On a Thursday last fall, I typed up a fairly short and simple email about feelings and identity.
I sent it out to subscribers and didn’t think much about it—in fact, if you’d asked me, I wouldn’t have considered it one of the better emails I’ve written. But something in it resonated deeply with readers. To this day, it is still the email I have received the most responses from.
That tells me that there are many of us who struggle to navigate the ways our feelings compete with our identity in Christ. What feels like a very lonely experience has plenty of participants.
We experience days when our grief, our guilt, our loneliness, or our doubts loom up out of the landscape of our souls, and cast a shadow over who we know we are.
We know we’re loved.
We know we’re accepted.
We know we’re forgiven, and justified, and free.
But we don’t feel it.
It’s discouraging, and makes this whole identity conversation seem pointless.
“Why does my identity in Christ even matter,” we might ask, “if I only know it in my head without experiencing it in a concrete way?”
The ‘bad’ news? There’s no formula to fix this.
(A shame, because we love a good formula, don’t we? Especially those of us good at following the rules.)
We’re used to reducing a set of beliefs and behaviors down into some kind of blueprint to follow that guarantees success. But as soon as we do this, we often lose what helped us in the first place—faith in God—and replace it with faith in a method.
Here’s the good news. We don’t have to fix this.
Feelings are part of being human, and even the most negative feelings have something to tell us.
Our tendency is often to stuff them down and pretend they don’t matter and don’t exist. All this does is plant poison that can grow in the darkness and envelop the soul over time.
Rejecting our feelings or emotions is to also reject whatever message these things carry to us, about what matters to us, where we need healing, and where we aren’t experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised us.
But still, if our feelings say one thing and our identity declares another…which do we believe?
What do we do when we encounter feelings that appear to be incompatible with the truth of who we are in Christ?
Here are two helpful choices I’m learning to reach for when responding to this question.
Name the feelings.
“I feel angry.”
“I feel dirty.”
“I feel like a failure.”
“I feel unwelcome.”
“I feel unloved.”
Naming how we feel reduces some of the pain or stress involved, and also allows lies we believe about ourselves to surface.
Far too often, we as Christians are quick to write off feelings by labeling them as selfishness, unbelief, or ungratefulness, instead of becoming curious about why the feelings are popping up in the first place.
Emotions themselves are not immoral. They are information.
Acknowledge and name the feelings, and don’t beat yourself up for having them.
If you sense criticism in yourself towards this posture, consider the fact that God designed us with feelings and emotions, and an ability for intentional self-awareness. These capacities are actually reflections of his own image within us.
For me, I’m learning that not only do I need to acknowledge the type of feeling that I’m carrying internally, I’m often helped by expressing it externally, too.
I need to write the words down, or more often, say them out loud.
To Jesus, to a grace-grounded friend, or simply to myself. Just getting the feelings on the outside of myself gives them less of a tight grip within.
And when I share my feelings with God, I open the door to receive his voice of healing and compassion.
Listen for God’s response.
There’s an impact and authority and kindness to the voice of God that surpasses all the other voices we hear.
I’m learning to listen for the voice of God to remind me and reassure me that I’m his accepted, beloved daughter, because his is the voice that most fully convinces me.I'm learning to listen for the voice of God to remind me and reassure me that I'm his accepted, beloved daughter, because his is the voice that most fully convinces me. Click To Tweet
“But how do I know I’m hearing God’s voice?” is often our next question.
Again, I believe this is a process, not a formula.
I don’t think recognizing the voice of God is something we can spell out—it’s like trying to explain the voice of a friend. You can use plenty of adjectives and terms of description, but unless someone has heard the voice of your friend themselves, you can’t tell them how s/he sounds.
Maybe the only way to express it is to say what God’s voice does not sound like:
His voice does not sound accusatory.
His voice does not sound disappointed in you.
His voice does not sound bored, annoyed, impatient, or disinterested.
Think of the most compassionate, attentive, and empathetic friend you’ve ever known, and this friend’s voice will remind you of God’s.
If you’re not sure you know what God’s voice sounds like, please know this: it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, or that you’re failing at something. It just means you don’t know yet.
Tell him that. He’s the one who helps us figure it out.
When we bring our feelings before our loving Father, he does not rebuke us for our humanity. Instead, he speaks truth to us about who we are.When we bring our feelings before our loving Father, he does not rebuke us for our humanity. Instead, he speaks truth to us about who we are. Click To Tweet
When we feel angry, he says that we are safe.
When we feel unclean, he reminds us we are righteous.
When we feel like a failure, he calls us complete.
When we feel unwelcome, he blesses us with belonging.
When we feel unloved, he whispers that we are worthy.
Resolving the tension between facts and feelings about identity in Christ is less about “just believing” we’re beloved than about receiving this truth, straight from the mouth of God himself.Resolving the tension between facts and feelings about identity in Christ is less about "just believing" we're beloved than about receiving this truth, straight from the mouth of God himself. Click To Tweet
These two simple things—speaking the feelings out loud, and listening to God’s voice speak back—are what helps me navigate the feelings opposing the fact of my identity. I hope the words spark some ideas for you, if you’ve ever struggled with this. If this piece brought clarity or comfort to you, would you consider sharing it?
And if you would like to join the gracious readers who help me know when I’ve stumbled onto a truth that more of us need to know about, you can sign up right here. I’ll send you my new offering “5 Lies Masking Your Identity in Christ <And the Truth That Sets You Free>.”