Getting in Touch
with our Feelings
Last Tuesday evening, like some of you perhaps, I watched the programme
about Stephen Fry and his battle with bipolarity, or to use an older
way of describing it, manic depression. The programme focused on other
celebrity folk, Robbie Williams among them, who very bravely and
movingly described how life can switch from one mood to another without
any warning sometimes, leaving them feeling completely helpless and
powerless over their lives and for most of the time living with a sense
that there is something intrinsically wrong with them. Thankfully the
insights and information available to us in the 21st century help us to
understand many things, not least diseases which are difficult to be
aware of perhaps because they are not as obvious to the eye as a broken
leg or an arm in a sling.
Some of us here may have first hand experience of what it is like to
have bouts of depression, but it is true to say that many human beings
enjoy a somewhat healthier life when, as much as is humanly and
physically possible, we are in touch with our true inner feelings and
are aware of how those feelings shape our lives. Our deep down,
sometimes unacknowledged feelings can shape the way we perceive
ourselves, and others around us, and can be the cause of great joy or
great sadness in relationships. Very often it is only when we have
really been in touch with the various pieces of our lives that we can
begin to experience the peace which comes from God alone.
You might say that getting in touch with our feelings and all that
drives us is the message of today’s readings. In today’s epistle, S
James writes Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find
disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done.
An obvious statement but a true one. Many of us have perhaps been in
the position of hiding or denying ambition but secretly lusting after
it. Without really knowing why, we can be jealous of others because
they have been asked to read a lesson at a special service, or they
have been asked to sing the solo; these are just small examples which
can be found in many church communities.
We can be jealous if we think someone else is closer to the priest than
we are or they socialize with the Vicar more than we do. Such
jealousies do occur, believe you me! We can offer congratulations to
someone appointed or elected to a post we wanted for ourselves
ourselves. Such congratulations are usually false and because of that
our true feelings, our jealously and resentment, are not actually dealt
with honestly and so are pushed deep within us to fester.
I had a friend years ago who had got herself into so much debt she had
stopped opening letters from the bank and credit agencies. She just
pushed them all into a draw. That isn’t uncommon and many people with
cravings and addictions are reluctant to admit the truth about them.
But the more we push true feelings away, the more we store up trouble
for ourselves emotionally.
Again, S. James says: Where do these wars and battles between
yourselves first start? Isn't it precisely in the desires fighting
inside your own selves? You want something and you haven't got it; so
you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy;
so you fight to get your way by force.
We have the tension of cravings and desires and some of them are indeed
good and healthy; but they are not always good ones, they are often
battling against the way of life which we know is ultimately of God.
And of course they clash. Very often we have to live with tensions of
many kinds; sometimes we deal with them better than others. Sometimes
external help is needed and some find psychotherapy can provide that
But today’s Gospel speaks of us having the openness of a child. And
what we mustn’t confuse here is being child-ish with child-like. One is
very much more mature than the other. It was indeed a battle over power
amongst the disciples which led Jesus to talk about having the openness
of a child.
St Paul writes “if any one should boast, let them boast of the Lord”.
Perhaps that phrase might be slightly altered to say “if anyone has
ambition, let it be for the good of the church, and not for the
glorification of the individual”.
The scene in the today’s Gospel would be a wonderful one to act out.
Adults at their very childish best. They were arguing “what are you
arguing about? “ says Jesus. Then the reply came as if from a naughty
child. “Nothing… we weren’t saying anything!” Of course they were –
they were arguing about who is the greatest but knowing that to be
childish they denied it. In a similar gospel passage where the pushy
mother of one of the disciples intervenes and tries to secure the best
place for her son, Jesus makes it clear that it isn’t about ‘who sits
where’ but about who takes discipleship seriously. That’s the real
In the church today we have battles – forms of service, low or high,
male or female priests and so on….. we might well hear Jesus say, it
doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, it is the living out of
our faith that is the serious issue. Charity, compassion, sacrificial
giving for the work of the church at home and overseas, these are
things that really matter. And I wonder if the debates in the church
would lead to different outcomes if people were truly honest about what
their fears were concerning various issues rather than simply peddling
arguments of scripture, tradition and reason – on either side of any
Some years ago when Aids was becoming a common illness, many of us
learned to live with a new language, for example we talked of people
living with Aids, rather than people dying from Aids.
