Let’s play a little game.
Stop what you’re doing and clear your head. For the next few minutes I want you to remember the three most significant mistakes you’ve ever made in your life. (And just in case you’re wondering this isn’t a sadistic post bent on ruining your day, so please bear with me). To clarify we aren’t talking about life’s big misses like not going out with the cute guy in accounting, losing her phone number, or turning down that job in Milwaukee. These are the really bad life choices – the ones you can’t forget – the ones where, if given the chance, you’d go back and do them differently. These are the choices you deeply regret, like the one-night stand during a conference that led to the end of your marriage or the shady business deal that cost you a career. No, these are the choices that ultimately turned your life upside down.
After you’ve thought about it and if you can I want you to now consider the circumstances surrounding them – paying particular attention to your emotional state at the time. Do you remember what motivated you look behind door number one instead of two, three, or four? Were you feeling lonely when that stranger sat next to you at the hotel bar? Were you envious and felt one big sale was all you needed to make the higher-ups on the 11th floor notice you? Was it revenge that pushed you to say things she would never get over or was it really arrogance speaking when you said to him you could do better? In other words, what were you feeling when you did what you did?
This exercise was a bit unsettling yet very eye opening. As I brought to mind my own regrettable life choices I couldn’t help but register how emotional I was at the time I made them. While refraining from the details I can easy recall feelings that included nasueating pride and insecure jealousy. And as I contemplated further, I discovered the ensuing regret I suffered had less to do with the painful consequences and more to do with having the knowledge that I knew better – yet I did so anyway. It’s like knowing that fire will burn me but I stick a hand in the flame anyhow. And it was this introspection that I started to become aware that making decisions based solely on feelings is like taking advice from a schizophrenic.
Lets consider a one night stand, often a major regret for more than one person. Even as the conversation wears on and assumptions and rationalizaitons formulate there is something within each saying this isn’t natural. We’ve all seen the part of the movie where the man looks up at the ceiling wondering what just occured while the woman silently lays with her back to him as tears stream down her face. With their fickle passions temporarily satisfied they’re now left to wallow in a spiritual agony of their own making while beating themselves up for knowing better.
Our feelings are excellent liars but even better cheerleaders and use numerous tactics to justify bad choices at their coaxing. I’ll often experience an internal tug-o-war as my feelings try to convince me of one thing while my conscience tries to point me in a drastically different direction. Yet our feelings can be forceful often appearing from nowhere. One minute all is right with the world and the next I have feelings of anger or dread for no valid reason, and as I try to think it through my feelings will throw up every possible justification for their existence. I now understand why it’s called ‘that still small voice’ – our feelings demand while our conscience gently suggests.
From reflection and experience I now abide by a vitally important life lesson – never trust your feelings. They are insatiable monsters when left unchecked will wreak havoc in our lives. Listen to them and you’ll eat too much, spend too much, drink too much, and worry too much. And they have little regard for differences between right and wrong and see consequences as irrelevant.
Those who doubt need to look no further than teenagers for unmistakable reminders of this principle in action. Living life completely on how they feel from moment to moment they give little consideration for the bigger picture and seem oblivious to any potential aftermath – leaving the parents to ask, “what were you thinking?”
Whether we care to admit it we know there is truth to this principle, we’ve even coined a phrase “I let my feelings get carried away” as a defense for those time when our thoughts head off in odd directions and lead us to make strange choices. Yet while we understand this truth so few of us do anything about it, choosing instead to go about life allowing emotions to lead the way even as we wonder why we make the same poor choices over and over again never grasping that we are the lone common denominator.
God gave us feelings, but he also gave each of us a brain. We’d do well to use BOTH because life is full of choices and regret-free living is one of them.