Submit Your Felt Reality to God

A number of years ago, a counselor friend of mine introduced a simple and accessible concept that he regularly uses in his practice. He calls it “felt reality.”

Reality is reality. It’s objective. It’s what’s actually happening. Felt reality is what’s happening from my vantage point. It’s reality framed by my own thoughts, assumptions, and emotions.

Reality and felt reality aren’t the same. Sometimes they align — what I think and feel fits with what is actually happening. Other times, my felt reality is out of accord with reality. In such cases, I might be believing lies, or framing reality wrongly, or overreacting. My perspective might be distorted by my emotions or my sinful desires or my own limitations.

Once my friend gave me the category, I found it to be incredibly fruitful in my own life and marriage and parenting and ministry. It gave me a way to speak about human experiences of reality — whether mine or another’s — without necessarily validating those experiences. In other words, it enabled me to acknowledge that I think and feel a certain way, without affirming that such thoughts or emotions were necessarily true or right or good.

“Getting felt reality on the table can be the first step in seeking to steward and shepherd our thoughts and emotions.”

Getting felt reality on the table can be the first step in seeking to steward and shepherd our thoughts and emotions so that they more fully align with God’s.

‘Cut Off from Your Sight’

Even more than that, the concept (though not the term) seems present in the Scriptures. Consider the Psalms. In the middle of Psalm 31, David pleads with God to deliver him from his distress. In doing so, he vividly describes what it’s like to be in the pit:

His eyes are wasted from grief. They’re heavy from crying; they feel like lead. He just wants to rest, but there is no rest (verse 9).
His soul is wasted. His body is wasted. There is a weariness that reaches to every part of David’s existence (verse 9).
His life is spent with sorrow and his years with sighing (verse 10). This is how it feels: “I’ve been here forever, and I’ll be here forever.”
His strength fails (and he knows he partially deserves it because of his sin), and his bones just waste away (verse 10).

David’s powerful emotional and physical responses are influenced by his perception of reality, of what’s going on around him:

His adversaries have made him a reproach to his neighbors. Everyone runs from him because they think his suffering is contagious (verse 11). “Don’t stand too close to David. Don’t let him breathe on you. You don’t want to catch what he’s got.”
He’s forgotten like the dead. People remember the dead — for a little bit. Then they’re forgotten. That’s how David feels. Dead and useless, like a broken vessel (verse 12). “What good am I?”
He hears the whispering of his enemies around him — terror on every side. The other shoe could drop at any minute. Every rock and tree is ominous. Every bit of news produces fear. The future is filled with the almost certain prospect of bad surprise (verse 13).

This is David’s felt reality, and he gives explicit voice to it in verse 22:

I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”

‘I Shall Never Be Moved’

But these aren’t the only feelings David has had. In the previous psalm, David describes different circumstances and therefore a different felt reality:

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Psalm 30:6)

Notice the contrast. On the one hand: “In my alarm, I said, ‘I’m cut off.’” On the other hand: “In my prosperity, I said, ‘I’ll never be moved.’” In terms of content, these felt realities are exact opposites. But at another level, they display the power of felt reality in the exact same way.

Both circumstances of alarm and circumstances of prosperity led David to wrongfully exalt his felt reality. In Psalm 31, when he was alarmed, when all the walls were closing in, his felt reality was “It’s over. I’m done. God has abandoned me.” In Psalm 30, when he was living the high life, when he prospered and everything he touched turned to gold, his felt reality was “I’ve made it. I’m immovable and unshakable. God will never test me.”

These are two very different places, but they showcase the same confusion of felt reality and actual reality. In both cases, David was so overwhelmed by his felt reality that he made what he felt into what is. But it wasn’t. Felt reality is not the same as reality.

Facing Our Felt Reality

How then can we face our felt reality? Granting that our feelings and perceptions can be out of accord with what is truly the case, what can we do?

First, we can recognize the crucial connection between our felt reality and our self-talk. David didn’t just feel; he expressed his feelings in speech. And his words reinforced his felt reality.

Words are powerful. What we say shapes the way we view ourselves and our circumstances. Our feelings often reveal our unstated assumptions, our hidden beliefs, and the unrecognized stories by which we make sense of our lives. And then our words give voice to these feelings and reshape or reinforce — for good or ill — who we are and how we see ourselves.

Second, we see the importance of bringing our felt reality to God. David doesn’t muzzle his feelings; he lays them before the Lord in prayer. Whether or not his felt reality corresponds to actual reality, he eventually brings all of it before God, in hope that God will act and speak to him in his prosperity and in his pain.

