Life is filled with a complicated mix of complex feelings.

Feelings are notoriously unpredictable and variable. They come and go, up one minute, down the next. While it is important to be aware of feelings and to take them seriously, to live at the whim of feeling is to live a life that is constantly in flux, caught up in turmoil, drama, and instability.

The triggers for most emotions are enormously complicated. It is impossible to know with certainty why a particular feeling passes through my consciousness.Feelings arise as a result of a confused confluence of genetic make-up, parental influence, environmental effects, personal decisions, often unexamined thought processes, and mysterious unknowable influences. We are complex beings.

As difficult as it is to be fully conscious of my own labyrinth of emotion, it is utterly impossible, and dangerous to try, to know what another person may be feeling. Most of our interpretations of another person’s feelings are a result of wild projection, speculation, and sometimes wishful thinking.

The goal of psychological health is to help me be aware of my feelings, to articulate my feelings, and to be respectful of the feelings of others. These are all good things; they are not the goal of the spiritual life.

The goal of the spiritual journey is to discover that I am not defined by my feelings. There is something more to me than my feelings. There is a deeper dimension to being human than how I may be feeling at this moment.

When I discover who I am beneath my transitory feelings, I begin to experience a freedom that no longer depends for a sense of well-being upon how things are going in the external world.

In her blog post “The Questions That Will Save Your Relationships”

Glennon Melton suggests that,

A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.

A caring question is an honest question. It emerges from a deep and authentic place within myself to which I have gained access because I have taken responsibility for my own life and made my own inner journey with sincerity and truth.

holman hunt light of the worldThere is a famous nineteenth century painting by Holman Hunt called “The Light of the World.”

Jesus stands outside a door that is overgrown with vines and weeds. He holds a lamp in one hand; with the other he prepares to knock on the door.

Fifty years after he painted his picture Hunt felt the need to point out that the door upon which Jesus is about to knock has no handle on the outside.  It can only be opened from within.

No one has the power to unlock or open the “room inside” for any other person.

Jesus said,

whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

This inner room is “in secret”; it is deeper than thinking or feeling. If we stay locked in the mind or the emotions, we will not gain access to that inner room where the “reward” of God’s presence is known. Faith is the key to the inner room and faith is a choice we make for ourselves in a dimension deeper than intellect or emotion.

We must take responsibility for our own lives. We must each find for ourselves the “key that will unlock” that room where it is possible to live without being the perpetual victim of feeling.  Then we will be free to live in authentic human relationships, not because people ask us the right questions, but because we are living with a sincere and open heart.