I don’t feel


For the past few weeks, Hayley and I’ve been visiting a small church plant. It meets in an elementary school. Intentionally.

Something struck me while we were there yesterday. The church is full of broken, hurting people. And it’s obvious. The pastor talks about it. A lot. But these are people who have received the grace of Jesus and are in the process of being healed (or restored, as they like to say). Hearing the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done fills them with joy and gratitude. Any time Jesus’ work in them is mentioned, people cheer, clap. They’re excited.

And me? I stand, stoically unmoved. Perhaps a smile crosses my face, but nothing more. I am emotionally untouched by the simple, beautiful message of what Jesus has done for me. I don’t feel broken. I don’t feel hurt. I don’t feel joy. I don’t feel freedom.

I don’t feel.

I know the truths that are being shared. I’m sure I believe them. I just don’t feel anything about them.

Which leads me to today’s question: Is it possible that an insistence on reason and reverence and an abhorrence of discomfort with emotion and impropriety has hindered my ability to be moved by the truth of what God has done for me?

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  1. Andrea
    May 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm — Reply

    I don’t know about impropriety, but being put off by showing emotion in church because of reason and reverence is commonplace. But I think that sometimes those who have the least to “lose” are those who are most joyous to receive salvation. If you feel like your life is spinning out of control and you hear a message about forgiveness, love and redemption it can make you emotional.

    For years, my mom didn’t attend church, but when she did she always chose an “evangelical” church that had people raising their hands, jumping up and down and even speaking in tongues (which is a different discussion). Whenever I tried to attend these churches I was distracted by the expressions of joy people were experiencing. I was embarrassed for them and really, really, uncomfortable. But I had been raised in a Baptist church and later converted to Catholicism – neither denomination is known for its ability or willingness to demonstrate anything but humility and piety during church. This isn’t bad, just different.

    About two years ago I started attending a new church and while one or two people had a hand raising during worship time, it wasn’t like being in a stadium as part of “the wave”. I thought that what brought me to this church was the fact that it was so unlike other churches. Everything was different and no one seemed to feel out of place – neither the arm raisers or the stoic standers.

    Eventually I realized that I was at the church because I needed it. I needed the message, I needed the fellowship and I needed to express my joy. I am an occasional arm raiser and I clap when I feel like it. But it took time and a landslide of crap in my life for me to get there and to really feel what all those other people had been feeling all along – unspeakable joy for the gift of unconditional love and forgiveness.

    I don’t know exactly the kind of church culture you were raised in, but I’d bet it was close to mine. I also don’t know what struggles you have in life. So maybe you aren’t “feeling it” because you are self-conscious or think others might look at you and think, “Oh geez, holy roller alert!” Or maybe you just haven’t been through a trauma or struggle that has caused the need for you to just totally have to Give it to God. I don’t know and certainly don’t want to assume. What I do know is that everyone is broken in some way. If you let God take that brokenness he can turn it into something that makes you on fire for Him.

  2. Jeff
    May 19, 2009 at 7:56 am — Reply

    I understand completely because I’ve had the same experience. I don’t know the answer….

  3. May 19, 2009 at 9:23 am — Reply

    I think God has made different people with different temperaments, and that’s okay. Some people feel joy about God in a straightforwardly emotional way when sharing with a group; others feel joy about God when they are by themselves or watching birds or children or whatever; others feel joy about God in daily habits; others again feel joy about God in bombastic worship experiences; and yet others feel joy about God in the high pitch of an intellectual argument. I know you feel the latter, the ferocious exhilaration of it, and that’s just as much “feeling” as weeping and hugging. One isn’t superior to the other, nor does everybody need to experience God in the exact same way for it to be authentic. Quit worrying.

  4. May 19, 2009 at 10:01 am — Reply

    Thanks for the link.

  5. Stephanie
    May 19, 2009 at 11:42 am — Reply

    Several pieces of what you wrote struck deep chords with me this morning. First of all, the mere fact that you recognize your discomfort in the situation is a terrific example of an inner self-witness. And I think you are describing how you felt; it just doesn’t gibe with how you saw the other attendees emoting (because who knows how they really felt either).

