The first time I learned that faith and feelings don’t always coincide, my mind was blown. I had always equated faith with perpetually wonderful feelings and with things going smoothly in life. There was a dichotomy within myself as I wondered what I was missing since I didn’t always have those elated feelings when practicing my faith. Did everyone else experience consistently wonderful feelings during prayer, and I was doing something wrong? Why did things still not go smoothly in my life even though I was praying so much, and so many others were praying for me as well?
Learning that nugget was a game changer for me. It helped me to realize that it was normal to not always experience wonderful feelings after prayer time. It also was the springboard to me realizing that sometimes I was taking my feelings as fact, and those two things aren’t always interchangeable. Our feelings are part of our human nature and change with circumstances, moods, etc., but our faith is a solid foundation that contains the unwavering, unchanging truths we rely on even when our feelings are all over the place.
For example, I live in a lot of pain with many limitations, so I often feel like I’m at the end of my rope in terms of what I can endure, especially considering the chronicity of my situation. I know that God is sustaining me (as evident by the fact that I can keep going), but I don’t always feel that strength. My heart is broken because of what’s missing in my life- all the things I thought I’d have by now but don’t. Because of the unusual amount of suffering I’m enduring, I sometimes feel like God loves other people more than He loves me, or that He wants better things for others than for me. That’s the raw truth about how I feel sometimes, but the key word is feel. Those feelings are real and overwhelming when they bubble up, but I have to be mindful not to take those feelings as doctrine when I’m upset. The truth is that yes, sometimes I feel that way, but those are not facts about who God is or how He feels toward me. In those times, I have to recognize that it’s just the way I’m feeling, then I have to go back to the facts and remind myself of them (repeatedly)!
Who God is and what He has promised are not going to change, so I can find comfort and solace in God’s promises contained in the scriptures. One of my favorite verses is, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (RSVCE, Jeremiah 29:11). I have to keep reminding myself that is the truth, even when it doesn’t feel like the truth or doesn’t feel like it’s unfolding in my life yet. God wants good for me like He does for everyone else. I’m not suffering because God doesn’t want good for me. This suffering is the result of natural cause and effect in the world. Jesus is my hope though, my eternal hope. He’s the only source through which anything else can be made right.
Another verse that I find particularly helpful is, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (NABRE, John 16:33). Here Jesus is telling us that we will have trouble, so when struggles come about, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. I used to have the notion that following God equaled smooth sailing on this earth, but that’s not the truth. Life happens, and it isn’t fair sometimes, regardless. The good news is that Jesus is much bigger than the trouble, so we can always rest in that fact He has already conquered the world. Everything that has gone wrong in my life hasn’t derailed God’s plan for me, because He is bigger than all the trouble. Our courage isn’t to come from within ourselves but from Jesus and what He has already done!
Look at Mary for example. I would have thought that God would have paved a smooth road for her, considering she was carrying His only son, but that’s not what happened. Mary likely endured scorn and isolation as an unwed expectant mother at that time. She was traveling for the census when it came time for her to give birth, so she wasn’t in a familiar city or around other family members. Then there was no room at the inn, so she had to give birth in a stable with animals! Come on, God knew how this was going to unfold, yet He didn’t put a room on hold at the inn for Mary?! All joking aside, it’s clear that even Mary wasn’t immune to things happening in life. Then when Jesus was an infant, Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt. Imagine having the responsibility of caring for God’s only son when Herod was trying to kill infant Jesus! The path was certainly not easy for them, even though they were raising the Son of God. I would imagine they felt stressed, confused, anxious, scared, and overwhelmed at various times. Despite any of those feelings that they experienced, they continued to trust, have faith, and be led by God. He didn’t abandon them when times were scary- He guided them to safety in Egypt. God was with them every step of the way, just as He is with us every step of the way.
Jesus never changes even though our feelings do. He is constant and unwavering. We are the ones who ebb and flow, but He is the still pillar of hope in the midst of any emotions we experience. What a relief that is! Jesus is no less present when our prayer lives are dry and we are unable to feel Him in the way we can at other times. God’s presence, care, and guidance are steadfast and are not dependent on us having certain feelings. He is still the same even when we feel blah, tired, or hopeless. Our prayer time is just as important when we aren’t “feeling it.” We are called to show up in our relationship with Jesus even when we don’t experience the warm and fuzzies. That’s what faith is. We make the choice even when we don’t feel like it. Then the chaos of life quiets down when our eyes are fixated on our steadfast Lord.
In these unusual times, it’s helpful to keep reminding ourselves of who God is and what He has told us. Nothing that is happening in our world right now is surprising to God. It’s surprising to us and elicits a range of emotions within ourselves, but Jesus has already overcome the world. In the midst of so many uncertainties and feelings, we can cling to the unchanging truths of our faith and keep our eyes on our one and only certainty- Jesus. God is caring for us and sustaining us!