On the Altar of Feelings

Maybe you should put on your steel-toed boots for this one.  I am lacing mine up as I type these words.  Toes will be stepped on.  This may hurt.  It is a lesson that has crunched my own toes more times than I can say.  Ready?  Here goes:  Your feelings are liars.  I know there could not be a more counter-cultural statement.  Sorry.  Maybe you’ll like me again if I tell you a cute story.  Once Upon A Time….

When my oldest daughter was 3 years old she was at the height of the Disney Princess craze.  In true, first-born, type-A fashion, when she dressed up as a particular princess she needed ALL THE THINGS.  For example, if she was Ariel, she had to have a flower pinned in her hair, along withskye-cinderella the “bras” (I know!  She’ll die one day), and the tail.  She also positioned herself on a stump in our backyard and sang “Part Of Your World” for infinity.  And so it went with Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, etc.  But Cinderella was her jam.  From the moment she put the first pair of “glass slippers” on her chubby toddler feet she never looked back.  When she was Cinderella, she not only had the gown and slippers, she also had her hair in a bun, a black velvet choker on, and white gloves up to her elbow.  EVERY. DAY.  This was a precious phase until one day I heard her say to her 2-year-old brother, “You have Jesus in your heart, but I have Cinderella in mine.”  Uh oh…. Maybe this whole thing had gone a little far.  Trying to discuss this theology with a 3-year-old princess dressed in a ball gown was pointless but my eyes and ears became more a tuned with the importance of our hearts.

Obviously I am not talking about the blood pumping organ that resides inside each of our chests.  I am talking about the center for our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions or feelings.  What do we hear over and over in our self-centered, narcissistic, selfie-driven society?  “Follow your heart.”   Mr. Hallmark has never clarified this statement to me exactly, but I am assuming it means follow your feelings, put your emotions in the driver seat, let your perceptions and affections be the deciding factors in your life.   It sounds warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?  Like you want to put on a twirly peasant skirt and lay in a field of wildflowers?  I know, me too, for a hot second.  And then I think about all the tantrums my kids have thrown over the years.  I think about the things they have wanted that have been absolutely crazy, harmful, or impossible.  I remember the melt-downs over broccoli or hair-cuts or bedtimes.   If they had been allowed to “follow their hearts” none of them would know how to read, none of them would have ever had a bath, and none of them would have a tooth in their head.   My oldest would have run away a hundred times, number 2 would never leave the Ranchito, number 3 would have been killed by her pet tiger, and number 4 would have brain-damage from jumping off of every elevated surface he has encountered in the 5 years of his life.  But, they have not been allowed to follow their hearts at every turn.  Sure, we nurture who they are.  They get to choose their activities.  They get to voice an opinion sometimes.  During the #summerofsayingyes there is extra room for freedom and creativity.  But, ultimately there is a higher authority.  It’s called parents.  If I let my children follow their hearts all of the time they would be taken away from me and I would be in jail.

So, I guess my question is, at what point are they trustworthy?  Our hearts, our emotions, our feelings?  Is there a magical age where they should get their license and be allowed to drive our lives?  Is it 16?  Good grief I hope not!  18?  21?  40?  Because whatever age it is, I haven’t reached it yet.  I know that my perceptions are not always dependable.  I know that my emotions are not always stable.  I know that my feelings do not always reflect truth.   In direct contradiction to “follow your heart,”  the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  As much as that rubs against all things Disney Princess and Hallmark Channel, we know it is true.  You know your heart is deceitful.  You know it lies to you.  You know that no matter what age you are, you still have temper tantrums and say things in the heat of emotion that aren’t true.  You know that feeling when it feels like you are underwater, drowning in hurt feelings, or anger, or fear, or despair.  You know that you can swim, you know that a life-preserver of truth has been tossed your way, but your feelings pull you under.  Powerful they are, trustworthy they are not.

In these moments, what have you sacrificed on the altar of your feelings?

