forceful halt. Normally I could coach myself and tell myself that the Lord is sovereign and in control, but in that moment and in the days and months following, I didn’t feel like He was.

Feelings Are Real

I am a very deep feeler. I cry during commercials, listening to sappy country songs, or even if I see a cute elderly couple having dinner together (yes, it happened; don’t judge me if you see me tearing up in Panera next time). The feelings I experienced watching a sweet commercial and (though very different) the feelings I felt in the hospital were very real.

We have feelings. They are there for a reason. In fact, some of the commands we see in the Bible deal with our feelings: “Do not be anxious about anything . . .” (Phil. 4:6), “. . . do not be frightened. Do not be dismayed . . .” (Joshua 1:9), “Let not your hearts be troubled . . .” (John 14:1). God wouldn’t have given us these commands if He did not know that we would be prone to feel such a wide range of emotions. After all, if He knows the number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30; Luke 12:7), He knows what we have felt, will feel, and are feeling right now.

Three years ago, my mom suffered a massive brain aneurysm. It was very sudden and unexpected. It felt chaotic and surreal. But what was more unexpected would be the weeks and months following where what I knew—the unwavering truths about God—and what I felt— anger, frustration, fear, sorrow—would go head to head with each other.

Anger and fear were the two emotions I felt the most after things started to settle. I was mad that my mom, who was sixty years old, died before she got to help me plan for a wedding, see her future grandchildren, or even help me with that hard recipe one more time. I was mad that God could heal her here on earth but He didn’t. I was mad that I knew that nothing was impossible for Him, yet it seemed like He turned a deaf ear to my prayer. I was terrified that I was going to lose my dad or brother tragically. I was scared that I was going to be left alone. I was even fearful that I had disobeyed the Lord and He was trying to get my attention somehow.

We can all attest that these are feelings or emotions we have felt—fear and anger. There are a host of others I could name. Yes, they are real. Yes, we are allowed to feel them. I am thankful for these feelings. Though they seem to wreak havoc on my nerves and mind, God is the one who gave me the capacity to feel. When I feel anger, fear, or any other emotion, yes, I can be assured the Lord still loves me, but it is also a chance to give those feelings to Him.

So, yes, I could have remained mad and fearful (and some days it is/was hard not to), but what does that say of the God I claim to know and believe? How does that help my overly anxious mind in that moment? One truth I’ve learned: how I act on my feelings is an outward sign of what I truly believe.

Feelings Are Not Truth

“Feelings are real, but they aren’t reliable.” I heard this at a conference a few months ago, and it has continued to echo in my mind. The fact that I was angry or fearful wasn’t going to change necessarily in that moment. Hear me say this: it is not uncommon to feel these things during the grieving process. But don’t say there. There was a time when I was so anxious I was literally pacing in circles in my house. After my tenth lap around, I finally had a thought: “There is a solution to this.” I began to remember Matthew 6:26 and how “. . . the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap . . . and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?” Now if I would have stayed in my worry, yes, the day would have continued, but I would have lost a very valuable and intimate moment with the Lord.

Every time God commands us not to worry, or be fearful, there is always a solution—Himself. He is giving us a chance to give up that fear or worry and replace it with the Truth of Himself. He doesn’t leave us to the captivity of our feelings. Our feelings and circumstances do not determine who God is. We can choose to believe Truth or we can stay in our feelings. When we feel these emotions and then begin lining them up against the Word, we will wrestle, and that is a good thing. Wrestling with Truth and our feelings creates margin to grow our faith.

As I began to wrestle with Truth and my feelings, God gave me Himself through His Word, His people, and even through His creation (Matt. 6). Every time I asked, “Why?” I was answered with “Who.” I didn’t always get an answer to my question, but instead my eyes were opened to my Creator (Job 42:5)—the only reliable source and foundation in the rockiest season of my life. What began with wanting this season to end turned into wanting more of the Lord—the very purpose of trials. He will often take us through seasons of suffering to reveal where our trust truly lies and therefore turn our eyes and hearts back to Him. He isn’t a cruel Father who allows suffering “just because.” No, He is a gracious Father. Suffering is due to the fallen world we live in, and yet, He chooses to make Himself known to us if we will fight against trusting in or following our heart (Jer. 17:9).

Our comfort in suffering isn’t that God will remove us from it, but that He is with us in the midst of it. As His Word promises, He is Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). He will never leave (Joshua 1:8-9). He will be our peace (Micah 5:4-6). He is trustworthy, and He is our refuge (Psalm 62:8). It’s the truth that nothing is wasted in His hands (Job 23:10; Ps. 138:8; Rom. 8:28; Phil. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). You are held by Him. You are seen by Him. What seems dark to you is light to Him (Ps. 139:12). Your feelings are real, but your God is more reliable. Trust Him more than your feelings.

Hillary Dickey serves as the Communications Director for Bethel Bible Church in Tyler, Texas. She has served in different ministry roles over the past six years, such as Women's Ministry and Administration for local churches and nonprofits. Hillary is originally from Auburn, Alabama, where she received her degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Auburn University.
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