How to Defy the Dreadful Danger of Dulling
The emotional dam finally broke, and I let my tears flow. It was long past time.
Day after day I’d read a Lenten devotional that should have broken my heart. Though I felt pangs of sorrow, there was no breakthrough. No lament.
Certainly American racism is a reason to weep, but I’ve been immersed in it my entire life. I’ve grown dull to it because it was my norm, so even a powerful document like “An American Lament Devotional”* didn’t awaken my long-slumbering heart.
The devotional started to shake my soul awake, but it was my friend Karen’s personal story of visiting the area where her family had been enslaved that gave me the final jolt I needed. I love Karen. She’s shared her gifts and friendship with me, so when she wrote out her hurt, I felt her pain. With an almost audible “Crack!” the shell broke off my heart, and I felt at least a fraction of what our God must feel when His image bearers suffer.
I believe that God saw my anguish and called it good.
Even though we follow the Savior who wept, we Christians have crossed a treacherous line. We’ve made the extreme swing from following our feelings (un-Biblical and unhealthy) into the opposite danger-zone of dulling our feelings. In addition, we give our dulled emotions the virtuous label of “faith.” You know what I mean. You’ve heard things said like, “She has such strong faith. She hasn’t broken down at all since he died.” That’s why I’ve labored here over unpacking the Scriptural reality of God’s emotions.
Faith and feelings aren’t mutually exclusive.
In fact, God’s emotions should be reflected in His image bearers, especially in those who love Him. We don’t let our emotions rule us, but we leverage them to stay engaged to those around us. Allowing ourselves to feel God’s emotions keeps us awake to the suffering of this broken world.
I confess that I don’t like feeling some of those emotions. They’re uncomfortable and ruffle the calm of my life. As a result, we humans become adept at implementing two self-protective strategies instead: running to someone to help us deal with our emotions or turning to something to dull our emotions.
Running to Someone to Deal
When I bumped up against circumstances or issues that caused pain, I was quick in the past to turn to others to help me deal with the ouch. I’d call my mom to get some mama-comfort, schedule coffee with a friend to hash it all out, or ask for my husband’s sage advice.
A decade ago, a friend listened carefully to my coping mechanisms and then asked a piercing question, “Do you run to the phone or the Throne?”
Womp womp. I think I’ve already revealed the dismal answer to that question. I regularly ran to the phone to find someone to help me deal with my anger, sorrow, or pain.
Now there are even more outlets for running to someone than ever before– texting, FaceTime, and all manner of social media. After all, there’s nothing like a Facebook poll to decide how you should feel about something! Running to someone to deal has become a normalized reaction.
Turning to Something to Dull
Like no other culture in history, we have hundreds of ways to dull the way we feel. There’s alcohol, drugs, or my drug-of-choice, food. We’re dulled by every form of entertainment, and we constantly have screens in front of our eyes or earbuds in our ears.
Avoidance is probably my most turned-to dulling tactic. I’ll do things like:
- Read books with little substance to keep my mind distracted by the world around me.
- Declare “I don’t watch the news!” as if it makes me a better Christian.
- Write off a difficult relationship, “ghosting” instead of having a painful conversation.
Do you recognize any of those dealing or dulling habits in your own life?
When I pondered the value of God’s emotions in the world, I realize that His emotions–love, compassion, mercy, sorrow– are what propel Him to engage with us. I’m determined to do the same, allowing my enlivened emotions to compel me to engage with the people God so loves in this world of ours.
What do you use to deal or dull?
How might it change your life to wake up your feelings instead of using “faith” as an excuse to dull?
Note: In the next post, I’m going to interview my friend Karen along with our other friends, Beth and Kenisha, who went on the trip together. Stay tuned to hear how God has used the feelings the trip stirred up!
* “An American Lament Devotional,” a 40-day resource developed by the Repentance Project, is highly recommended. I urge you to download your copy today.
Thank. An inter racial group in our church has been studying the sin of racism for more than two years. Thanks for explaining the Redemption Project.
I guess I don’t understand why you think it’s okay to put us on the same level as God (you use human emotions to explain GOD). I feel like when the Bible says God is saying I’m a jealous God, it’s not for us to say ?, God is jealous so it’s okay if I’m jealous in the same context as God is for ___ in my life. Neither is it okay to say ?God is supposed to be ALL GOOD, this Bible isn’t true, bla bla bla. While you do a swell job of trying to explain in human reasoning why we can be okay with it, the fact of the matter is He is Lord. We don’t have to understand what God is doing, we don’t have to like what God is doing, we simply (not that it is a simple matter) have to trust and believe in Him. The end. I understand that I cannot always tell my daughters, “because I said so” as a reason for all of my instructions and directions and orders as a mother. So I provide reason and help with clarity for those situations that allow. But there are times when the only plausible reason they can understand at the time is “Because I said so!”, and that’s the end of that. It may be years before they can understand why I made that decision (ages 11 and 7 ☺️), and the truth is they may never agree with my decision, but it’s the decision I decided was best at the time. Well our God is omnipresent, omnipotent, AND omniscient, so if He chooses or says anything, I don’t have to feel warm and fuzzy, I just have to trust and accept.
The same is true about any other emotions we describe God as having.
