Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

This blog’s title (wo-o-o) comes from the 1974 ear-worm by Morris Albert. Feelings are what music is about; music both shapes feelings and reflects them. We have a strange relationship with feelings in American music, and driven as it is by our youth-obsessed culture, it tends to focus on adolescent feelings.

We seem especially obsessed with early feelings and I can see why to some extent. I remember when our oldest was 2, the only thing she wanted for Christmas was a Ring-Around-the-Rosie Doll. The picture of her smile of pure happiness as she danced around the living room singing with her new doll is one of my favorite memories.

But the idea of “first time feeling” has become a cultural idol. Foreigner’s debut single in 1977, “Feels Like the First Time,” is typical of this obsession. Madonna’s #1 1984 single “Like a Virgin” is another shining instance. For some reason, we hold this as the paragon of emotional experience, but it is unfortunate since we can only ever have one first time of anything. We can’t sustain that level of excitement. We become familiar and we (thankfully) lose some of our nervousness. There’s a reason they are called first-time jitters.

The Scriptures often use the metaphor of husband and wife for Christ and his church and God and his people. There is great wisdom in this, because our relationship with God has some distinct parallels to marriage. One of those is the maturation of emotion.

For some people, “coming to the Lord” is an intensely emotional experience, either in terms of repentance or joy. That level of feeling won’t last, though, just like the wonder of the honeymoon won’t be the rest of your marriage. And that is a good thing.

Those first, intense emotions tend to be intertwined with a lot of selfishness. We focus on our experience of the event. Our emotional reaction is our focus. This usually works out fine, because our new spouse is hopefully having a similar reaction. (Luke 15 would indicate that God is too, on the faith side.)

Move 20, 30, 40 years down the line. To make it that long, selfishness has to die — both in marriage and in faith. We transition from living for the way the other makes us feel to living for the other. That’s maturity.

We need to realize that our emotional reaction to something isn’t the same thing as that thing itself. Thomas Merton says it well:

To become attached to the “experience” of peace is to threaten true and essential and vital union of our soul with God above sense and experience in the darkness of a pure and perfect love.

And so, although this sense of peace may be a sign that we are united to God, it is still only a sign — an accident. The substance of the union may be had without any such sense, and sometimes when we have no feeling of peace or of God’s presence He is more truly present to us than he has ever been before.

If we attach too much importance to these accidentals we will run the risk of losing what is essential, which is the perfect acceptance of god’s will, whatever our feelings may be.

New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 212

May we learn to not esteem giddy endorphin surges, but the deep, abiding, selfless love that is only forged through years of walking together, with our spouse, but even more so with our Lord.

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