After I came home from Bible College I decided to volunteer at the church I grew up in, leading a group that met to design the services with more creativity. There was a certain song that our pastor had blacklisted from being sung. During one of these meetings, I brought in an article written by the composer of the song explaining his meaning and intention behind it. The pastor said he had already read the article and felt it proved even more that the song wasn’t “theologically sound” and that the composer was in error, valuing our emotions more than our minds (that being the main problem). I challenged his point, highlighting a quote from the article itself which contradicted exactly what the pastor was saying. Eventually the tension peaked in the room and the pastor exploded at me: “So you think that what we FEEL is more important than what we THINK????” I had heard this message in many subtle ways throughout my church life, but never so explicitly. It wasn’t just his theology that whacked me over the head that day- it was his tone and the vengeance in his words, the condemning message that said, “How stupid and wrong are you to think that your emotions are valuable in some way? Don’t you realize they can’t be trusted??”
I do still believe in Jesus and how he is portrayed in the Christian Bible. One of the things I take away most from the stories about him were that he asked so many people this question: “What is it that you want?” He engaged with their hearts. He stopped and listened to their answers. It doesn’t seem like he asked the question with furrowed eyebrows and suspicious eyes… He didn’t hint that he knew their answer or expected a certain response. He asked in such a way that people opened up and really shared what they felt inside, what they wanted. He gave them the freedom to be real. Because of this, people were empowered to know themselves better and had the opportunity to navigate and embrace a fuller life.
In all my years of church and Bible school attendance, a question like this was never asked without some kind of agenda or hook at the end. Out of the hundreds of sermons and chapels I attended, my desire, my heart, my feelings came with me but were most often pummelled or corrected to death by the time I left. Verses were sliced and diced from the Bible to condemn our anger, our jealousy, our doubt, our fear, our desires, and even our joy (be careful WHY you feel happy), our pride, our grief (God has a purpose for everything that happens to you, so feel sad for awhile but you better get thankful again soon). We were TOLD what we SHOULD want. “You call yourself a Christian? Then, you should want to read your Bible every day. You should want to pray a lot. You should want to ‘evangelize’ and give away all your earthly goods to the needy. You should want to tell everyone about God. You should want this, you should want that, and if you don’t then something is really WRONG with your faith, with your belief, with YOU.” I spent years agonizing over whether my feelings on the inside qualified me to be a Christian (even a PERSON) and filled a dozen journals with my doubts and anguish. At the root of it all was the lie that my humanity could not be trusted and had to be controlled in order to be pleasing and good.
My emotional landscape was blazed away like a fire on the prairies over and over again and I still struggle with this part of my recovery. The lies I learned in church about the evil lurking in my emotions were like blow torches on the prowl, snuffing out spontaneous inner life here and there, teaching me to fear and correct myself all the time. The hope in living whole and free from those lies means I can let this inner landscape come back to life. Just like Jesus, I can practice asking myself “what is it that you want?” and know my honest answer.