And so, I am one who does not watch the news. I refuse to get caught up in the politics of the world. I don’t have any social media accounts, and that’s not to be numb, that’s to avoid being overwhelmed with what media outlets controlled by certain sectors of society want to ‘brainwash’ the masses. I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist or even sound negative about some of what you’re saying. I love your work, but I’m not 100% about everything, so I’m trying to provide an alternative perspective, for you and the readers.
Dealing is what we have to do to accept something that isn’t in us. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have to talk some thing out with people (who are prayerfully being led by God), for some things. I mean, hopefully we don’t have those conversations about everything ?.
I am still interested, tho, so please press on. I pray that God convicts you, blesses you, and gives you spiritual food for thought to satisfy the new believers, unbelievers, and seasoned believers, alike! I pray for all readers that we receive the message God intended for each of us! Amen
I’m sorry, I guess I read too much into it, maybe?! I get that this is not a hard don’t do this/that. I understand that there’s a “happy medium”. I think I just don’t see enough. I see people every day who justify their feelings – unhealthy feelings, selfish feelings, and I fear that your words will give weight to a prideful spirit. We take the reigns from God all the time, several times just in a day. I apologize to you and the readers for going too hard! I’ve read enough of your work to know that you are a blessing to so many of us, and though you (as do us all) struggle with putting self aside, you are cognizant of our Father because He is in you as well. I’m sure I didn’t express that point well in my previous comment, so I’m trying to show both sides. My apologies!!!
Kellie, thank you so much for both of your comments. Differing thoughts and beliefs are welcome here as long as they’re expressed respectfully. You expressed your perspective thoughtfully and respectfully, and I appreciate you! No apologies needed at all. Your strong emotions about the post just mean you’re thinking through it. I’m a fan!
First, let me be the first to say that I’m on this journey in a very present sense. In the past, I’ve written about things where I was 10 steps ahead, lessons that I had firmly under my belt. I had much more confidence writing that way. In this journey, I’m writing it as I live it, so I’m maybe a 1/2 a step ahead. I understand that there’s a greater margin for error, so I’m happy to discuss other points of view. I’ll also be willing to admit when I’m wrong. We’ll learn from each other!
What I’ve attempted to do in this series is to use God’s emotions to explain our emotions, not the other way around. I started with His for a reason since I understand this is dicey territory. Because God has and expresses emotions, I believe He frees those of us created in His image to do the same.
However, we all know that human emotions, unlike God’s, have error and sin woven in. His are immutable and incorruptible, but ours clearly aren’t. (Mercy, some days mine so clearly aren’t!) We know that Scripture tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9). Clearly, letting our emotions lead, is unhealthy and unbiblical.
I’m concerned, though, that the church has taken this truth to such an extreme that we’ve veered into the worldly quest for comfort. Instead engaging our culture, we’ve retreated so that we don’t feel the pain of those suffering around us. God did the opposite. He sent His Son Jesus from the comfort of heaven into the pain of the world so that He could be a great High Priest who has experienced every temptation and human emotion with us. I strongly believe that He wants His people to respond to the world’s pain in the same way, entering in instead of hiding out.
How that looks in individuals lives is up to God. I’m realizing that I need to watch some news so that I’m in touch with what’s happening in the world. It helps me to care. (Although goodness knows there’s no good news to watch! There’s no “balance” to be found.) For others, that might not be how God helps you to engage.
Here’s my final thought. Let’s all seek God about how to engage our emotions in godly ways, ways that help us to see the pain around us with His eyes. Let’s feel what He feels so that it compels us to do what He wants us to do. More about that next time. 😉
Thanks again, Kellie! You’ve given me some things to chew on too.
I agree 100%! Thank you for having an open mind and an open heart. I pray for exactly that, God give me ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart to love the way that You do!! AMEN! God bless you Amy!
Amy, I love this! I sent you an email which is rather long, but this speaks to so many. I will also say that you are spot on. Not only do we need to go to God for our worries first so we may proceed life by His will. But it will also save a lot of relationships with our family and friends not to be so quick to “gripe” and bring that person down with us. Thank for this. So much is in here and He in you!
Your encouragement is precious to me. Old friends that have seen our whole journey are a treasure. Thanks, Jackie, and your life inspires me!
Oh Amy, this was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Love you
Love you back, friend. Big hugs to you!
Dulling with alcohol was my choice 9 years ago. Today I can say I highly don’t recommend it, and if that is someone else reading here today, you can leave it all with Jesus. Once I stopped dulling, as Amy mentioned, I had to deal with some yucky feelings, but we never have to deal with them alone when we, and I love how Amy’s friend said, “Run to the throne”. Hebrews 13:6 tells us that “the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” What can mere feelings do to us? Feelings are not facts. But they are our feelings and at the time we are going through them, experiencing them, the not so good ones, we need our Savior to pull us up and out of the yuck, into his light and love to move forward, to love and help others. Just like Amy is doing here! Thank you Amy Carroll this is a terrific post and I can’t wait to hear about what happened on the trip!
Thanks for sharing your story so vulnerably, Jane Ann. It’s a joy to watch you reaching out to others with what God has taught you. After a tragedy at our church that took the life of a popular high school student, a counselor told us that Christians are often the hardest to treat because they live in such denial of their feelings. His advice has stuck with me, “Feel it all, and bring every feeling to the foot of the cross.” That’s helped me to face my feelings but not wallow in them. Jesus is our tender Savior who understands our fears and temptations, but He also gives us the power to heal.