Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Feeling Again

"The way you think
determines the way you feel,
and the way you feel
determines the way you act.”
~Rick Warren

When I was in high school my family attended a church with a dynamic and outspoken pastor. He was complemented well by his graceful, subdued wife, Ruth Helen. I admired both of them, but Ruth Helen seemed to carry with her an air of mystery and intrigue.

Because my family moved often, I had attended a variety of churches in my life. However, this was the first church I attended in which emotions were freely demonstrated. It was not uncommon to see men cry. Hugging, and even kissing were common greetings among church members, as well. Among my family members, emotions were often suppressed or masked, so I was quite impressed by this. I have always felt that God brought me into that church at just the right time of my life, as I was beginning to question some aspects of my family life and formulate my own values for faith and relationships.

I suppose I might have become overly caught up in the emotional aspects if it hadn’t been for Ruth Helen. I clearly remember the time she filled in for our regular Sunday school teacher and talked to our class about facts and feelings. I was all ears.

“Feelings are important,” she said. “You need to pay attention to them, but you also need to remember that they have their place. Think of it like a train.” She picked up a piece of chalk and drew three rectangles with wheels on the chalkboard. The first rectangle was a little taller, the last rectangle a little smaller, and the one in the middle was medium-sized. Finally she labeled them: the first one was fact, the one in the middle was faith, and the last one was feelings.

“Truth is always the engine. Its job is to direct your faith and your actions,” she said. “Feelings are important. But like the caboose, they should never run the train.”

I could see the wisdom in the train illustration, and I often drew on that wisdom throughout my life. A few years later, I learned that this illustration was used widely by Campus Crusade and other groups, as well. There were some differences, however. Whereas Ruth Helen had emphasized that feelings were important, others made comments such as this, “The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be futile to attempt to pull the train by the caboose."

Something always bothered me about that statement. Still, I found much practical wisdom in the example, and it served me well in several real-life situations. When it comes to issues involving obedience to God’s Word, this formula works. I remember a wise friend counseling me in regards to my unloving feelings for my father. “When the Bible says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ are there any stipulations? No. We aren’t told to honor them IF they are honorable, or IF our feelings toward them are warm. In fact, in those cases, we wouldn’t even need to be told.”

I came to see the act of honoring my father and mother as an act of obedience and love toward God, who had commanded it. The more I honored them with my actions (even when I didn’t necessarily feel it), the softer my heart became toward them. I will be forever grateful for the advice that brought me to that place. The train illustration has broad applications in real-life situations.

Unfortunately, we humans have a way of taking our formulas to the extreme, leaving the living God out of the equation. I have spent most of my life among Christians who are extremely cautious about showing emotion. Strangely, emotions easily surface in response to things like political issues and athletic competitions, but in the context of biblical truth and worship, they lie in check.

I bought into this approach for many years, until God literally sent me to my knees in repentance one day. In a moment of godly revelation, I became aware that, in living this formula out to the extreme, my heart had grown cold. I still read God’s Word and KNEW the truth, but I had suppressed my emotions to the point that I had lost my first love. As a result, nothing stirred my heart any more, including God, Himself.

Since that day, God has been at work, putting the fractured pieces of my heart back together, and I have stopped looking to other Christians as examples of how I should or should not display my emotions. Instead, my emotional responses are directed to the Lover of my soul. I came to see my self-consciousnesses, my holding back of what is rightfully His, as sinful pride.

I was reminded of David, the man after God’s own heart, who danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing only a linen ephod. When Michal chastised him out of her own embarrassment, he replied, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes...” (II Samuel 6:22 NIV)

As I began to allow God to stir my heart again, I felt a sense of regret for what I had missed. In response, I wrote the following poem.

Feeling Again

I know how it feels not to feel a thing.
I’m hollow inside and it’s hard to sing.
Nothing moves or evokes a tear.
Laughter is shallow and fails to cheer.
Events don’t delight, impress, or excite.
Night turns to day and day to night.
Predictable, routine, and so mundane...
Thoughts, words and feelings seem inane.

I know how it feels to feel again;
Feelings flow freely from heart to pen.
Sorrow, exuberance-- both are embraced,
Filling the space that not-feeling erased.
Appreciation of detail abounds:
Intricate textures and complex sounds.
Melodies dance inside my soul
And blend with the senses to make me whole.