So too with us. It does no good to hide our felt reality from God. He sees it already. Our task is to unveil before him, to take off the silly mask that we wear and be as honest as we can be in his presence. And the category of felt reality really helps us here. We can both be honest and humble. We can say, “I feel this way” while also saying, “But I don’t know if my feelings are right. Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and then lead me in the way everlasting.”

“We not only can bring our felt reality to God, but we can submit our felt reality to the truth of God.”

Finally, bringing these together, we not only can bring our felt reality to God, but we can submit our felt reality to the truth of God. Recall again the two examples of felt reality from Psalms 30 and 31. “In my alarm, I said, ‘I’m cut off.’” “In my prosperity, I said, ‘I’ll never be moved.’”

Hear David’s words in Psalm 31:14, right after he describes his felt reality: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” This is David submitting his felt reality to the truth of God. He brought his felt reality to God, and now he speaks to himself and reasserts the truth of who God is for him.

Speak Reality

With God’s help, we can learn to do the same. We can learn to be honest with God, to ask him to bring our hidden assumptions and unseen narratives to light.

In my alarm, I said, “I’m cut off from your sight.”
In my prosperity, “I’ll never be moved.”
In my grief, “God has forsaken me.”
In my pride, “I’m thankful that I’m not like other men.”
In my envy, “God doesn’t love me like he loves others.”
In my suffering, “No one understands what I’m going through.”
In my despair, “It will never end. It’s hopeless.”

These are the sorts of statements we make in the midst of our trials and our triumphs, out of our passions and our pain. Listen to them, and then bring those feelings and that speech to God, and learn to say something else.

“I trust in you; you are my God. I’m not cut off.”
“I’m not unshakable.”
“You’ve not abandoned me.”
“Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“You do love me.”
“You do understand.”
“This trial will end. There is hope.”

Grace from Start to Finish: Ephesians 6:23–24, Part 2

Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God

I have often said that I don’t know what I think or what I believe until I write about it. Writing is how I reflect, how I meditate, how I chart life’s every journey. In the waning weeks of 2020 my dear son Nick passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly. And when that sorrow was still new in my heart, when the tears were still fresh in my eyes, when I barely knew up from down and here from there, I began to write. I had to write because I had to know what to think and what to believe, what to feel and what to do. I had to know whether to rage or to worship, whether to run or to bow, whether to give up or to go on. I had to know how to comfort my wife, how to console my daughters, how to shore up my own faith. I put fingers to keyboard and pen to paper to find out.

In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote a series of meditations, some of which I shared through this blog, but many of which I did not. As that first year drew to a close and I came to the first anniversary of Nick’s death, I wrote one final meditation, then sent it all to my publisher in the hope that it would be able to bless and serve others. The result is Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God which will be published on September 13. The book is not a thorough theology of grief or an exhaustive tome on suffering, but neither is it meant to be. It is a real-time, first-person, present-tense series of reflections on the pain that comes with loss and the comfort that God provides. It is my fervent prayer that it will give help, hope, and comfort to others who are enduring hardship as well as to those who may be seeking to help them.
I sent the manuscript to some friends and asked if they would consider reading it and providing some words of endorsement. All were kind enough to do so and you can read their words below.
It would mean a lot to me, and be helpful to the publisher, if you would consider pre-ordering Seasons of Sorrow. Pre-ordering a book helps the booksellers gauge interest and, if the results are good, to determine how they will give it attention as it releases. In other words, if it is something you would order anyway, it would be helpful if you would order it in advance. Here are a few of the stores that already have it listed for pre-order:


‘If ever there was a book Tim Challies needed to write, it’s this one. And it’s a book I needed to read. Within these pages, you will do more than enter Tim’s story of enormous loss; you will come out on the other side having gained a softer heart and a renewed courage to persevere through your own dark seasons of affliction.’ — Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center
‘Seasons of Sorrow is a beautiful book. Reading it is like holding a precious gift, like standing on holy ground.’ — Paul David Tripp, pastor, speaker, author of New Morning Mercies and Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
‘Seasons of Sorrow cut straight to my soul. I read it within a few weeks of the unexpected deaths of two close friends and while my wife struggles bravely with stage 4 cancer. Tim’s heartfelt pain and Christ-centered perspective spoke to both my heart and my head.’ — Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven and If God Is Good
‘Tim Challies has taken us into his confidence by writing with such self-searching honesty. It is a painful pleasure to be invited into these sacred moments of grief and to be helped by the reminder that God is too kind ever to be cruel and too wise ever to make a mistake.’ — Alistair Begg, senior pastor, Parkside Church, and host of the Truth for Life radio program
‘Believers need this book, and only Tim Challies could have written it. I am so thankful that Nick was a student at Boyce College, and his influence as a young Christian was remarkable.’ — Albert and Mary Mohler
‘In the pages of this book, grieving people will find companionship, insight, and genuine encouragement for the journey.’ — Nancy Guthrie, author of Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow and cohost of Respite Retreats for grieving parents
‘This book is brilliant, not because of Tim Challies’s eloquence, but because of his tears! The buoyancy of faith that shines from every page often left me teary-eyed, thanking God for his grace to his people during their darkest times. What priceless grace!’ — Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church and founding chancellor of the African Christian University
‘If you have lost a loved one to death, as everyone has, or if you have buried a child, as many have, Tim Challies is your friend. Your brother. Your lifeline.’ — Robert and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, bestselling authors

