For as long as I can remember, I have been challenged to be careful about my feelings. "Don't let your feelings control you," I heard. "They are unpredictable and don't care about what is right or wrong."
I memorized the words, "Don't let your feelings control you," but applying the concept has taken years, and the process of making it reality in my life continues.
I was taught, when you awaken feeling down and grumpy, think about how you might affect your family, and choose to be pleasant despite how you feel. When you are anxious about something, trust God with it, and busy your mind with something else that is productive. You don't want to be controlled by anxiety. When you feel the urge to be angry about something, examine how it is related to your will and self-centered instinct, and submit yourself to the will of God, letting the anger go, because life is not centered around you.
Thank God, progress can be made, but since I'm stuck in a human body which has a never-ending flux of good and bad feelings, I have found I must ever examine to see if my actions show that I am or am not in bondage to my feelings.
He goes on, "Where have we gotten this idea about 'doing what feels good'? The unrestrained hedonism of our own day comes historically from the 18th-Century idealization of happiness and is filtered through the 19th-Century English ideology of pleasure as the good for people. Finally it emerges in the form of our present 'feel good' society-tragically pandered to by the popular culture and much of the popular religion as well."
"Think about it," Willard continues, "Isn't the most generally applied standard of success for a religious service whether or not people feel good in it and after it? The preeminence of the 'feel good' mentality in our world is what makes it impossible for many people now even to imagine what Paul and his contemporaries accepted as a fact of life."
This "fact of life" was that early Christians disciplined their bodies (including the feelings they experienced) in order to accomplish growth in the spirit, and in order to do the things they needed to do as followers of Jesus.
"Thoughtful and religiously devout people of the classical and Hellenistic world," writes Willard, "from the Ganges to the Tiber, knew that the mind and body of the human being had to be rigorously disciplined to achieve a decent individual and social existence." He contends that neither Jesus nor Paul had to explicitly say that Christians should practice regular disciplines in order to maintain and grow the spiritual life since it was a common aspect of the "decent" individual's life. However, they certainly demonstrate self-discipline in solitude, fasting, and giving-to-the-point-of-exhaustion throughout the New Testament.
I spend a lot of time alone. No one makes a schedule for me. My first thought, when I read about the benefit of solitude, was that I have a lot of it. But upon further reflection, it hit me that in my hours of aloneness, things like checking Facebook too often can take me away from what might be more beneficial, solitude in the presence of my Maker. My desire for connection to others can be detrimental if that desire controls me and takes me from something of greater value.
"Feelings, whoa-oh-oh, feelings!" I write with a smile, but it's bittersweet.
Feelings, which can be richest blessing can also be destructive curse.
God, help me understand myself and not be controlled by feelings.