December 23, 2021
“How are you feeling?”
“How are you doing?”
These are lovely solicitous inquiries, often used interchangeably. Yet, I was listening to psychologist on the radio this week and she spoke of the difference between these two questions and their answers. She noted it was important for assessing our mental well-being to separate how we are feeling (the emotions we have in response to certain stimuli) from how we are doing (our overall sense of security and wellness). You may be feeling sad, but you could be doing great.
This struck me as a very Christian notion. Earlier this month at the Tuesday night Advent reflection on Joy, we spoke of the fact that for believers joy or innate happiness is something more than a fleeting feeling of satisfaction or mirth, such as one might get from a good day at work or a favourite Christmas movie. The joy we have in Jesus is deep-seated in our being and available to us, even through isolation, pain, sickness, lack, fear, and anxiety. The Joy of the Lord, as Nehemiah wrote, is our strength and our refuge. This has been a hard year and hard few weeks. We are living in a challenging, sometimes disappointing world right now, and we cannot fully escape that. But Christian joy is inherently present for us. It is not something we have to create. We just have to activate the choice to find, see and experience the joy that comes to us through and from Jesus Christ. As Christians, joy is how we are doing.
The psychologist went on to talk about the need to distinguish between our feelings and our values. We may feel a certain emotional impulse, but our values are the test of whether those feelings are true to our fundamental wishes. The example, which resonated especially with me, is the feeling of wanting to spend Christmas with elderly parents. Of course, we don’t want to be separated from them for yet another Christmas, and yet conditions are making gatherings problematic or even impossible. So, we may be feeling regret, or defiance, or anxiety about what to do. But behind those feelings is what we value – perhaps it’s making sure our aged parents are well and safe, or being a good daughter or son, or respecting the common good of a larger community. It makes it easier to choose actions when you appeal to your values rather than your emotions. At this week’s Advent study group, the reflection touched on the behaviour of the innkeeper: what was he feeling, with his full inn and this beleaguered couple showing up at his door with their outrageous need? Maybe annoyance, maybe frustration or guilt, maybe just bother and fatigue of his own. But his values must have suggested a course of action: find room in the stable. Whatever he was feeling, he knew what he could or should be doing.
As people of faith, “how we are doing” is dictated by something deeper than our surface emotions. It is why, despite what we may be feeling, we are doing what is good and right, we are doing God’s work, we are doing things that show love and compassion and empathy, we are moving forward in hope and peace and love and joy for ourselves and for our neighbours.
These core values— the “how we are doing” of it all —are especially significant at Christmas, when we are feeling lots of things and are once more separated from the ceremonies and customs and company that give shape to our seasonal celebrations.
So my thought for this last Thursday before Christmas, is this: whatever you may be feeling, I hope you are doing well. I hope you are doing things that feed your soul and feed the needs of others around you, whether they are in your immediate circle or strangers to you. And I hope in doing that you are experiencing the radical love that God has lavished upon us. And if you are neither feeling or doing well, my prayer for you this Christmas is that someone else’s values and actions will illuminate for you the awesome, comforting, hope-giving, life-changing wonder of the gift of the Christ child to the human family and the invitation to each of us to be a part of God’s family, too.
Grant to us, O Lord, the royalty of inward happiness, and the serenity which comes from living close to thee. Daily renew in us the sense of joy, and let the eternal spirit of the Father dwell in our souls and bodies, filling every corner of our hearts with light and grace; so that, bearing about with us the infection of good courage, we may be diffusers of life, and may meet all ills and cross accidents with gallant and high-hearted happiness, giving thee thanks always for all things.
— Robert Louis Stevenson