Diedra and I went on a three-week study tour of Israel while I was in seminary. It was fascinating–and of lifelong value to a professional preacher and teacher of the Bible.
Before we left, I remember thinking, “I wonder what emotions I’ll feel when I walk where Jesus walked.” Initially, the thought was anxious–“What if I don’t feel anything?!” Then I resolved that I wouldn’t care too much about it–whatever happens will happen, and won’t be assisted by my attempts to work myself into some sort of pious feeling.
That’s the right approach. And during the trip, I enjoyed the surprises. The places I expected to be moved emotionally where not the places I would have guessed. Perhaps I’ll tell you what they were someday….
This post, however, is about dislocated feelings–de-stressing about them, and maintaining the type of work it takes to cultivate them. If I’m not moved by something that many people find transcendent, I shouldn’t make a snap judgment about myself, other people, or the amazing thing. I shouldn’t quit, but ask questions, foster curiosity, and remind myself that taste is often acquired over time. Feelings are better followers than leaders. And they “follow” more like cats than dogs.
C.S. Lewis wrote the following advice to a young person regarding her Confirmation and first Communion. (This is when a Christian, who was Baptized as a baby, publicly confirms their faith, joins the church, and begins participating in Communion–a fellowship rite that includes eating a small wafer of bread and drinking a small cup of wine or grape juice as part of a worship service). It’s a big deal for them–a Coming of Age. (Other churches, who don’t practice Infant Baptism, wait until the child is old enough to express their faith before they are baptized. This also is a big deal for them–a Coming of Age.) What happens if they don’t “feel all the feels?” Should they worry?
Lewis advises to hold our emotional expectations with loose hands–to not worry if they are not what we hope, and to keep at the discipline so that they eventually “come right.”
“Don’t expect (I mean, don’t count on and don’t demand) that when you are confirmed, or when you make your first Communion, you will have all the feelings you would like to have. You may, of course: but you may not. But don’t worry if you don’t get them. They aren’t what matter. The things that are happening to you are quite real things whether you feel as you would wish or not, just as a meal will do a hungry person good even if he has a cold in the head which will rather spoil the taste. Our Lord will give us right feelings if He wishes–and then we must say Thank you. If He doesn’t, then we must say to ourselves (and Him) that He knows us best. This, by the way, is one of the very few subjects I feel I do know something. For years after I had become a regular communicant I can’t tell you how dull my feelings were and how my attention wandered at the most important moments. It is only in the last year or two that things have begun to come right–which just shows how important it is to keep on doing what you are told.” .C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, 26