It was a classic scene repeated in with little variation in spoof movies and sketch comedy many decades ago. The scene always seemed always to focus on the good doctor, one leg slung casually over the other, looking rather bored, sketch pad in hand, occasionally jotting notes, and eventually mugging the camera in mock disgust as the conflicted patient lay on the couch, face contorted with anxiety, pouring out some minor tale of woe that had been ridiculously inflated to the point of crisis. The gag line varied little, perhaps accompanied by a different look or nuance, as the overwrought patient finally paused for a breath, the doctor would mutter, deadpan and clinically, “And how does that make you feel?” The effect was humorous, as the poor patient, becoming ever more agitated and distraught each time the doctor, never offering advice or counsel, repeated the question again. So the sketch would continue, the culmination coming with some kind of assault upon the doctor (in good fun, I promise) or with the patient running from the set completely out of their mind in frustration and despair.
While I recognize there is a legitimate need for good counseling (I’ve been grateful for the many good counselors who have poured out their lives in my behalf on many occasions) and that there is nothing light-hearted about mental illness, what made it funny to me, as a teen and young adult, was the obvious jab at our cultures’ compulsion to make feelings the most important factor in life. Living that way can certainly lead to trouble. After all, we know how feelings can skew our perceptions of others, steer us to unwise choices, and even affect our health, right?
In the smugness of my youth, however, I forgot one important thing: Feelings are real. “Feelings can’t be trusted,” I would say to myself, trying to mask my youthful pride behind a face of intense thought and a rational posture. And I’m sure the irony is not lost on anyone who knows me, since I tend to leak rather profusely at even the sappiest commercials or a hint of family sentiment. It was a tough act, trying so hard to appear detached and objective while all the while a bundle of, well, feelings!
In the context of real, day-to-day life, the issue isn’t just feelings, it’s their origin. In my thinking, feelings are the tentacles of emotion - the outgrowth, the expression. Remember, by the way, emotions were created by our Heavenly Father! This being true, then the outcome depends on we’re feeding our minds and our emotional state. Thus, some feelings are good, helpful, and even true. Like the joy of a newborn baby or the elation of realizing that you really are God’s kid! Others, though, not so much. Like bitterness, which causes utter corrosion of the soul on every level.
As I’ve been considering Jesus’ call to be a disciple who also makes disciples (who make disciples), it struck me how crucial it is to understand the human heart as we build relationships with new followers and not-yet-followers. Our current study in the book of John portrays Jesus as the master of taking people right where they were and presenting truth in a way that helped them see things clearly. They sensed the True Life that He carried. The key was his compassion - he loved people first. Bad ideas and the crazy feelings they created were taken as they were. Never endorsed, just accepted at face value. That’s the way real love is.
His ability to speak into their lives wasn’t dependant whether they agreed or disagreed, but rather on whether he cared first. What set him apart from every other rabbi/teacher was that His internal compass was fixed somewhere much deeper than feelings, emotions, thoughts... his anchor was his Heavenly Father. That relationship is what compelled John to describe Jesus as “full of grace and truth”. Not a balance between them, but a fully integrated ‘fullness’ reflection of the Heavenly Father! The complete package -- full of grace & truth -- put skin on and came to live so we could reflect the Father, too! Pretty amazing.
Even as we stumble and falter, we still bear the reflection -- His grace and His truth. We’re compelled to tell about Him. Even to those who oppose it. Gracious to the wounded, compassionate to the lonely, and a challenger to the self-righteous. He loved them all enough to share all of his life and shepherded those who would become followers until they became followers, too. We’re called to the same; take people where they are, love them like He did, and, when He opens the door, offer them His story of grace and truth. And, even if they never respond, love them anyway, just like He did.