A La Carte (May 19)

There is once again a sale on some new kids’ books at Westminster Books.

Today’s Kindle deals include one single solitary book.
(Yesterday on the blog: The Dead Seriousness of Careless Words)
The Blessing of Rest
“Because of the way I am wired I have always viewed rest as weakness and a colossal waste of my time. Why should I have to spend such a large chunk of every day doing nothing when there are books and articles to write, things to do, and people to see? From my skewed perspective, rest has always seemed like an impediment to keep me from accomplishing all the things that I have really wanted to do.”
Are You Afraid of the Dark? 
Here’s an article about being afraid of the dark—the darkness of discouragement and depression.
Vox Out Does Itself In Ignorance and Misogyny
Anne Kennedy is pretty unhappy with Vox. “Tragically, heretofore, society understood that babies coming into the world was so important that when women were going to have them, they really had to do that as the main thing for many years and couldn’t do anything else. Prevailing opinion thinks this was mysogyny, that ‘staying home’ with babies and young children was a terrible thing to do, and not gracious and life giving, and also the glue that kept a lot of society together.”
The Flood
“This is a poem about the joy of giving and looking beyond ourselves.”
Is “Be True to Yourself” Good Advice?
Brian Rosner: “Self-determination, rather than being a principle for nations at the end of the First World War, is now the responsibility of every individual. Self-definition is thus the culturally endorsed route to identity formation in our day. Today, we have a do-it-yourself self or a self-made self, which looks only inward to find itself. Academics call this expressive individualism.”
A Sentence to Bring Down Abortion
John Ensor writes about a single sentence that redirected his life.
Flashback: No Man Left Behind
As Christians, we are charged with caring for one another–the shepherds first and every church member after them. It brings all manner of joy, comfort and security when we affirm, and when we insist, that we will not leave even one person behind.

In the day of prosperity we have many refuges to resort to; in the day of adversity, only one. —Horatius Bonar

Jesus Came to Bring… Division?

On one occasion, Jesus asked, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” (Luke 12:51). Ask that question about Jesus to the average person today, and they will respond, “Well, yeah, of course!” Many people rightly understand that Jesus is a champion of love, forgiveness, and harmony. That’s why His own answer to the question is so surprising: “No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Is It Arrogant to Say Jesus Is the Only Way?

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Thursday, May 19, 2022
It’s the New Testament that says, “There is no other name under heaven through which men may be saved, except that of Christ.” It’s the New Testament that says, “To whom shall we go? Thou alone hast the words of eternal life.” It’s God who says, “This is My only begotten son.” And again, and again, and again, the New Testament reiterates either through the lips of Christ or through the writings of the Apostles this theme that Jesus is uniquely the Redeemer of mankind.

I was taking a course in English literature. I was a second-semester freshman at the time, and I had become a Christian the first semester of my freshman year. And I did not keep my Christian commitment a secret on the campus. And there were some faculty members at the college where I attended that were very hostile towards Christianity. And the person who at least manifests the greatest amount of hostility of all the faculty happened to be the professor of this English literature course I was taking. The teacher was a woman. She had distinguished herself as a journalist and as a war correspondent during World War II prior to taking on the task of collegiate teaching. I think out of her background in the war effort, she was kind of a hardened person, and she had a very great ability to intimidate students.
In the middle of a class one day, she called on me, and she said in front of the whole class, “Mr. Sproul, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God?” I thought, Of all the questions to be asked in front of the whole class, she had to ask me that one. And I went through a very severe moral crisis at that point because I knew if I answered what I believed that that would be very unpopular. But if I knew also that if I denied what I believed, I would be guilty of committing treason to Christ. So very weakly and very meekly I said to her, “Yes, ma’am. I do believe that Jesus is the only way to God.” But when I said that in that classroom, she absolutely exploded. And she started to dress me down right in front of the whole class. And she said, “That’s the most conceited, that’s the most arrogant statement I’ve ever heard from the mouth of a student.” And I offered no defense; I offered no rebuttal. I just tried to sneak down in my chair as far as I could go while she carried on in front of the whole class about how narrow-minded, conceited, and arrogant that that was.
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Foreword by Rosaria Butterfield to “The New Reformation Catechism on Human Sexuality”

