Ever taken a personality test? They’re pretty informative. But they don’t always tell you things you don’t always know. (I promise, I won’t babble on about this too much.) 😛
Several years ago, I took one called the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Really interesting stuff. It assesses four different parts of your personality. Better versions of the test tell you things about how your type tends to behave both internally and externally. (Interested in taking it? Click here.)
I’m an ENFJ—Extroverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging. In other words, I draw energy from being around others, I tend to look at the big picture, I process things primarily on an emotional level, and I prefer things to be certain (schedules, facts, etc.). These four aspects of my personality are only the beginning of what my typology says about me.
I didn’t have to take a test to know I’m kind of an emotionally driven person. It doesn’t take much time spent talking to or being near me to figure that out. At different points in my life, how I feel has had more of an influence on me. Given that my personality type processes emotions first, this kind of makes sense. But don’t get the idea that opposed to a “Thinking” type, I don’t think. It’s just not the first thing I do. It’s just that I more easily understand my feelings before I understand my thoughts.
Did you catch what just happened? Ownership.
My feelings. My thoughts.
How did a two-letter word become so operative?
For a while, I’ve noticed a tendency to use possessive words on things that cannot necessarily be possessed. Like, “When are you going to get here?” You don’t own an arrival. That’s not how it actually works. You can be somewhere, come to a place, go to a place, arrive… okay, and I’ll admit that I’m totally splitting hairs over vernacular. It’s not that big of a deal, really, but word choice can inform your concept of the world, and vice versa.
When we begin a conversation about how we think or feel, we treat the topic as though we have ownership of something. To an extent, that’s probably good. It’s good to take ownership of your world, your life, your “thoughts,” your “feelings”—in the sense of taking responsibility for things pertaining to your life. But is possession really the best way to view them?
I know it’s easy to do that. Especially with feelings. I treat them like an infection I have sometimes, and they can be like an infection, especially if they lead us away from the things of God. The prophet Jeremiah said that “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked above all things; who can comprehend it?” Those are strong words for something which is a part of us from the cradle to the grave.
But is owning one’s emotions really enough, and is it even the best way to view what we’re viewing?
Think about this for a moment. Owning a car isn’t enough. Sure, maybe it looks pretty, but it’s supposed to take you somewhere. More accurately, it isn’t the car that does something for you. You drive it.
The same is so true about feelings. We don’t just happen upon them. They don’t just come wrapped under a Christmas tree. It isn’t just some mystical thing we all have inside us.
We don’t have feelings. We just feel.
At the risk of mutilating the English language, we do the feeling. That is, feeling is something we do, not something we have. It is an action, not an item.
I feel a lot. I’m sure lots of us do. When I feel something, wow. It’s like I feel it all or nothing at all. Usually. Which isn’t always great. Or necessarily stable. But this is not the result of some disease inside me. It’s an action that I do in response to whatever I’m experiencing.
So, let’s say…
Listening to a song I like.
Stubbing my toe.
Having a conversation with someone I care for.
Seeing something not suitable for my eyes.
Growing affections for someone.
Talking to God.
Yelling at God.
Whatever good or bad thing I experience or do, I feel it. I feel it plenty. But it’s not a passive thing. My experiences are something I possess in the sense that they are memories I can look back on, but my feelings are something that I do. It’s how I reach out to touch my life and set it in order. It’s how I communicate things that are important to me.
It’s what happens when something I do or experience drags against something else in my being. It happens when a person I’m getting to know bumps up against the walls I sometimes hide behind and I hear the reverberations bounce off of them. It happens when I touch the cold, metallic doorknob to open it up and trust whoever I decide to let in. It happens when someone decides they just don’t want to be there anymore, so when they slam the door behind them, I feel the ground shaking.
I feel everything.
But even though that may be the way I’m primarily wired to interact with my world, it isn’t always the best thing for me. So much good can come from feeling. God made us capable of it, so it must be good to feel, right? But we aren’t God, so that means that we don’t always feel things the way they were meant to be felt, or understand things the way they are meant to be understood (Isaiah 55:8-9). That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We just have to begin viewing our feelings differently.
If we acknowledged feelings (among other things) as something we do rather than something we have, maybe it would be easier to take responsibility for understanding why we feel however we feel, embrace them for what they are, and use them wisely.
Taking responsibility for what we do is tough, especially when you’re convinced you can’t change what you do. But consider this. You can’t stop your heart from beating, right? And if it’s been abused, you can’t necessarily make the hurt go away. But you can do whatever is within your power to make it healthy.
That begins with understanding who gave you your heart and that it is valuable beyond measure. It doesn’t always get things right, but God didn’t give it to you for no reason. Remember that God made you beautiful and that He wants you to know Him as the loving Father He is, but not just know about Him but be in relationship with Him in Christ. Remember that His law is a law of love, not of slavery. Remember that all things, even pain, are being pulled together toward a greater good that is found in Christ and serving Him.
But despite knowing the truth, we don’t always embrace it as the truth, especially if we’re used to believing the lies we’re told about us—that we’re worthless or ugly or invisible or unloved by our God. But they are precisely that: lies. Whether or not we feel the joy of God’s truth about us or the lies of the world, we have a choice to either listen to the right voice or not. It is the most difficult thing you will ever do—to defy what your own heart feels—but if there is a truth greater and more valuable than what we believe, even if it is difficult and painful to embrace it, it is worth struggling to do so.
There will be times when you feel immersed in joy, but there will also be times when you feel like your heart is burning its way out of your body. Both of those things are there, sometimes at the same time. Don’t worry. You’re not diseased. You’re not a mistake. You’re not dying. You’re conflicted, but you’re not alone. Even if everything goes wrong, you’re not, and will never be, alone.