Let’s Talk About Feelings

Looking in the past at my journey in the faith, I think back to high school. This was the time when I started learning more about the faith and taking a more active role in my personal growth in the faith, because previously I was just “going through the motions.” One of the ways I did this was attend retreats, after having experienced them for the first time early in high school.

Retreats are awesome! Even though I didn’t like the idea of going to them at first, I realized that they really allowed me to have the opportunity to get away from the crazy world I’m living in and just be in God’s awesomeness. What made retreats so great back in high school was all the praise and worship songs (with hand motions!!!), hanging out with new friends or getting to know old ones better, great food typically, really feeling the presence of God through prayer experiences, learning something new, and much more. The thing about retreats is that they eventually end, but the other thing about retreats is that stereotypical “retreat high” I would feel after having an awesome time!

This is what the “retreat high” could look like.  On Spongebob.

The “retreat high” is that really good feeling you get after having such a great time from a retreat. If you’ve been on a really good one before, you know what I’m talking about–that really happy feeling like you’re floating on air or perhaps a slightly more profound happiness that you have never known before. So, I’m not gonna lie–I went on several retreats while I was in high school. I had a great time at my own Confirmation retreat, and I really wanted to experience that “retreat high” feeling again. Therefore, after I got Confirmed, in my later high school years, I came back to help out at the Confirmation retreats, and made it a point to attend Youth 2000 retreats (I even went twice in one semester at two different dioceses!). I even got to go on a few post-Confirmation group retreats too. Every time, I would come back from a retreat with the “retreat high.”

And then, I think I got addicted to the “retreat high.” Me and my close buddies in the youth group would even joke about being addicted as we went on other retreats!

But the end result was always the same–the “retreat high” goes away. And that’s what drove me to try and attend the next retreat because the high goes away, and I wanted to get that feeling again. I felt close to God every time I’d go on a retreat. Rightly so.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about what my faith should be rooted in.  Looking back at my retreat experiences in high school, I can’t help but wonder if I let my faith take root in the “retreat high.” That begs the question, for all Christians to think about: do I only pursue Jesus because He makes me feel good?

Over the years in high school and college, I’ve seen quite a handful of my peers fade away from their faith or pursue a superficial understanding of what it means to be Christian because their feelings led them, rather than letting themselves be led by Christ.

Now that I’ve graduated from high school and college, with a few years of deepening my faith in different ways after college, I’ve matured enough to realize that my feelings don’t matter when it comes to the realities of the faith.

I’m sure you’d agree with me that feelings and emotions can fade away. If I’m feeling hungry, I’ll eat, then the feeling of hunger goes away. If I’m feeling bored, I’ll go do something to entertain myself so that I’m not bored anymore. If I’m in feeling in love with a girl then I later find out that it just isn’t going to work out, the feeling of being in love goes away. I sometimes get sad about something, but the feeling of sadness goes away eventually. On the other hand, there are times I feel really happy, but I’m not happy all the time. Basically, our feelings and emotions are temporary. We can temporarily satisfy those feelings and emotions, but they will eventually come back only for us to try and satisfy once again.

Think about how feelings and emotions are fleeting and temporary. Should our faith be the same? If I’m feeling particularly holy, I’ll be diligent in my prayers, but whenever the weight of sin has burdened me greatly, I tend to be lax in my prayer life, which just compounds my restlessness. Sometimes when I go to church on Sunday, I hear a really great homily or sermon that was super relevant to my life and sparked some motivation in me to change something whether it be the world or myself. But some Sundays, I don’t get much out of the preaching. Sometimes nothing at all. Then I don’t leave church feeling awesome. Also, sometimes I FEEL really close to Jesus because I’m just singing His praises in an awesome way (no AutoTune!) at church or retreats. But sometimes we sing songs that I don’t know or songs that aren’t my favorite. Sometimes we don’t even sing songs. Then, I don’t feel close to Jesus because I didn’t know the words or didn’t sing songs. Then I begin to wonder how close of a relationship I have with Jesus because I don’t feel like I do. Hmm. Do I have to FEEL close to Jesus to BE close to Jesus? But feelings and emotions fade away. Does my faith fade because I don’t FEEL close to Jesus? I don’t feel His love when I’m not feeling awesome with my faith. Perhaps my faith shouldn’t be rooted in how I feel in my worship and adoration of Jesus Christ, my savior? Because, He’s always there and He always loves me, no matter how I feel, even if I feel abandoned by God.  There are notable saints (I’m thinking Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Faustina) who have experienced “the dark night of the soul,” whereby they really strive to live a holy life yet God makes no consolation in making the saint feel His presence.  In other words, they didn’t feel His love or presence.

