All of us have experienced the incongruity of mismatched feelings to particular experiences. This happens when you know the social expectations or “normal” feelings that typically align with milestones or events, but yours just don’t. Like the wedding that prompts you to worry instead of rejoice. Or the baby shower that births frustration and sadness instead of gratitude and affection. Or the birthday party that makes you mad instead of cheerful. Or the funeral that brings you relief instead of sorrow. Even the church service that depresses instead of encourages.
It doesn’t keep us up at night, having most of these feelings. This is because we tend to be experienced and honest enough to acknowledge that feelings aren’t always clear. They certainly aren’t always predictable. And sometimes, they’re not even controllable.
But we can doubt what’s true or right when our feelings don’t match. It can be hard to do the things we ought when our feelings clash with our responsibilities or vocations. In our culture which touts individual, personal feelings as the sole key to our direction and purpose, it can feel, well, downright cruel and ruthless to push past or ignore our feelings in order to do what’s in front of us, let alone to do what’s right.
Yet as Christians, we can rest in the knowledge that God doesn’t expect us to have the right feelings. We should repent of sinful feelings, yes, and when we allow them to move us to reject Him and our neighbors, but we don’t have to worry about having the right amount of joy, say, to come to His house or His table. We don’t idolize our emotional experiences above the Truth He gives us. Christ says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He knew the temptations of bodily, emotional, and spiritual need and fatigue (Matthew 4:1-11). He knew hunger in the wilderness–and probably the force of hangryness, too, let’s be honest–and want and sorrow and all of the hard feelings humans experience. And He calls us to trust Him, not pull ourselves up by our emotional bootstraps to have a good face to put on before Him.
This is a relief to me, this Ash Wednesday and this Lent. I know I’m a sinner, and my only Savior is Christ. The last thing I need is the burden of the “right” emotional state as a sign of my salvation. The only thing I need is outside of my feelings–a Savior who felt for me and fulfilled the Law for my sake.
So I will go to church tonight and receive ashes on my forehead, a reminder that from dust I am formed, and to dust I shall return. And if I’m not feeling the weight of my sins, or the joy of knowing they no longer condemn me, that’s okay. Even as black soot crosses my unfeeling or weak-feeling forehead, that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus bore my sins’ weight. I just receive what He has given me to know in my baptism, through His Word, and in His sacrament, and confess the Truth.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV.
Blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent.