From the Director’s Chair: On Feelings

We tend to think globally or categorically about emotions, lumping all of them under one heading.  But, in fact, each of our emotions vary enormously in character and origin.

For example, not all anger is the same in origin:

It can arise out of the disparity between what we want and what is.  And what we want can be a healthy and good thing to want — and it might not be.

Our anger can arise out of the disparity between what is and what should be.  And we can be wrong or right about what should be.

Our anger at circumstances can be in accord with the will and ways of God.  And it can be all about us, acting like God.

What instantly becomes obvious is that when we run from a feeling like anger, or we fail to ask ourselves important questions about the particular shape of our anger, we are closing the door on important information — information about ourselves, our relationship with God, and the world around us.

In working with a spiritual director our emotions can be an important ally, but only if we are willing to sit with those emotions long enough to learn from them.

When did I begin to feel this way?

What prompts this feeling?

Is my first explanation for the way I feel, the real explanation — or are there deeper, unspoken reasons for the feeling I am experiencing?

What do those feelings tell me about my relationship with God and about the needs of my soul?

Are these feelings born of deep congruence with the will and ways of God, or are they born of the impulse to make my own will felt?

If they are congruent with the will and ways of God, am I being invited into some kind of new effort?

If my feelings are all about me, what do they say about unhealed needs, or unacknowledged sin?

Questions of this kind will recruit our emotions as important allies in spiritual growth.  Finding time in spiritual direction to recruit them in this way can be a healthy way of exploring them, even after the fact.  We can be less defensive and more open.  We can explore them thoughtfully and prayerfully in God’s presence with the help of a spiritual director.  And over time the practice of exploring our emotions can make it easier for us to evaluate them in the moment.

Our emotions are not all the same and they have things to teach us.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.