My body has a capillary condition which results in my having constantly cold hands. In the winter, I have a particularly difficult time keeping them warm—especially if I’m outside for any period of time. In talking with my doctor about the condition, he suggested wearing mittens instead of gloves so that the collective warmth of my fingers would help them fight off the cold. But I challenge you to find an attractive pair of mittens for a man. Or, perhaps I mean to say, I feel unman-like while wearing mittens.
Whatever the case, I don’t wear them. So here’s what happens when I’m outside during winter: my hands get numb. It starts in my pinky fingers and then slowly moves across them from the outside in. If you’ve ever had numb hands, you know it’s a strange sensation. There is a certain level of pain to it, but you get used to it because you stop feeling your fingers after a time.
The real pain begins when you come indoors. As your fingers start to warm up, it’s like a thousand little needles being jammed in every nerve ending. The more numb your fingers, the more excruciating the pain when they begin to thaw.
In my last post, I described my experience of trying to let feelings enter my life again. I hinted at the challenge of this process, but didn’t dwell on the pain involved in it. I’d like to try to describe that further here.
As I noted in that post, to not feel takes practice. I had to learn techniques to shut down empathy and desire, which come naturally to humans. I sensed I was feeling too much and, particularly, feeling toward other men in ways I thought I shouldn’t as a Christian, so I shut the whole feeling machine down. But you can’t selectively turn off the machine. If the lights go black on the hard feelings, then the good feelings too must sit in the dark.
Much like my fingers in winter, I grew increasingly numb across all areas of my life. And it was a long winter. Years went by and the numbness created a hard shell over my heart and mind. But Christ, like spring, comes and things warm even against one’s will. Cracks begin to appear in the ice. I started feeling things as I described in my last post when I saw that couple embrace.
And it was excruciating—more stinging than needles poked into my fingers. So much latent desire and hurt and sadness and fear all hitting the system at once. Like Israel in the wilderness, I longed for the days of old—the numbness and predictability of Egypt. But God loved me too much to leave me there. So out I came into the desert where I felt scared and lonely and unsure. Often I was angry at God—I demanded meat to satiate my innate desires. Other times I despaired of life and wanted to die.
Yet, in it all, God did not leave. As scared and confused as I was by his presence in the fire at night and the cloud by day, I began to fall in love with this hidden One; this person who kept after me even when constantly rejected by me. In God, I found a being who could handle my anger, sadness, desire, feelings. And I let him have it again and again. “And in a phrase I can tell you what I’ve learned: the secret to feeling is to feel.”
I’m still letting him have it. There is no promised land in sight. I have not arrived anywhere, but I’m learning to live with feelings. And in a phrase I can tell you what I’ve learned: the secret to feeling is to feel. Profound, I know. But everything starts there.
Once you allow yourself to feel something, then you can name it. And once you have a name for it, you can tell it to others. “I feel lonely today.” “I feel horny today.” “I hate myself today.” Of course, others may not know what to do with these feelings any more than you do, but they can hold them with you. They can help you name them before God. And then, who knows what will happen. Everything. Nothing. Something. But whatever happens, you won’t be doing it alone. Like fingers in a mitten, you will stay warm to feel another day.