I was taught a song at Cubs in the 1970's that I suspect isn't a feature any longer of uniformed organisations,in our self-affirming culture. It goes like this:
"Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I'll go and eat worms. Big fat juicy ones, thin stringy long ones. Watch how they wriggle and squirm. You bite off their heads, suck out the juice and throw their skins away. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. Think I'll go and eat worms today!"
It's song from an era when we were more secure in ourselves. Or we pretended to be anyway.
The way we feel about ourselves, and the way that we feel that others feel about us, can take over our lives. We might not be reduced to worm eating, but we can be incapacitated by our emotions.
Emotions are real. But they are not reality. What do I mean by that?
Firstly that we can't ignore our emotions. Stoicism doesn't work when we're down. Because our emotions are the lens through which we view the world. I have spoken to people absolutely convinced that someone who has no ill feelings towards them, hates them with a passion. I have spoken to others who are sure that they have been cold shouldered by someone who was simply unaware that they were at the same crowded event. I have spent time worrying that I have offended someone. Chewing over in my head the ways that I imagine that they are reacting to me. Seeing significance in insignificant events. When all the time the object of my paranoia has been blissfully unaware!
Which is why, secondly, we must remember that emotions aren't reality. That often our emotions are dislocated from the circumstances of our lives by sin and sickness. We only see the world from one perspective. Ours. And that is at best clouded by our own prejudices and preferences.
I have found myself over the last few weeks having to force myself to think that my emotions are real but not reality. I have had days when I have felt a bit glum for no reason other than I feel a bit glum. Not lots of days in a row, I don't think I'm depressed, but a day here and a day there. To deny I feel like that would serve no purpose other than to try and convince people that I am much more robust than I am. Which I'm not very good at.
But to assume that my feelings are the touchstone of the reality of my life would be to give them an authority that they clearly don't deserve. So I have repeated the reality of the gospel to myself. In fact the best way to realise the reality of what God has done for you in his great love, through his Son the Lord Jesus, is to preach the gospel to yourself.
Psalm 42 and 43 (they may well be one psalm...) illustrate this well. The writer is struggling with feeling distant from God. His emotions tell him that the Lord doesn't care and that all he has to look forward to is oppression by his enemies. And yet three times in the two Psalms he says exactly the same thing to himself:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God. (Psalm 42:5, 11 & 43:5)
All I need to do now is work out whether those words will fit with a tune as catchy as the one to "Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me." Perhaps the tune of that other Cub classic "On top of spaghetti all covered in cheese" will work...