Sometimes life hits us like a zany Three Stooges scuffle. But instead of getting boinked on the head with a rubber mallet (with accompanying cartoon-like sound effects) our pain can feel very real. It can cut like a deep knife, twisting all the way. When we take a major blow we don’t just brush ourselves off, shrug our shoulders, and off we go again with a smile on our face. Pain is not some abstract experience. It is very real. But so is joy. So is fear. Every feeling is real. But is every feeling a true reflection of reality?
I recently took my kids to a children’s-themed amusement park. Now, if you suffer from insomnia, just take a flock of children to an amusement park for a day. Once night falls, you will fall asleep 6-inches before your head even hits the pillow. There was one ride, in particular, about which all of my children were equally enthusiastic. It is constructed like a little house where, inside, a bench sits on a rotating, rocking axis. The “ride” basically consists of the house rotating around you, but it creates an optical illusion, because it feels like you are the one spinning upside down and around. If you close your eyes, the dizzying effect ends because you are not actually the one moving. After five or six rotations of the mini-mansion, my head started to spin. And my lunch seemed to hear the giddy cheers and applause of my kids, because it seemed to think they were calling for an encore. And it was soon apparent I wasn’t alone. Just outside the door to the ride, on the ground, was a gift from one of our travel-mate’s stomachs.
The reality was that the house was not really spinning, but that was not what my eyes communicated to me. It wasn’t what I felt. The truth was very different than my perception.
It is no secret that in my past, I have struggled with anxiety. Many years ago now, when I almost had a full-blown panic attack, I did not really understand what was happening to me. I could hardly breathe, my heart was racing, and I wondered if I was about to die. In the weeks prior I had been suffering from some from strange physical symptoms that had led me to believe (and worry) that something was seriously wrong with me. My mind started racing, of course, and I started imagining the worst. The reality was that I was ultimately fine, but my mind took me to a dark place and my perceived reality did not line up with the truth.
I am sure we’ve all been there to one degree or another. This whole concept has shaped how I do ministry. If I am writing a worship song, a book or a sermon, I don’t want to tell people how they should be feeling. I want to communicate the truth, and then let the truth affect their emotions within the context of their situation.
For instance, I could tell someone, “Look, you should feel relaxed! God is God, so just be happy!” But telling someone they should feel happy or relaxed, when their world is crumbling down around them, really means nothing. It’s like telling someone who is swimming in an ocean, with large sharks circling them, to just let the joy of God overtake them and that they should just enjoy the swim. Huh? Their perceived reality is that they are about to become fish food.
But what you know about the situation, and failed to tell them, is that the sharks are just basking sharks, a species that has never killed a human being and is completely harmless, despite its appearance.
When people are struggling, don’t tell them how to feel. It is appropriate, however, to encourage them with the truth.
If you’re struggling with feeling unwanted, alone or abandoned, I would not tell you to just, “put on a happy face.” I would encourage you with the truth. I would perhaps quote Romans 14:8 to you, which is one of my favorite, simple Bible verses. I even put it in a song I wrote for our church. It states, “…whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (HCSB) The truth is that God bought you at a price. The price was the cross. And now you belong to Him. No matter who has rejected you, you still belong to Him.
I am not saying that shoving the truth in someone’s face is a cure-all or even the most sensitive thing to do, depending on the situation. We can all thank the Matrix movies for making people question reality and what is really truth. But let me end with this: Truth is more than what we feel. Truth is the One who died for you to set your free from fear, anxiety, depression, and anger.