originally posted February 26, 2011
In the western nations we have learned the value of emotional honesty. As one who has the privilege of working in a number of countries, I would say Americans practice this the most. By emotional honesty I mean that we have recognized a legitimate healthy value in honestlyexpressing “how we feel”.
As a counselor, I agree that it is healthy to honestly express our thoughts and feelings, especially in our close relationships. Husbands and wives, family members and close friends will all benefit from open, honest and expressive communication. To share one’s true feelings about what may have been hurtful, difficult, frustrating as well as encouraging and wonderful can strengthen the bond of relationships.
BUT, expressing what we honestly feel may actually be a feeling that is based on something less than the truth. Let me share with you a mostly-made-up example I use when teaching on relationships:
A number of years ago when we lived in Tasmania, three ladies from a local church came to my office to talk about Christian counseling. People in Tasmania are very polite and I noticed that the three ladies had dressed nicely for our meeting. As I greeted them and noticed their nice appearance I simply said “you ladies look nice today”, and welcomed them in. My intention was to compliment them for taking our meeting seriously and dressing nicely for the occasion.
Lady #1 – heard “you look nice today” being somewhat confident and secure her thoughtsagreed with my comment, she accepted the compliment and her honest feelings were peaceful and pleasant.
Lady #2 – heard “you look nice today” but her thoughts were “I know I’m 15 pounds over weight, I’m not happy with my hair today, and this counselor guy is NOT being honest with me, and I don’t appreciate it one bit!” Her honest feelings were anger and irritation (toward me!).
Lady #3 – heard “you look nice today” but, unknown to me as a child she was sexually abused.The abuse she suffered caused her to act out in her teenage years, by being sexually promiscuous, with men often taking advantage of her. Although she had been a Christian for many years, she still struggled with shame and trust. Her thoughts were “he’s complimenting my appearance, he’s looking at me, I wonder just what he might be after”. Her honest feelings came out as suspicion and distrust.
If my three visitors would have been questioned, each one could have been honest about their feelings. But their feelings, with the exception of Lady #1, were NOT based on Truth. Their feelings came out of their personal histories, which actually distorted the true intention of the compliment into something that is was not. Do you see that?
To discover the thoughts behind our feelings and to examine them as to whether they are rooted in truth or not takes nothing less than diligent honest prayer. We need revelation not introspection. We need, with humility and vulnerability, to bring our souls before the Lord who loves us. Ps 139:23-24 says: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. The Lord indeed wants to lead us in the everlasting way of truth and freedom. Jesus told us that “truth sets us free”. If truth sets us free then untruth (deception) restricts and hinders our freedom.
I have found that I cannot trust myself. My blindspots are sneaky and illusive. My bruised emotions are always looking for self justification and they are very good, nearly professional in fact, at finding reasons to support my feelings. But I also find that the Lord is ready, willing and able to take me on the journey of self revelation to find the truth or fiction of my thoughts. The journey nearly always ends with some sort of repentance and/or forgiveness and a movement toward greater freedom. It is a journey, though painful at times, that is well worth taking!