No one is exempt from original sin and its consequence. Neither good nor malicious intentions can rewrite God’s call for men and women. Scripture is clear that we are responsible for our inborn as well as our actual sins (Psalm 5:5, Romans 1:18, Deuteronomy 27:15, Hebrews 9:27). Taking responsibility for our own sin is hard and necessary, but because of the way that the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire, it is difficult to know where to start.

The New Reformation Catechism on Human Sexuality, written by Christopher J. Gordon and published by the Gospel Reformation Network, has just been released. The Catechism can be purchased at Reformation Heritage Books. Here is the Foreword written by Rosaria Butterfield.
“I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” So begins the The Heidelberg Catechism. Written by Zacharius Ursinus and published in 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism quickly became a manual for Christian living and religious instruction during the Reformation. A catechism focused on helping Christians lay hold of the deepest truths in the best ways was dearly needed during the tumultuous time of the Reformation.
Today’s revolution in theology is not over the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but over sexual identity. Our post-Freudian world maintains without any substantial pushback that sexual identity is the most important truth about a person. Organized under the banner of LGBTQ+, authentic personhood depends on placing yourself under one of these letters or joyfully and without reservation applauding people who do. The American Medical Association tells us that mental health depend on practicing what you desire, and enthusiastically supporting others who do what feels right in their own eyes is a suicide-prevention strategy. The biblical creation mandate seems a quaint ancient narrative with no binding force when in the United States today there are hundreds of pediatric gender clinics and Testosterone is administered to adolescents from Planned Parenthood on a first visit and without parental consent or a therapist’s note.
In contrast to the world’s anthropology, a biblical anthropology understands that after Adam’s transgression (Genesis 3), we, his posterity, have a sin nature that compels each person to love something that God hates. If nothing checks our will, our sinful desires will plunge us headfirst into all manner of spiritual, moral, and sometimes physical danger. No one is exempt from original sin and its consequence. Neither good nor malicious intentions can rewrite God’s call for men and women. Scripture is clear that we are responsible for our inborn as well as our actual sins (Psalm 5:5, Romans 1:18, Deuteronomy 27:15, Hebrews 9:27). Taking responsibility for our own sin is hard and necessary, but because of the way that the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire, it is difficult to know where to start.
And this is where Pastor Christopher Gordon’s The New Reformation Catechism offers to the church such a timely and pastoral guide. I have no doubt that this means of discipleship will give glory to God and be used of the Lord to liberate many who are held captive by sexual sin. Twenty-three years ago, when I was in a lesbian relationship and at the same time reading the Bible, I would have greatly benefitted from The New Reformation Catechism on Human Sexuality. I know that I am not alone in needing this book.
May God bless you richly as you grow in Christian liberty. May this book help you hold fast to the truth and better understand how the full counsel of God speaks to the godly priority of human sexuality.
Rosaria Butterfield
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The Glorious Return of Christ

At the great day of the Lord’s return all misunderstanding will be removed, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. At that day the angels who cease not day and night to cry, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory,” will continue signing as they shout his praise. The fulness of the prophecy will be revealed when the whole “earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.
Matthew 25:31
Several years ago, my family was at the Rocky Mountain National Park. One clear night, we drove on a road that climbed to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. There we parked our car, turned off the lights, got out, and looked up. The words of Psalm 19:1 have rarely been so evident, “The Heavens declare the glory of God.” The sight was breathtaking. The stars were without number. The shooting stars were passing by every thirty seconds. The Milky Way was as recognizable as the moon. Why was it so magnificent to behold the heavens? Because they were declaring the glory of God.
While the heavens declare the glory of God, the heavens are not themselves the glory of God. Scripture testifies that God’s glory is above the Heavens (Psalm 57). The Creator’s glory is greater than the glory of the creation He made. The heavens declare God’s glory because they were made by the glorious God. God in His infinite mercy and wisdom did not stop with the declaration of His glory in His creation but He went further and revealed His glory in His Son Jesus Christ.
Christ, the eternal Son of God is far above all creation for He is the brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3). In Christ Jesus all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily and in the person of Christ, God’s glory is exalted!
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