I wish I could tell you where to start
To renew the passions that once thrilled your heart.
It seems trite to tell you not to despair,
To set your affections on the God who cares.
Yet He is the Author of hope for the heart,
Wonderful Counselor, “How Great Thou Art!”
Delight in Him; desire the Lord,
And a life of passion will be restored.

~Sharlyn Guthrie

Over the years since I began "feeling again" my awakened senses have stirred me to action, making me more effective as a Christian. With my zeal renewed, I am more aware of the needs of others, and more responsive to the Holy Spirit in trying to meet those needs. Therefore, I can see the wisdom in Rick Warren’s statement. Indeed, the way I think often does determine the way I feel, and the way I feel, determines the way I act. The statement is useful in understanding why I sometimes behave the way I do.

Still, I am reluctant to reduce this abundant life that I live according to the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, to any man-made formula. I have been there and done that.

For links to more discussion on this same quote, please visit Debbie's blog, Heart Choices. She is today's hostess of In Other Words.


  1. Dear Sharlyn,

    So nice to meet you! I really enjoyed this post.

    Thanks so much for sharing your heart and feelings with us today.

    I'm so blessed to read how God has truly set you free, and the new zeal you have for others.

    Your poem was just beautiful!

    Have a blessed day♥

  2. Wowzer, what a post, girl! So thankful you have found your freedom in Christ to love others the way HE would have you do so. I can't wait to meet you one day and be on the other end of it, and give you a Texas-sized hug in return!

    Love your poem and the way you tied the whole message together.

  3. Great post! I especially enjoyed the analogy of the train. How true!

  4. What a blessing it was to read your blog! It was as if something either in the main part of your blog or your poem just clicked.

    It's funny how when we remove our emotions from our thinking process we do become cold and calloused. It reminds me a lot of how upper management deals with business. It removes the personal part and just deals with the business part. Make money. They don't care how it gets done, they just need to do it.

    The feeling part of it gets in the way, because it makes us empathetic to others around. We need that otherwise God wouldn't have given us the ability to feel anything. It's the control of those feelings that we need to watch out for. Sometimes the train can get headed in the wrong direction.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  5. Wow; I am so glad you participated in IOWT today! First of all, I want to say that I loved your poem. You have a gift! And second of all, man made formulas don't work. My early years were in a church that was VERY emotional. And my parents were uncomfortale with that. We stopped going there but at times I went with my grandparents. I think I became a bit self-conscious of showing lots of emotion after that.

    Today, I am a member of a church that isn't overly emotional but certainly many people show emotion and raise hands, etc. There are times when I have tears in my eyes and frankly, for so long I shut out all of that. So, I am glad to feel something. I really didn't think of it as pride but you're probably right.

    Thank you for this excellent take on this quote!

  6. Lovely post. It is so easy to take any illustrative formula to extremes, when God is more about balance of our emotions to enable us to love him more. Thanks for joining us today.

  7. Such a great post, bless you.

  8. This is wonderfully insightful, and the poem is beeautiful. Lovely. thank you!

  9. Sharlyn,

    This is such a beautiful and transparent post! Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us. I, like you, have learned that life cannot be reduced to a formula... and oh, how I tried!

    Your post reminded me of a billboard I saw outside a church in Houston once. They always had a new billboard up with a tidbit of wisdom on it. This one stuck with me to this day: We see things not as they are, but as we are. This is very similar to Rick Warren's statement that you share in the beginning of your post.

    And this scripture came to mind as I read: Do not quench the Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 5:19. The Spirit in you was quenched for a time, and now He's been set free! And when we set the Spirit free, we free ourselves in the process!


  10. What an awesome and beautiful post. Your poem is incredible!


  11. Sharlyn . . . I love that you shared your life experience with us. Your writing is very insightful. I will remember the concept of the train, "led by the engine" and focus on delighting and desiring Him.
    thanks for sharing this week

  12. Thank you for sharing your heart with honesty and vulnerability. The truth you speak is freeing. I appreciate the train analogy; I've also heard that "emotions are like the dashboard on a car." Hence, emotions are helpful indicators of what is really going on under the hood or in the tank.

    And your poem is truly beautiful - something on which I can ponder a little longer. Thank you.

  13. What a beautiful post, Sharlyn, and I especially love your poem!


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