3 myths about feelings

By Dhati Lewis

Growing up, I was a sensitive kid living in a football world. I was that dude who cried when we lost a game. Then some kid would inevitably call me a punk, and then we would have to fight because I had to prove I wasn’t a sissy.

This is the tension we often find ourselves in today. We know we have feelings, but when they come out, we get labeled as weak, “too emotional,” or irrelevant. In an effort to self-protect and prove our value, we perform all kinds of acrobatics to avoid our feelings and make sure that people see us as emotionally stable, strong, and productive.

The result of our rejection of emotional expression has led to a tragic result in the health of adults today. After extensive study, researcher and social worker Brenè Brown found that, “We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.”

Avoiding our emotions isn’t working out so well. It’s taking a toll on our health. Our capacity for deep connection is weakening.

We have been lied to. Movies, sports, social media, gender expectations, religious expectations, and so many other voices have taught us lies about our emotions and what it means to feel deeply.

The truth is, emotions are a gift from God to us, and they help us form deep relationships during our time on earth. But if we are going to experience the fullness of the gifts of our emotions, we have to stop believing the lies.

Myth #1: All feelings (except glad) are bad.

Fear. Anger. Hurt. Lonely. Guilt. Shame. Sad. Glad. These are the eight emotions that author and counselor Chip Dodd identifies as the core emotions of every person. And, as you might guess, most people respond to this list by asking, “Why are all the emotions (except glad) bad?!” This lie is so easy to embrace. We hate the pain and discomfort of the other emotions so deeply that we are willing to believe they must be bad. 

The truth is, feelings are tools to help us discover where we are in a tragic world. The way we choose to express them can be healthy or unhealthy. But emotions in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. They just are. Feelings are like the dashboard in your car. A dashboard is there to tell us the facts about our situation. If your speedometer says you’re driving 70 mph, then that’s a fact. You’re driving 70 mph. If your dashboard says you have half a tank of gas, then it’s a fact. That’s how much gas you have. The dashboard lets you see the status of your car. The better you are at understanding your dashboard, the better you will become at responding appropriately as a driver.

But, when we ignore the dashboard of our feelings, what ends up happening is we allow our feelings to become the GPS. Our emotions end up determining our actions and taking us places we don’t really want to go. We have to learn to accept the emotions; however, we have to accept them for what they are — a dashboard. Emotions are a great place to tell you where you are. But they are a terrible place to make decisions from. Emotions were never meant to be your GPS. They are the tools God gives us to help us discover where we are in a tragic world. They are the tools God gives us to help us travel the 18 inches from our heads to our hearts so that we can feel fully, live fully, and love fully.

Myth #2: Time heals all wounds.

Time does a lot of things. And maybe you’ve been told that time heals all wounds. But I can tell you with certainty — healing is one thing that time does NOT do. We think if we don’t talk about our hurt and just ignore it, the pain will go away, and we’ll miraculously be healed.

In reality, the inverse is true.

The truth is, if you suppress your hurt, over time, your spiritual and emotional health (and likely your physical health) will weaken.

Believing that time heals all wounds is just a way to avoid the pain we feel. Just like infections in your body spread if left unattended, an unattended emotional wound spreads infection and resentment in your heart. And it will continue to spread and impact your overall health — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero writes, “It is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

We cannot continue to grow in our connection with God if we are unwilling to connect with ourselves. As painful as it may be, that means we have to deal with our pain. We have to tend to the needs of our hearts in order to continue growing in spiritual maturity.

Myth #3: God’s job is to take away our feelings.

1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast our cares before God because He cares for us. What a beautiful picture of God’s love for us. He has time for our cares, needs, worries, hopes, dreams, insecurities, emotions, and longings. He cares for us because we are His children, and He wants us to give Him our hearts — all of our hearts.

The problem is, we’ve misunderstood the implications of this verse. We think if we take our emotions to the Lord, then His job is to take away our discomfort. We believe the myth that God’s role is to remove our hurt, sorrow, or whatever feeling we don’t like.

But the truth is, God is not here to get us out of our feelings. He wants to be with us in our feelings.

Jesus Himself lived his earthly life filled with emotion. In Hebrews 5 the author tells us that Jesus’ prayers were often filled with loud cries and weeping. In Psalms, God’s anger is on full display. In Ephesians, we see that the Holy Spirit can feel pain and sorrow. We could cite numerous other places in Scripture that demonstrate the depth of God’s emotions. And if God is emotional, then as His image bearers, we are designed to feel emotions, too.

When Jesus offers us life abundantly, the offer is not a life devoid of feeling. He offers us His unwavering presence as we experience the vast richness of the emotions of our hearts.

God gives us emotions to help us connect our heads with our hearts. They are tools to tell us where we are. They are pathways to wonderful gifts that will lead us to greater intimacy with Him, with others, and with ourselves.

God doesn’t want you to get rid of your emotions. He wants to be with you in every emotion, in every wave of sorrow, in every triumph of joy, in every moment of shame. He wants you to cast your cares before Him because He cares for you.

Published April 26, 2021

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Dhati Lewis

Dhati Lewis is President of Send Network for the North American Mission Board and Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary and most recently received his Doctorate of Ministry in Great Commission Mobilization from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dhati has seven beautiful children and is married to Angie, a discerning woman who empowers and encourages him to live fully in his identity in Christ. He is the author of both the Bible Study and book, Among Wolves: Disciple Making in the City.