Emotions in the Christian life - Simon Tugwell

Chapter 5 of "Prayer in Practice," which is entitled 'Feelings in Prayer,' is perhaps the best piece of writing on the subject of emotions in the Christian life that I have read. 

Tugwell begins by noting just how unreliable feelings are: "I may feel inspired without being inspired; I may feel marvelous... but that may be caused simply by a good dinner and an insensitive conscience. Conversely, I may feel awful, but 'if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart." He points out that in our era of "romantic fundamentalism of experience, which will believe only what I can feel on my pulse" that we must realize that we can be seriously deceived about our own experience. Yet, we cannot fall into unending doubt and so we begin by realizing feelings are not infallible and then getting to know ourselves, our feelings, and the ways in which our feelings may 'misfire', well enough that we can discern when to trust. 

Tugwell lists four ways in which feelings can misfire:

1. They may bounce like a bad cheque. That is, there may be nothing behind them. So we may feel charitable without living out the virtue of charity and allow the feeling to be a substitute for reality. 

2. They may be artificial or contrived. We may feel something, and feel it very strongly, despite it not being 'real.' The perfect example is the group high or happiness; everyone else in the room is jumping and shouting and singing, this is contagious, and so I join in. 

3. They may be distorted. We prefer to view things simply, to make them plain and clear, but real emotions come as part of complex reactions to complex life. It is tempting to ignore ambiguity for the sake of ease of understanding and in so doing distort how we see our own feelings. 

4. They may be absent. We may feel we should have felt something, but did not, and so either convince ourselves that we did. 

With this in mind Tugwell explains that feelings, by themselves, are not very helpful. However, as part of a whole context of our person they are not only necessary but good. And God will use them, sending us times of consolation and joy, wooing us with a more intimate presence, or filling our hearts with a fire and a passion from His Spirit. These are good graces from God, but "we must not try to stockpile good feelings. It is of the nature of feelings that they come and go, and usually not when you want them to. We must not try to perpetuate feelings, however elevated they seem to be. We must not try to recapture them when they have gone. We must accept them when they are there and, if they are helpful and good, then, other things beings equal, we should accept them with joy and gratefulness; if they are negative and unhelpful, we must find the bets way to get through them with a minimum of damage. But either way, we must be a fish, and not get swamped by them."

And it is in the midst of this, adds Tugwell, that knowing ourselves is so crucial. 

Tugwell's conclusion?

"And so we should seek, not so much dramatic feelings, as the simple 'feeling' of God. It is rather like learning to recognize the footsteps of someone you know well. Or it is like learning to recognize the style of a painter. Familiarity with his ways will enable us more and more to recognize certain patters, certain configurations, certain little details, as signs of his artistry. If we love him at all, then to recognize him will carry with a certain excitement and joy. But in itself it is a very simple recognition of sheer factuality. It is not a sense of 'I like this' but just of 'there it is.' This quiet sense... is a tremendous asset in the Christian life. It will enable us, underneath whatever storms of emotion may be raging, to rest tranquil in humility and peace. then our emotional response will be rooted, it will proceed from the depths." 
- Simon Tugwell, Prayer in Practice. 


Simon Tugwell: "Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children..."

Speaking on meditative, repetitive, prayer:

"Of course, it is unlikely that we shall actually find ourselves totally devoid of thoughts! But in this kind of prayer the thoughts simply do not matter. Ignore them, and just get on with saying the prayer. Let them chatter away, accept them in the same way that you can accept any other kind of disturbance, without anxiety, without trying to suppress it, without even latching on to the desire to suppress it or even to the thought 'I am being disturbed'. Just let it be. As likely as not, without any deliberate intention on your part, you will actually find yourself chasing the first thought with a second one, such as 'I must stop this - I'm not supposed to be thinking.' That easily leads to an infinite regression, one thought trying to catch another. there is no need to take any notice of any of them! Thoughts are a bit like spoilt children trying to attract attention to themselves. If you ignore them, refusing to be distracted by them, then sooner or later they will get bored and go away."

Simon Tugwell, Prayer in Practice


"Surfing for God" by Michael Cusick

Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle. Thomas Nelson, 2012. 224 pgs. 

Pornography is a plague of epidemic proportions among men right now. I seriously doubt I need to share with you any of the statistics. But you should know that it is not the widespread nature of this problem which made me request this book to review. No, two other reasons rose to the fore: 1. I am a youth pastor and so continually walking beside, praying with, and counseling young men who struggle with addictions to pornography. 2. I, myself, went through an addiction to pornography. At the time, the only book people gave me on the subject was Every Young Man's Battle. That was a fine book, in it's own way, but not all that helpful in dealing with sexual addiction in the age of internet abundance. By the grace of God I was set free without a better book on the subject, but that has not kept me from continually watching for such books.  This is one of those books. 

The theme quotation for Surfing for God, behind the subtitle and included at the beginning of the book, is this: "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is knocking for God." - G. K. Chesterton. Cusick, a set free sexual addict himself, walks the reader through the truth of what is going on behind sexual addiction, the lies of pornography, and a path to healing. He asks questions that point the reader to a quest for self-understanding and submission to God. He does so because he understands what so many other approaches to sexual addiction and pornography get wrong: the addiction is a symptom of a much deeper and more central problem. It is a symptom of brokenness that only God can heal and of desires that only God can meet. Finally, he encourages us to find proper ways of taking care of our souls. 

I think that my opinion of this book can best be summed up by my saying the following: This is now my go to book on the subject of addiction to pornography. Cusick is insightful, honest, and helpful in speaking to men who are in the midst of these things. To be clear, this is not a book about the social issues which surround sexual addiction. Nor is it a book which I believe will be much help to female readers except, perhaps, in enabling them to better understand men. But, for what it is, I have yet to read better. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Recommended. Given the number of men caught in this snare (statistically, it is pretty much guaranteed that you know someone who needs this kind of help) it is well worth reading a book such as this. If you are in the midst of this struggle or are walking with someone who is, then the same is doubly true. 

Disclosure: This book was given to me by Thomas Nelson for review, through the website booksneeze.com. 


May Reflections

Top Post from May

Life Change - Pretty good considering it went up yesterday. Just some thoughts on 'changing lives.'

Three Most Visited Posts in May

1. We're Sinking - I like this post :) 
2.  Heaven and Hell - How long will this last? At least it regularly comes in 2nd now. 
3. Life Change - See above. 

Yes, it is now officially June. Can you believe? Me neither...