“I feel that God doesn’t love me anymore.”
“I feel like no one cares.”
“I feel like it doesn’t matter what I say or do.”
“I feel that you are wrong.”
As a pastor, I often hear people say something that describes how they are feeling and what they are thinking. It troubles me, not because I disparage feelings. I certainly do not. Feelings are an important part of life. What would life be like if we didn’t feel happy or sad, anger or peace, wonder or shock? The entire palette of feelings brings color and texture to life. Life would be flat and boring—if not actually worse—in their absence.
However, feelings are a terrible basis for belief. And make no mistake:
When a person prefaces a truth statement with “I feel...”, they are actually saying,
“I believe this to be true because I feel this way.”
In other words, a statement, perception, value, or belief is considered true on the basis of one’s present feelings.
One problem with feelings and emotions is that they are highly volatile; they are less like roots of a tree, and more like leaves on a windy day. They do not stay in place but move and shift as other factors are introduced. External circumstances like the weather, or getting my way, or not getting my way and being disappointed, all can weigh on a mood. A person’s health affects our feelings; things tend to look darker when we are fighting a cold or flu. In fact, how we feel might affect how we think. But should it?
“I feel good. I feel bad. I feel guilty. I feel wonderful! I feel terrible. I feel lonely. I feel afraid.” Describing how you feel is not wrong. And feelings are not wrong—they just are.
But just because you feel good doesn’t guarantee that everything is good in your life. (Ask a recovering meth addict.) Feeling guilty doesn’t mean you are, and not feeling guilty doesn’t mean you’re innocent. Feeling fearful doesn’t mean something or someone is out to get you; and feeling secure may actually expose you to harm. My point is simple: feelings may be out of sync with facts; emotions may betray reality.
Years ago, I saw an illustration of how to harness our feelings rather than submitting to them. The illustration was of a train—facts being represented by the engine, feelings the caboose, and our intentional faith or belief the coal-car connecting the two. The idea was to identify the facts, the truth, and to intentionally place your confidence in them (to “believe” them); the promise would be that eventually, our feelings would follow along. I have found this to be accurate and helpful in my life.
Why we feel something at a given moment may be more complicated than what we are able to deduce. But without a doubt, making truth statements based on present feelings is a dangerous (but common) practice.
So the next time you hear someone (even yourself) say, “I feel...” followed by a truth-statement, take a minute and intentionally spell out the longer confession: “I believe (this) to be true because I am feeling (this way).” Then, separate the two:
“I am feeling (this way).”
“I believe (this) to be true.”
Describe your feelings, and then tell yourself, “My feelings may or may not accurately reflect the truth.”
Then seek the truth of the matter. That may mean investigating what actually happened, or what a person actually said (rather than what was reported or what you heard as a rumor). As a Christian who subscribes to the Bible as a source of truth, I measure my claims and thoughts against what the Scriptures affirm. The idea is to allow the truth, as best as you can determine it, to lead your life rather than your unfounded beliefs or your volatile feelings.
You can say, “I feel” as a preface to what you believe. But if you do, the chance of you being wrong at least some of the time increases. Maybe even more often than not.
No matter what you feel.