On the thinking-feeling spectrum, I tend to be a bit more on the thinking side, although I do work hard at recognizing and taking my feelings into account in my thinking process. But for me, the process of thinking things through and having a plan and understanding is important. I do find it difficult then, to understand people whose lives are more controlled by their feelings. Although I grew up in the era when the mantra “If it feels good, do it” was being developed and followed, it didn’t have a lot of appeal to me.
I have also had to deal with the strong feeling orientation that some people bring to faith. I have worked with people who have jumped from church to church as they looked for a worship service or fellowship time or Bible study that made them feel good. I have watched people seek experiences that enable them to feel the presence of God. I have listened to them tell me that they can’t do something because they don’t feel it–or can do it because they feel it. I even had one member of a youth group tell me that she didn’t have to love another person because she didn’t feel it right then.
Now, I do believe our feelings are important. As a pastor and counsellor, I work hard at helping people understand, own and deal with their feelings. As a worship leader, I seek to include elements of the worship that will help people feel the worship–the choice of music, the flow of the service, the approach to the sermon topic–I use it all to help people have an appropriate emotional response to worship.
So I don’t approach the issue of feelings as a super-rational, emotionally detached individual. But just as I think that thinking without taking our feelings into account is a problem, so I also think that feeling without thinking is a problem.
Take worship music, for example. Are the feelings I have during the worship music being produced by a heightened awareness of the presence of God? Or they being produced by the use of certain tones, rhythms, and contexts which can produce certain emotional responses, according to a variety of reputable studies? When I worship, I want to know where the feelings come from because I want a real sense of the presence of God that will contribute to my spiritual development, not just a situational jolt produced because the music person happens to hit the right notes at the right time in the right order.
I suppose that causes some people to suggest that I think too much. The obvious response is that they probably don’t think enough–but that would be an invitation to one of those pointless debates where people are saying a lot but not hearing each other because they are speaking different languages. So rather than talk about thinking vs feeling, I would rather look at balance.
I like feeling good–and don’t particularly like feeling bad. Given a free choice between watching a movie with lots of good car chases (a feel good event for me) or reading a very poorly written student paper on some obscure theological topic that doesn’t make a bit of difference to anyone (a definite downer for me), I would always prefer the movie. But at various times and places, I have given up the movie for the student paper. It might not feel good, but my thinking process tells me that reading the student paper is my responsibility, no matter how much of a downer it is.
My thinking process might alleviate some of the bad feeling by letting me realize that if I get right at the paper and work hard at it, I will still have time to watch the movie. I might have the bad feelings of the paper but up ahead is the good feeling that comes from watching a good car chase while eating chips. While my thinking is dominant, I am still aware of my feelings and am thinking of a way that allows me to feel good and accomplish more than just a passing feeling.
Our feelings are important and valid–but so is taking the time to think about them and understand them.
May the peace of God be with you.