So many of us are exhausted by the endless breaking news cycle filled with catastrophe after scandal after disaster. When we look around our cities we see homelessness, potholes, pollution, and displacement. When we survey our own lives, most of us aren’t where we want to be in life. And so our feelings evolve into cynicism, defeatism, fatigue, and apathy. We used to care, but that didn’t seem to get us anywhere. Things don’t seem to change for the good. So we just stop “feeling like it”, turning to distractions that make us feel something better, and we insulate ourselves from being emotionally jaded and exhausted, settling for rhythms of life that keep us feeling good.
Our feelings and moods are pretty powerful stuff. They can move into action or paralyze us altogether. They are one of the most significant forces in how we make choices: “I felt like doing _______”, or “I wanted to go to _______”, or “I loved the way that he/she made me feel so I _______”.
When we’re saddened by global events we often feel like doing something about it.
When we’re angered by an injustice our mood can often drive us to speak out.
When we feel challenged by ambition and a perceived goal, we ramp up our efforts.
When we’re scared we often look for ways to minimize risk.
For better or worse our feelings and moods directly affect how we live and move in our world. But what do we do when they’re all dried up? What do we do when we don’t feel much anymore? What do we do when we’re worn out?
I’ve talked to so many people who’ve entered this terrain. They used to care more about their relationships, their careers, their faith, and the problems of the world. But after years of going back to their feelings as a source of energy, the well has been emptied.
For those in the helping profession this might be called compassion fatigue, but I think this is more common than one category of careers, I think this is an essential part of our journeys, especially in a time when we’re bombarded daily by tragic headlines.
As I’ve wrestled through my own fatigue of feelings, reflecting back on times in my life where I was more ambitious, more inclined towards action, I’ve come to see that in many ways, I’ve lost touch with some of those early feelings, for better or worse. Some might argue that this is a necessary part of growing up and maturing through youthful idealism, but maybe it’s not. Maybe our feelings were never meant to carry us through the entirety of our life’s commitments and endeavors? Maybe there comes a time when need something else to keep us going?
I recently spent time with a friend who regularly surrounds himself with the suffering of the others in some of the most dire circumstances on earth. He’s been at it for decades. What keeps him going is the hope of faith, something that’s hard to put into words but is an orientation of his soul around the belief that things can change.
In our world, I think we all need something outside of our feelings and moods in order to avoid apathy and lives of endless distractions. There are dark things going on in our world, and we have the miraculous opportunity to engage them in real ways, but our feelings will never be enough. If we rely on our feelings and moods to inform who we are than when those feelings fade we run the risk of defaulting to the norms of contemporary society. These normative cultural currents include things like leisure, entertainment, comfort, materialism, security, and vanity.
For me, this has actually become one of the better “cases for faith”. I need some set of values, a hope, an ethic, a story that reorients me from despair to victory and keeps me from being absorbed into the path of least resistance. It’s not always something I feel, but it’s something that I have to choose.
In my faith tradition, this is the essence of faith, “being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see”. Essentially in the midst of all that is wrong with the world, faith is the choice to believe in a better outcome. Rather than avoidance or fatigue, faith is the decision to look straight into the darkest depths and believe that light will eventually shine.
In many ways choosing faith is not about having all the answers or being filled with spiritual emotions. Faith is what moves us forward in the absence of all those things. Much like marriage vows during times of relational stress or a soldiers muscle memory on the battle field, faith happens when we align ourselves with a narrative outside our finite existence compelling us towards hope. Deep in our subconscious we choose to live in a dimension where love wins and this choice subverts the ways we view and move in our life.
So today, with all the storms swirling around us, I choose faith even if at times I don’t feel it, even if there are many unsolved mysteries, and in spite of my human tendency towards personal comfort and security.