And that is perhaps the brilliance of Christianity. That God loves me, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Just because I don’t feel like He loves me, He still loves me. Without possessing any degrees in theology and lacking the Scriptural knowledge of a Biblical scholar, I would wager that the realities of the faith will always be true, no matter how I feel about it. What’s nice about being Christian is that there is a lot of objectivity in the faith (if you dig around enough!), but we live in a tumultuous time as Christians in America where personal opinions and feelings have governed Christian understanding, and this has led us down a very cloudy path to the Truth. Countless times have I seen or heard Christians accept partial Truth and follow, instead, their opinions and feelings. And I’ve seen people fade away from the faith because their feelings regarding their faith faded away. But none of that takes away from the Truth that God has revealed to us.

So then, if my faith shouldn’t be rooted in feelings and emotions because they are temporary and that the truths about being Christian will always be true no matter how I feel…what is my response?

Perhaps I should pray more in contemplative places.  I remember back in college, whenever I’d be going through a rough time and it was late, late at night…I would sit on the steps of the admin building because it was a lonely, quiet place.  The church was closed by this time of day, so I didn’t have the setting of church to be immersed in.  It was times like these that I would feel abandoned and didn’t really feel God, but I was compelled to pray because I didn’t know what else to do.  All I knew is that I felt like crap, and I was nowhere near the church…but I had to pray.  I had to find peace.  There was just no other way to get over whatever I had been dealing with.   Even nowadays, if I need to, and if my church is closed, I’ll go to my parish’s grotto at night because it is quiet and lonely.  But, by praying in contemplative places…it removes me from that church setting where I associate my faith and really get to core of why I’m faithful.  And even if I’m far removed from feeling close to God, the willful act of prayer maintains a connection, even if it doesn’t feel evident to me.

I could also make use of Confession and Adoration.  Such great sacraments of the Church.  I’m no saint, and thus I mess up often.  Therefore, I do go to Confession frequently.  However, I don’t necessarily feel like my sins have been wiped away…as if the burden of my sins remain, even after confessing them.  But that’s the beauty of being Catholic…that the efficacy of the sacrament does not depend on whether I feel it or not.  My sins are forgiven through the priest, serving in the person of Christ and given the authority by Christ, through absolution and my contrition, whether I feel like my sins are forgiven or not.

And then there’s Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  I think there are many hurdles to overcome in order to be convinced that unleavened bread becomes the Body of Jesus Christ, truly present.  To be honest, this is probably the ultimate test of feelings and faith.  No matter how I feel, the Eucharist really is Jesus Christ (see John 6).  Over the years, I’ve gone to Adoration many, many times.  I’ve gone when I felt tired, really sad, really distracted, really happy, really burdened by sin, etc.  And there were times where I felt really close to Jesus …not just physically, but mentally…emotionally….spiritually…and there have been times where I felt nothing at all.  But!!! No. Matter. How. I. Feel.  …  That. Is. Still. Jesus. In. The. Eucharist.  Even if I don’t accept it or even if I embrace it… it is still Jesus.  And that’s a good reflection to spend with Him … in the Eucharist, where He is truly present, even when feeble human senses fail.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Emotions are a good thing.  They are a part of what makes us human.  I think they help orient us towards a greater truth, but they should not be what drives us in the faith.  Imagine your life governed by your emotions and feelings–you would never achieve satisfaction and fulfillment because your emotions ebb and flow.  And our faith shouldn’t be rooted in  something that can easily change.

And now think about Jesus in His last day from Him praying in the garden to His crucifixion.  Now place yourself in His sandals.  You’re going to feel a lot of different things, many of which are terrible, but through the act of your will and your love…you will still go through it all.  Your feelings don’t matter.  They won’t help with the inevitable–the truth.

And I’ll leave it at that.  I feel like stopping here.  😉

– JD

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