ReForming Our Feelings: Feelings vs. Conditions

As we continue to think about Re:Formation, we come to the subject of reforming our feelings. This is a very complex area of life where clarity and light is needed. And philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard, in his book Renovation of the Heart, brings profound clarity and wisdom. This week, I’ll be posting some excerpts from Willard to help get us thinking about what it means to be transformed in the area of feelings.

Feelings and their Underlying Conditions

Most of the conditions we commonly speak of as feelings are really not feelings at all; but the feeling tones or sensations that accompany those conditions are so powerful that the conditions themselves become identified with the associated sensations… When we confuse the condition with the accompanying feeling—peace, for example, with the feeling of peacefulness—we very likely will try to manage the feelings and disregard or deny the reality of the conditions.

For example: the person who primarily wants the feeling of being loved or being “in love” will be incapable of sustaining loving relationships, whether with God or with other humans. And the person who wants the feeling of peacefulness will be unable to do the things that make for peace—especially, doing what is right and confronting evil. So, as far as our planning for spiritual formation is concerned, we must choose and act with regard to the condition, good or bad, and allow the feelings to take care of themselves, as they certainly will.

In particular, we must never directly cherish, protect, or manipulate feelings, whether in ourselves or others. The only exception to this rule is when negative feelings have themselves become so overwhelming that they threaten to take over our lives. Then we must take steps to remove the negative feeling (grief, or pain, for example). Prayer or even medication for such feelings is then wise. But even so, the focus on the feeling must not be allowed to prevent our dealing, when and as we can, with the conditions from which that feeling arises.

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