    Typology plays a factor — what moves one person doesn’t necessarily do a thing for another. If you are a high T or S (thinking function and sensate), then you may observe all of this with a keen eye and disaffection. Nothing wrong with that at all. Reason and logic serve you well. Some people (like myself) are of such temperaments that we need to incorporate our feelings into our reasoning so that we do not become swept away by emotion. Others seek that very experience; it sounds to me like the basic vibe of the church is to allow the group consciousness to overpower one’s own. To LOSE oneself in the name of finding oneself.

    I believe that you can appreciate all of what God has given you, and all He has in store for you, by living your life honorably, and being your true self. And you are! Your life is your prayer, and the more you live it to the hilt, the more you exalt God (and yourself, too).

    I do not attend church, but I feel the touch of the divine in the exploration of spirit, and when I pray, and in candlelight, and on just the right starry, moonlit night. I feel it in the tingling I get when art or writing strikes me as authentic, innovative, or challenging. I feel it in a room when I witness another person struggling, or celebrating, or changing. I feel it in what you wrote today.

    The role of “witness” is a quiet one, but very active. Perhaps that was the role you served on Sunday.

    Thank you for this thoughtful, intriguing, honest post.

  6. May 19, 2009 at 2:36 pm — Reply

    Ditto Jonathan.

  7. May 19, 2009 at 6:40 pm — Reply

    I also agree with Jonathan: We have so many ways to worship God. I don’t think holiness congregations (and other highly emotive worshippers) are necessarily having a more authentic worship experience than the congregants at high-church services. I have had much the same experience as you, Todd: I was raised to be fairly unemotional in general, and I tend to be a little removed and unilaterally observant when I’m around people who are super emotive.


    I have also struggled with judging folks who are “showy” worshipers. Part of it is my background, part of it is that I once attended a church where the pastor chided the non-clappers (don’t tell me what to do!) But I was having this conversation with my best friend a few months ago and she argued that we dislike certain styles of worship because they tend to go hand-in-hand with certain prejudices. Her (approximate) actual words were, “I don’t like people who engage in charismatic worship styles because those people are usually hateful.” (Having been hurt deeply by the church, she is no longer a Christian at all.)

    I was taken aback a little because I know as well as anyone that identification with a particular group doesn’t say much about who a person really is–I know plenty of people who worship in a much more charismatic style than I who are fabulous, nonjudgemental people. But there is some truth to what she said.

  8. Brad
    May 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm — Reply

    Todd I would answer your question with a yes, it is possible. No judgment brother. Just saying its possible if not likely. Of course being moved isn’t necessarily something to aspire to. But I believe it is a blessing.

  9. May 19, 2009 at 8:55 pm — Reply

    I, coming from a similar faith background relate to your feelings. Very well, in fact. I think that singing, worshipping, hand-raising, clapping and lifting praise to our Father is a discipline. I see it, as a form of expression and as a kind of art that while it may come more naturally for some than others, it takes practice. You may not have travelled the same broken road that your fellow church goers have travelled, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the capability of expressing your gratitude to your Father. You have developed other means of doing bowing down and thanking him for his huge gift- other disciplines. After all, you had to LEARN how to stand stoically in place and sing a capella. I say, work at it. I would LOVE to be able to lift my hands and sing and proclaim song to my Lord without feeling uncomfortable. It’s not something I’ve developed- but I believe it’s a form or expression that can be developed. To answer your question: Yes. It probably has hindered you to be moved to throw up your hands or clap or cry out in praise in a corporate worship setting. But I don’t think it can be blamed for hindering you to feel a certain way. That and I think you should probably pray and ask God why He created you with such a cold heart.

  10. May 29, 2009 at 10:42 am — Reply

    Everyone feels and shows things in different ways. Different things/songs/places/times…we are all different. What might move me one day might not the next. I will tell you this though…I have been more moved emotionally/spiritually by a good, back to basics sermon than I will EVER be by a “dramatic”, theatrical, multimedia performance/sermon. I have been more moved by a heartfelt, spur of the moment prayer than I will EVER be by a staged, cued, practiced prayer.

    If I want staged, I will just watch any reality show.

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I don’t feel