Not Everything You Feel is Reality!

This past Monday, my husband Warren posted a blog about how we, as flawed human beings, tend to go through life trusting in ourselves far too much – especially given that we’re flawed human beings! One example he gave was, I can only believe, common to every single person drawing breath – that of the tendency to see our feelings as fact. (You can find his post here.)

I thought today I would try to “put the icing on that particular cake,” so to speak, by approaching it from the female perspective and offering up some suggestions to help shed light on those moments when we might be deceiving ourselves.

There was a time early in our marriage when Warren and I disagreed fairly regularly. Looking back, most of the disagreements were so minor that I can’t even tell you if there was a similar theme to them. After having met and married so quickly – 12 weeks – I can only guess that we spent a great deal of time just trying to figure each other out and really understand each other.

During one particular argument – which surely must have begun because my husband had committed some terribly egregious transgression against me – a beautiful truth was uttered. I was using a lot of sentences that started with “I feel like…” followed by an interpretation of reality as I saw it. In exasperation, I’m sure, Warren looked me in the eye and said, “Shelly, not everything you FEEL is reality.”

Well, I have to admit that this particular nugget of wisdom didn’t exactly sink in at the moment. Looking back, I think it was pretty courageous of him to even utter those words to me in the heat of the moment. Rather than thank him for this piece of wisdom, I probably felt like throwing something at him.

I also have to confess that it probably took a few more of those kinds of arguments – wherein Warren bravely showed me how I was making up reality based on how I was feeling at the moment – for me to begin to think that maybe he had a point.

How about another example?

Let’s say that your husband goes to work one day, as he always does, but fails to call you at any point in his day, as is his usual habit. You think to yourself, “Huh, he must be busier than usual today.” Maybe you even mention it that night and you discover that, yes, in fact, the workday had been unusually busy. Several days later the same thing happens again, but this time, you feel hurt, kind of forgotten…maybe even have feelings of rejection. That night, you mention it, and when your husband again affirms that, yes, his workday was very busy, you “hear” that he’s “too busy for you,” and end up feeling as if he’s just affirmed your feelings of rejection.

Result? On one day, you conclude that your busy husband loves you, but within a week, you think he’s actively avoiding you. (What?!) So what has really changed? While your heart is telling you that your husband’s actions – or lack thereof – are telltale signs that his love for and appreciation of you is growing dim, in reality the only thing that has changed is your perception of what happened.

Still not convinced? Let’s break it down a bit more.

The first day, your husband’s silence was attributed to something outside his heart, and while you may have missed talking to him, his silence didn’t have such an emotional impact on you. But on that second day, something in your heart determined that your husband’s silence was not due to situations outside of him, but motives within his own heart. Even after having it confirmed that your husband’s silence was due to outside circumstances, you are responding to motives that are generated within your own heart and mind.

And therefore, your feelings were based entirely on…thin air.

I wonder as I write this how many of us really do accept that sometimes we can be this irrational? Surely I am not the only “hysterical female” who has come to realize that sometimes my emotions can get the better of me and seriously skew my perspective? Or do you sometimes do the same? What we feel seems so real that to begin to look at life with a distrustful eye toward our own “gut instincts” seems counter-intuitive. And so it is.

But then much of the Christian walk seems counter-intuitive to me. Die to yourself so that you can live (Matthew 10:39; Luke 9:24)? Turn your back on all your earthly treasures and you’ll have treasure (Mark 10:21)? Respond to persecution with love (Romans 12:14)? Selflessly pour yourself out for others and you will find joy (Philippians 2:17-18)? The last will be first…and the first, last (Matthew 20:16)? God’s Word is full of promises and truths that, at first blush, sound like contradictions. King Jesus living as a poor carpenter most of his life certainly seems like a contradiction. But then God’s Word also says that He uses the weak and foolish to shame the strong and the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Perhaps one of the many reasons He does so is that we might learn to trust His Word over ourselves?

And God’s Word, while not quite so succinctly, says the same thing as Warren’s little nugget of wisdom. Not just in Jeremiah, but over and over again in Proverbs we are told that the heart – our hearts – are incredibly deceitful and often nearly impossible to unravel in terms of our motives and our deepest desires. We fool ourselves more often than we realize, and we are urged to resist being confident in our own wisdom (Jeremiah 17:19; Proverbs 3:5; 12:15; 14:12; 16:25; 18:1-2; 18:17; 28:26).

If you find yourself responding with strong emotions to a situation where the other person – be it your spouse, your teenager, a good friend or someone else – is telling you how they see reality, and your gut reaction is to not believe them…you might stop yourself and consider the possibility that you are the one who is being deceptive – with yourself. This might be particularly true if those stirred-up emotions you’re feeling are sinful – anger, judgment, a strong desire to defend yourself or verbally attack the person you’re talking to.

In those emotionally-heightened moments, consider these steps:

If you can control your tongue, ask clarifying questions of the person you’re talking to. Repeat what it is you think you’re hearing, and ask if this is what they are indeed meaning to say. Listen to their answers, and even if they are the exact opposite of what your emotions are telling you is real…believe them, at least for now (Proverbs 12:15; 29:11).

If you can’t control your tongue in the midst of your swirling emotions, then stop talking, at least for a short window of time (Proverbs 10:19; 13:3; 29:20).

If a decision needs to be made, delay making it until you feel calm, rational and relatively confident that you’re dealing with reality, not your heart’s version of reality. Particularly if it’s a big decision, ask other trusted Christian believers for guidance (Proverbs 11:14; 24:5-6, 28:26).

After you’ve calmed down, and if there were other people present, ask for their perception of the situation. Again, if their answers are vastly different from what you thought you were hearing, this is a good indication that you were responding out of a skewed reality created by your emotions (Proverbs 16:25; 24:5-6).

I’m convinced that Satan delights to see us unleash a torrent of words in the heat of an emotion-filled moment. Particularly for those of us who wield words like swords, the resulting sin we willingly choose to commit in those moments can inflict deep wounds that are hard to heal. I’m sure all of us can remember hateful words thrown at us by someone we care about. Though the emotions are long gone and the situation resolved, the words are nonetheless a part of our memory. It grieves me to think how often I’ve been the one doing the wounding with my razor-sharp words.

It’s been a painful process to simply stop my tongue from moving in an emotional moment, but as I’ve learned to mistrust my feelings more, I’ve been clearly shown how often my feelings are pointing me down a path that leads in the opposite direction that God’s Word would take me. That’s a path that, if I can help it, I never want to take again.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

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