"Things are shifting.
The wreckage gets stirred up.
Beneath the surface is where I cover up.
A sense of feeling is what I want.
To be taken apart."
Head Space - We Barbarians
I have been exploring some suggestions about what might come after one has checked off the "Christian checklist." I have suggested that the pursuit of Christianity is entirely relational and that we should therefore pay more attention to our feelings and those around us. The idea of lending credence to our feelings is surprisingly controversial in Christian circles. In an effort to clarify the sort of thing I'm writing about, I have a recent example:
It was one of those days at work. Unusually frustrating in a SNAFU sort of way. In the past, I might have bulldozed right by the circumstances and not paid much heed to how my spirit was being affected. In this case I was aware enough to realize that I was getting pretty spiritually banged up.
What I did next, I would not suggest to you unless you are willing to bear the consequences without getting defensive, making excuses, getting hurt or offended. Not unless you are willing to remain open and teachable. It's an exercise that I learned through Ken Nair's Christ-Quest Institute and I didn't do it lightly or without some consideration. Ken says that God uses physical circumstances to teach us spiritual lessons. Because God foreknew that we men can be spiritually handicapped, He made for us a help. I texted my wife, Gwen:
"Have I ever made you feel like you had to work under completely irrational circumstances that made no sense at all and were a perfect setup for failure?"
Soon, came the answer:
"Yes, I am afraid so. Also, so afraid of your reaction after all is done. The dread of your anger and lack of understanding."
Ouch. It brought back memories of when our oldest sons were young. The disagreements we would have over their upbringing. In my more liberal Christian mind, I was preparing the boys for life in the world. They wouldn't be shielded from much. If Gwen openly disagreed with me, I would become angry and sulking. Resentful. Harsh. Gwen would say trying to reason with me was like trying to argue with a Philadelphia lawyer. To Gwen, it must have seemed like spiritual abuse. It must have seemed irrational. She must have thought, "How can he consider himself a Christian? It doesn't make any sense at all. He is thwarting everything I'm trying to do as a mother to raise godly young men. He's setting me up for failure."
This is what I'm saying about paying attention to my feelings: God used the physical circumstances of an unusually frustrating day. Because I was aware of my spirit, I was able to ask an important question that, when answered, let me know how Gwen felt when our boys were young. I weep just thinking about it now.
Gwen's answer gave me an opportunity to acknowledge to Gwen that I was starting to truly understand how I affected her in those times. It gave me an opportunity to confess that it was thoroughly wrong of me to have acted that way. It opened the door for me to make a heartfelt apology for how I acted and make a promise to do better in the future. It brought some element of closure when Gwen extended her grace to me. This process brings us closer almost every time we use it. I say "almost" because I don't always put it into practice as I should.
One final element in the process is for me to ask the question, "Did Jesus ever feel this way?" In most cases, the answer is "Yes, I can find times in Scripture where I'm sure He must have felt this." In the example above, I can imagine that Jesus' disciples must have made Him think twice about what He was trying to accomplish. Can you imagine how He felt when the disciples were arguing among themselves who among them was the greatest? When they couldn't figure out Jesus' parables? When Nicodemus asks the question, "How can these things be?" When the disciples couldn't stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane? When His Father had to turn away from Him on the cross because of the sin that he bore? When I ponder these things I connect with Christ in a remarkable way. He felt what I feel and remained holy. Can I follow His example? It gives me a goal. Shooting high never hurts.