People who live with depression, people who live with jealousy, and
make no mistake, some people get emotionally crippled with jealousy,
people struggling to cope with all kinds of conflicting emotions and
negative feelings won’t necessarily find a magic cure, but we can begin
to deal with such emotions when we first acknowledge that these
feelings really do exist and secondly, as today’s epistle suggests, we
deal with these things in the context of prayer. As Christians, we are
fortunate to have that added dimension to our lives. It’s what gives us
our identity, a relationship with God made real through prayer and
worship. With God we can learn to live with rather than die from.
Proper rest and relaxation, carefully planned timetables and
work-schedules, medication, – all these can play their part in trying
to make us, as far as we can be, balanced and healthy people.
As Christians we believe that Jesus entered the world as it really was;
not some fantasy world but a real world with the mess, the sin, the
squalor, the pain and frustration. That is the world he hung and died
on the cross for.
In the depths of despair we so often ask: “Where is God?” And when we
turn to the Cross we find the answer. There is God. Right in the middle
of it all. In the mess. In the mystery.
And it is when, with the open simplicity found in children, we truly
open ourselves to God in prayer, bringing to that prayer the reality of
the pain we live with, then we begin to see pain transformed and life
renewed. That is the message and the lesson of the Cross. Jesus
couldn’t dodge the issue of pain and suffering, he first had to go
through the darkness of Good Friday before the Resurrection on Easter
Day. And if we are serious about being Christians, we must be serious
about the cost and sacrifice involved.
The word psycho-therapy in fact comes from two words, one meaning cure
and one meaning soul. When any priest is licensed to a parish he is
given the cure of souls which he shares with the Bishop. That doesn’t
mean he is an expert in understanding the human psyche, but he is the
dispenser of the church’s sacraments; not because he is worthy or
better than others, many of us priests are only too aware of our
unworthiness to perform the task, but because God only has broken human
beings to choose his priests from. And as the BCP reminds us, the
sacraments of the Church do not depend upon the worthiness of the
minister, but on the abundance of God’s grace.
The sacraments of the church are not there as some sort of panacea, a
quick fix solution, but whether it be the sacrament of reconciliation,
the sacrament of healing, or the sacrament we will shortly receive at
this altar, we receive the very life-force of God himself. The
Sacraments of the Church are God’s way of breaking into our lives and
flooding them with his love and healing.
We can easily sit at a PCC meeting or an AGM and talk about how we
should order our buildings and spend money on them. Generally there is
no shortage of things to say on such matters. But try and talk about
the things of God, of the spirit, of eternity, and it isn’t always easy
to find words. We often say that actions speak louder than words. So
also Sacraments speak louder than words.
Getting in touch with our real feelings may be painful, doing something
about those feelings may be more painful.
Our hopes, our fears, our aspirations and our dreams, our frustrations
– all of that needs to be placed into God’s hands in prayer so that as
we approach the altar this morning we are prepared for God to place
into our hands the very means of his grace. For in Christ we find the
healing and strength which alone can bring peace to our fractured and
sometimes vulnerable lives, and ultimately to our fractured and
These words from today’s offertory hymn perhaps sum it all up:
Lord, we come to
ask your healing, teach us of love;
all unspoken shame
revealing, teach us of love.
Take our selfish
thoughts and actions,
hear us now to you
appealing, teach us of love.
Soothe away our
pain and sorrow, hold us in love;
grace we cannot
buy or borrow,
hold us in love.
Though we see but
dark and danger,
though we spurn
both friend and stranger,
though we often
dread tomorrow, hold us in love.
Fr Neil Kelley
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