Have you ever sacrificed a friendship on the altar of hurt feelings or misconceptions?  Have you sacrificed a calling on the altar of fear?  Have you sacrificed a marriage on the altar of apathy or bitterness?  Have you sacrificed your spiritual walk on the altar of boredom?  Have you sacrificed wisdom on the altar of rebellion?  Have you sacrificed your witness on the altar of anger, your legacy on the altar of pride, your children on the altar of selfishness?  Sorry.  I hope those boots are working for you.  I have had some near misses myself lately.  I have come dangerously close to lashing out from beneath the tide of pain.  I have been misunderstood and misjudged  and people I know I love and I know love me have been drug to the jagged altar and tied up.  The soundtrack to this dramatic scene is forever the same: the words, “Always,” “Never,” “Everyone,” and “No One.”  As in, “He always ____.”  “She never ____.”  “Everyone ______.”  “No one really ____.”  I know that when those lies are playing in my head, it’s time to put down the knife.  If I had followed my heart I would have done the deed.  But I know my feelings are liars and my heart is deceitful.  I have watched families come dangerously close to being sacrificed on the altar of misguided hearts and feelings.  Praise God for the beacon of His truth.  Just like there is a higher authority in our home and in my children’s lives, so there is in our lives and in the perilous sea of emotion.  It’s call the Bible, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit.  It’s our lighthouse when we are drowning in our feelings.


The Bible also says, in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Just like we would put a fence around a pool for our children, or protect our toddlers at the edge of the ocean, we must put a guard around our heart before it jumps into the deep end.  Just like we should be eating heart-healthy food to protect the vital organ and rejecting the junk, we must seek the healthy and throw out the dangerous when it comes to the center of our emotions as well.  What are you letting in that is not safe?  Are romance novels  pushing you under the waters of discontentment with your spouse?  Is it HGTV that is throwing you into envy?  Is Pinterest leaving you sputtering beneath self-doubt?  Are movies or magazines or someone’s Instagram feed pulling you under insecurity?   While it is true that we cannot always choose or control how we feel, we can certainly take important, practical steps to guard our hearts.  Truly, the only way our heart is completely safe is with Jesus residing on the throne of it (not Cinderella).

Last summer I (say it with me) read a great book.  The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith is a treasure I go back to time after time.  I was a bit nervous about the title at first, a little scared that it would be shallow and superficial at best, heretical at worst.  Then I learned that my girl Hannah was a Quaker who penned this gem in 1875.  Legit.  She addresses this tension of truth versus emotion in a chapter entitled “Difficulties Concerning the Will.”  She says, “The truth is, that this life is not to be lived in the emotions at all, but in the will; and therefore, if only the will is kept steadfastly abiding in its center, God’s will, the varying states of emotion do not in the least disturb or affect the reality of the life.  If God is to take possession of us, it must be into this central will or personality that He enters.  If, then, He is reigning there by the power of His Spirit, all the rest of our nature must come under His sway; and as the will is, so is the man.  For the decisions of our will are often so directly opposed to the decisions of our emotions that, if we are in the habit of considering our emotions as the test, we shall be very apt to feel like hypocrites in declaring those things to be real which our will alone has decided.  But the moment we see that the will is king, we shall utterly disregard anything that clamors against it, and shall claim as real its decisions, let the emotions rebel as they may.”  I told you she was for real.   When our will is steadfastly holding to the Truth, we know we will not drown in emotions.   Though we cannot choose our emotions, we can choose our response, our actions, our will.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an emotional girl. I’m not sure there has ever been a day of my life that tears have not been shed. Anxious tears, sad tears, angry tears, happy tears. I feel big. I love hard. I speak my mind. My husband calls it “drama.” I call it feelings. I am like David in Psalms. One minute I am praising God with my whole heart and the next I am “in the depths of despair.” (Okay, that’s Anne Shirley my favorite. Enough said?)  But I have learned the hard way not to let them drive my life. I can cry the tears, feel the feels, say the thing, and then swim to the edge and shake it off. I will not sacrifice the truth on the altar of my ever-changing, super charged feelings. They cannot be ultimate. They are not trustworthy.

So,  remember that life-preserver, those swimming lessons, that lighthouse?  We must know the truth to be buoyed by it. It must be real to us to be the lifeline that we need.   We must spend more time soaking in the Word than drowning in our emotions.  That sounds obvious but I bet that if you actually clocked the moments spent in the Word today versus the moments you spend talking/thinking/posting about how you feel you would see the water rising.  I would too.  But we can reverse the tide.

I don’t know what is on the altar of your feelings right now… a relationship, an opportunity, your testimony, maybe just your day.  I can almost promise you that it is not worth it.  You’ve been lied to.  Put the knife down.  Walk away.  Grab on to the Truth.  Guard your heart. Kick Cinderella out and get Jesus back where He belongs.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *