I’ve been doing some thinking on this topic lately. All I have are some ideas now that I am still formulating. Readers of my blog know that this can be my style though. I can tend to just get ideas and start writing them and as they are written, they develop into something more, so let us go and see where the path leads.
If there is an area we often have trouble with, it’s our feelings. There are some people like myself who are incredibly introspective and as a result, make a big deal out of every little feeling and think that we have to analyze it to find out where it came from and what it reveals about our psyche.
It can be a nightmare at times.
I would like for us though to see where the feelings come from. This is my view at the time. The feelings come from thoughts that we have. Those thoughts produce the feelings and too often, we confuse the two. We think the feelings are the thoughts. The feelings are our emotional responses to the thoughts.
I am going to say that a thought in this case is an idea that can be expressed in a complete sentence. Not all of our thoughts are complete sentences but they can represent such. Suppose I see a pretty girl and my first thought is “Hot!” (I’m a guy! I do think that way!) The complete thought behind that sentence even if not entirely stated mentally is “That girl is beautiful!”
On the other hand, suppose I am going to a place and I look out the window and see I am very high up. I can have a feeling of fear. That feeling is rooted in a thought. The thought is “I am high up and I am afraid of falling. I don’t want to be a spot on the pavement below.” Of course, those are two complete sentences, but we could easily combine them.
Now this gets into an idea I’ve stated earlier that A’s don’t cause C’s. Activating events do not produce the conclusions that we draw from them. Instead, they lead to beliefs that produce those conclusions and those conclusions usually are the ideas we get from the feelings. (Note. Thoughts do produce feelings originally, but those feelings can lead us to other thoughts, but rather than an endless cycle, I am saying the thought life starts it all.)
If this is the case, then we need to realize where the problem is. The problem is not in our feelings. The problem is in those thoughts that we often think so quickly that we don’t even have time to realize we are thinking them. Thus, the idea is to renew our thought life. It is not to renew our feelings or even change our feelings. That will happen if we take control of our thoughts.
This is why we have passages like Philippians 4 that tell us to focus our thoughts on whatever is pure, good, etc. This is why we have passages like 2 Cor. 10:4-5 that tell us to take every thought captive. This is why we have passages like Romans 12:1-2 that tell us to be transformed by renewing our minds.
It’s all a matter of the mind.
Now what is the purpose of a thought? To try to get to the truth. Much of our pain can come from untrue thoughts. Now this doesn’t mean that true thoughts always produce good feelings. They don’t. We can recognize the exceptions though. I have a true thought that a friend of mine passed away recently. That does not produce good feelings, but the thought is true. The solution in this case is to work through the feelings seeing as I can’t change the truth of the original thought. I could also though add in another thought that my friend is in the presence of Jesus.
Now let’s suppose instead that I have a thought that I am no good at what I do. What do I do then? I first off have to examine the thought. Now it can’t be that I am entirely no good as I am not pure evil and if Thomas Aquinas is right, pure evil cannot exist, and for the record, I agree with him. All that is has some degree of good.
So right off, I see an exaggeration in the thought. Let us suppose then that I admit some things. I am no good at football or basketball. Alright. I have no problem saying I’m not an athlete there. That is not what I am worrying about. Now if I think “I am no good at writing” then that is where I hit difficulties.
So I have to look and see “Is the thought true?” Where can I not go? I cannot go to my feelings. If only we could learn this. Picture someone in love. He cannot tell if he is in love by going to his feelings. They will fade and when they do, it does not mean that the love has ceased. It means an emotional response has ceased and he needs to go with a deeper level.
I at this point can turn to my friends. I can turn to the ones I trust to shoot me straight and say “What do you think?” If there are other cases about my personal identity, in many cases, I can go to Scripture to help as if God says something is true, then we need to learn it is true.
Consider if I beat myself up over a past sin. (Considering some of mine, there is much beating up that goes on.) I need to turn to Scripture and see what it says. Did I repent? Yep. Did I confess. Yep. Have I asked forgiveness? Yep. So what does Scripture say then? I am forgiven.
How do I know? It is not on the basis of my feelings. I cannot say I feel unforgiven or I feel forgiven. I simply have to say “I am forgiven and my feelings will not tell me if I am or not.” Our feelings will normally act on the basis that our thoughts are true and the negative ones can be from that we don’t want those thoughts to be true but we might fear that they are.
If we look at the feeling though, we will miss the boat, and that is where it gets hard. We have to go back and look at the thought. We honestly have to see if it’s true. Let’s also be sure that usually, it’s not as bad as we make it out to be. We tend to exaggerate and make molehills into mountains when we really need to learn to make mountains into molehills.
Am I going to be working at this? You bet! I don’t expect to learn how overnight though! I expect it will be a lifelong process. I invite you to come along with me though and maybe see what thoughts you are giving yourself.
What do you think? (And yes, I mean think. Not feel.)