Listening to Our Feelings

Nearly sixteen years ago, I was interviewing babysitters for our son. We were new in town, so I didn’t know many people. I only needed someone a couple of days a week, and most sitters only wanted full time. Plus, in the world of childcare, if someone has lots of openings, there’s usually a reason.

One interview still sticks out to me. I visited the home of a woman just a few years older than I was. A soap opera was on the TV, and though she turned down the volume, she continued to watch while we talked. Bodice-ripper romance novels lined a bookshelf in the living room. I was glad to see she was a reader, but the selections didn’t improve my impression.

I decided quickly that she wasn’t going to babysit my child, but I sat down and interviewed her so as not to appear rude. She had a couple of kids, and was taking babysitting jobs because she was getting a divorce. I told her I was sorry to hear about the divorce. She then began to elaborate on the reasons for it, using lines that could have come from one of her soap operas or romance novels:

We still love each other, but somewhere along the way we just forgot how to be friends. Once those feelings are lost, you just can’t get them back.

Emotions. We got ‘em. Teaching and raising teenagers has shown me how powerful they can be. Many people, like the woman above, make huge, life-altering decisions based on nothing but feelings. But even though our feelings lie to us, they are very important.

In The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, authors Allender and Longman say, “Our emotions connect our inner world to the ups and downs of life.” In the book I’m reading now, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp says:

[O]ur emotions reflect what we worship. They reveal what has captured our hearts. God gave us emotions as he made us in his image; they are intended to help us live in communion with him. They are a key indicator of whether we are living in joyful covenantal communion with him or in the service of something else.

I still think about that woman. I wonder about her children. Since she already appeared to be living on the edge of poverty, I wonder how she managed financially.

In hindsight, I wish I would have talked with her a bit longer. Although I was stunned that someone would end a marriage for such flimsy reasons, I merely nodded at her explanation. I was also experiencing a few emotions of my own. Namely, “Take your baby and run far, far away from here.”

The world seems to think their emotions never lie. Some Christians are still ruled by emotions, but they assume that every emotion is a special message from God. Other Christians take the opposite extreme. If you feel miserable, they take it as a sign that you’re particularly holy.

None of these is correct. Emotions are a gift from God, but we also need to remember that our emotions, like every other aspect of our flesh, are tainted with sin. We need to listen to them, and then weigh what they are telling us against Scripture. It sounds so simple in the telling, much harder to do in the moment.


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