In my decade of involvement with The Crucible Project, the single most important gain has been my new awareness of what I am feeling in any given moment. As a result, I feel more alive, more connected to my soul, and more connected to God and others.
But for me, something was still missing. Awareness was good — I like being more alert to my fear, sadness, anger and happiness. But when I am afraid and know it, what do I do? When I feel sad, after awareness, is there a next step? When I felt anger, I was learning to own how I contributed to the situation that led me to anger. But is there more to do?
Early in my training as a chaplain, I was introduced to the concept of “feelings as messengers,” originally developed by a chaplain educator named Osofo Kwesi Atta. He suggests that each feeling has a message and a corresponding action.
- The message of sad is “I have experienced a loss” and the action is “establish time and space to grieve and let go.”
- The message of fear is “I am experiencing real or perceived danger” and the next step is “to get support, protection or reassurance.”
- The message of anger is “I have been violated or my desire has been blocked” and the corresponding action might be “set a boundary, right a wrong or make a request.”
Though God gives us the ability to feel a whole range of emotions, God’s desire, I think, is for us to move through sad, angry, scared and get back to joy, happiness and tenderness. Osofo’s concept of feelings as messengers has given me a way to move through my more troubling feelings and return to joy more quickly.
Midway through my chaplain training in Chicago, late in my shift, I wrote a very good chart note about a patient’s death. However, the doctor found my note quite upsetting, because the patient was very much alive — I charted on the wrong patient! When I learned of my mistake, I felt scared. At my desk, I articulated the message of my fear — I was afraid they might fire me. It seemed like a serious mistake. I needed reassurance and immediately went to my supervisor to get what I needed. With his assurance that my mistake was correctable, my fear subsided and joy returned.
About five months after I left the church I pastored in Illinois and moved to Colorado, I noticed that for several days, I had low energy. I was aware that I was feeling sad. The message of my sadness was that I was experiencing multiple losses. The next day, after Deb had gone off to her meeting, I took my journal, sat in the living room, and began listing my losses — no longer a pastor, no longer getting to speak, no longer getting to study and write and create, in a new community where no one knows what I did back in Illinois. I read over my list and sat in my sadness. When I seemed done, I rose and found myself feeling lighter, more energetic. I was moving through my sadness back to joy.
When I ended up staying two hours beyond the end of my shift at the hospital, I felt angry — at myself. The message was that the boundary of my quitting time was being violated and the appropriate action was resetting a limit. The next day I used my angry energy to have a conversation with my manager to discuss the parameters around calling in the night chaplain to relieve me.
The message of happiness is that things are going well and the right action is keep up these behaviors and activities. The message of excitement is that something good is coming and the right action is to anticipate. The message of tenderness is that someone is stirring compassion in me and the corresponding action is expressing this in words or action.
Osofo’s concept has given me direction. Now I go from awareness of what I am feeling, to asking the message of my feeling and pondering the appropriate action. The result is that I move more easily back to a place of joy and peace.
- How do you move through sadness, fear and anger and get back to joy?
- Experiment this week—notice what you are feeling, articulate the message of your feeling, determine the appropriate action, and act.
– By John Casey
John completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2005, is a graduate of our two-year transformational program and is a weekend leader for The Crucible Project. He enjoys writing about authentic living for men. As a senior pastor for 32 years, he has written and preached hundreds of sermons on God’s character and mission, our purpose and mission, spiritual transformation and effective relationships.
Photo Credit: High on Life (via Creative Commons).