Last week I mentioned that feelings are a legitimate source of information—just as valuable as information we receive through our mind. I compared ignoring our feelings (hunches, gut warnings, etc.) to trying to walk using only one of our God-given feet (intellect). So you could say I value feelings and think they’re important, and yet…
When I talk to my kids, I rarely ask them how they’re feeling. I ask them how they’re doing and usually get the responses typical in our society, which don’t tell me much. The tone of their voice gives me more information than the answer. If they go on, they describe things that happened since I last saw them, good or bad, and I listen. If it was a positive experience I express happiness for them. If it was negative, I say I’m sorry that happened. If they volunteer how they felt, I normalize it by saying, “I’m sure I would’ve felt that way too.” All of this is good, but what I haven’t done is ask.
How are you feeling?
Mad? Okay. On a scale of one to ten, how mad would you say you feel right now?
Wow. A nine? That’s a lot and anger is a hard feeling to have.
The truth is feelings make me nervous. I haven’t seen pros navigate emotional situations enough to have confidence I’ll know what to do. It’s uncharted territory, so I resort to the cultural norm of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But how can someone feel loved if I’m avoiding knowing them at the level of feelings?
I listen to Adam Young’s podcast called The Place We Find Ourselves. He’s an incredible Christian counselor who talked about a child’s need for their parents to enter into their inner world and get to know them. He said kids feel lonely if their parent isn’t attuned to them in this way. At that moment, I aspired to dive in and work to understand my kids, but this applies to anyone you’re in close relationship with.
A good first step is getting curious about their feelings.
Asking about feelings invites a person to let you know them. They may be uncomfortable too, because sharing feelings is so unusual. But not all cultures find feelings taboo. In many Muslim cultures, rather than asking, “How are you?” you say, “Kayf haal-ik?” which means, How is your heart? Can you imagine? What if the people you’re closest to asked that once a day? How cared for would you feel?
So a few days ago, I asked my child what they were feeling and they told me. Neither of us exploded. It wasn’t even all that weird. I’m thinking of trying it with other people. Jesus wanted us to be known by our love and I often wonder how to love people better. Could something as simple as, “How do you feel right now?” help someone feel seen and loved?