Toolkit: Feelings and Freedom

by Doug Fritzsche, MDiv

Sometimes the feelings just blindside us. We get news from a friend, or a doctor, or a child, or … or we discover, to our horror that someone we care very much for has wronged us badly …. or we become ensnared in thoughts of what might have been, if only ….

And the feelings come. Unwelcome feelings. Uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes dangerous feelings.

What now?

Mr. Rogers, in the recent film “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” said that his TV ministry was oriented to help children learn how to both have their feelings and to manage them.

Have their feelings.

How often do we simply shut them out? Or ignore them? Or send them underground to bubble up who knows when and to what effect?

The point of Welcoming Prayer is to give us a tool for our spiritual toolkit that allows us to engage our feelings and to move forward without those feelings urging us into wrong and destructive paths. To be clear, this is not a program to suppress feelings in order to deny, ignore or sustain an abusive or unjust situation. It is to free us from the power of feelings that alternately may goad us to inappropriate action or freeze us in fearful inaction.

If you’ve heard the saying “Let Go and Let God!”, and dismissed it as glib and not too helpful, you might be a good candidate for Welcoming Prayer.

Simply put, it is a contemplative prayer practice. That just means you have to sit still and pay attention for a short time. And remember that this isn’t a matter of having faith or believing any particular thing. It is a practice. It just has to be practiced. As with any practice – imagine starting cold on a new piece of music on the piano – it might start out a little clunky, but it improves with repeated practicing.

Welcoming prayer was the brainchild of Mary Mrozowski, a spiritual director with Contemplative Outreach in Brooklyn, NY. It has three steps:

1) Focus and engage

2) Welcome

3) Let Go

It begins when we acknowledge that we have a feeling that has become a burden. A fear we can’t shake. An anger we can barely contain.

1) Focus and engage: It helps if we can have a quiet place to begin our “sit”, but if the best we can do is pull the car to the side, put on the flashers and grip the wheel seething about the so-and-so who cut us off, then so be it. We will breathe a few deep, cleansing breaths to settle into the moment.

First we acknowledge the rightness of who we are and where we are. It took everything in our lives to get us to this moment. Our pride, our expectations, need for safety, every value we have is right here with us.

Feel the feelings. This is not about miring ourselves in bad feelings, but about feeling them. What is going on inside me? How do I feel physically? Am I tense? Hot? Cold? Rigid? Vibrating? Let the feeling flood over you. Immerse yourself in it. Don’t try to suppress the feeling or to push it away. Explore it and acknowledge its reality in you.

2) Welcome: Acknowledge God’s presence in the moment. Recognize that you are you, and affirm the rightness of where you are by welcoming the feeling. Address it by name, “Hello. Fear, I welcome you.” For a moment trace the trajectory of this feeling in your experience. Has it ever been helpful? Has the anger helped your safety? Has the fear prevented missteps? Where has it steered us wrong? Bolstered our false-self? Stampeded us into foolishness?

Remember that we are talking about feelings here, not illness or abuse or injustice. We are welcoming our Response to the outside stimulus. Acceptance does not mean tolerance of wrong; it means a clear-headed recognition of the situation as it is so as to avoid self-delusion and denial.

Once you discern the parameters and boundaries of the feeling, in the presence of God, you are ready for the next step:

3) Let Go: Some simple words like: “Fear, I release you!” Maybe: “God, please receive my anger.” We can follow those by words of release and surrender (as practiced by Mary Mrzowski):

I let go of my desire for security and survival.
I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire to change the situation.”

The first three of those releases of claim on fundamental desires are easy to remember. They were the temptations experienced by Jesus in the desert. In the first, Jesus was asked to turn stone into bread: desire for security and survival. In the second, he was told to leap off a high wall, trusting the angels would save him if he was truly cherished by God: desire for esteem and affection (“Are you truly God’s little darling?”). In the third, he was told that if he bowed to Satan, he could rule the world: the desire for power and control.

The fourth is an expression of our acceptance that outcomes other than what we desire may also be good. Thy will, not mine.

How long should the process take? Some people like to pick a set time like 20 minutes for a “sit” in contemplation. Welcoming Prayer, though, is more like a Swiss army knife in the tool box. It isn’t a single-purpose tool, and I urge you to take whatever time you can set aside to use it on the spot. Come back to revisit it later if that is appropriate.

The objective of all this is to move through life having our feelings and acknowledging them without allowing them to become obsessive, burdensome or harmful.

Blessings in your journey

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