When the phone rang, I knew what the call would be about. It was like that part in an adventure movie where the hero is about to reach the top of the mountain – you know what’s going to happen next. The only thing missing from the moment was swelling orchestral strings to enhance the drama. I answered the phone with satisfaction, and savored the description of the formal job offer, adorned in sparkly detail of important title, more money and the power to shape the strategy of a company. I unhesitatingly accepted the offer that we had spent the last month shaping and negotiating.
That was the moment my odyssey began.
The move promised to advance my career, to check a box of career growth, it was a rung higher up on the ladder. This logic persuaded me, but more persuasive still was that the decision came from logic.
I knew I could depend on logic because I see logic in nature:
The process of nature is clean: put the seed in ground, apply a few simple steps, get fruit in a predictable amount of time.
Planting the seed of a promotion could only be good. I was ready for the processes to take me to the fruit I sought: money, status, comfort. I would leave behind a job I enjoyed and a company whose strategy seemed out of whack. Lots of pros, minus a few cons meant a win for me.
Over the next several months it became increasingly evident that my decision was a mistake. I became progressively frustrated – what had I missed?
In The Voice of the Heart, Chip Dodd argues that a rational, logical set of reasons doesn’t fully lead us to what we need. Emotions drive us, he says, and rather than pushing them out of important decisions, we should pull them in:
Feelings are the voice of the heart, and you will not have fullness until you’re adept at hearing and experiencing all of them. When you are not aware of your feelings, your life is lived incompletely. Whenever you don’t feel, you are blocked from living life to the fullest.
Dodd points to the power of emotion for all of life, not just to personal decisions like whether to change a job. Life, to put it rationally, is inconvenient. People we love get sick and die for no good reason. We get old and lose our faculties. Accidents end lives of parents, leaving their children alone and terrified. Other people intentionally destroy good projects and good people. It would be inhuman to describe these experiences as “inconvenient.” If logic is sufficient, what is the point of doing anything in such a place as this? It is too broken. Not worth the effort. Why not just watch tv series’ on Netflix and munch Cheez Its all day? Dodd lays out that the “gift” of feelings equip us “to have life, love, and legacy in a tragic place.”
I want life. And love. And legacy. Just pondering for a second or two a life soaked in love and legacy makes my heart leap. If it’s emotion and feeling that gives me that, I will consider it, even if it sounds counterintuitive.
Dodd helpfully categorizes the entire universe of feelings down to a simple list of 8:
They are so profound, he says, that the thousands upon thousands of emotional words in our vocabulary that we use to describe our feelings articulate different shades of the same eight feelings above.
My first reaction to seeing that list is that 7 of 8 are bad feelings that I should do anything to avoid. Here is how I have viewed emotions up to now:
That’s me in the boat. Captain and commander of my own life. and it’s important to stay in the boat, because in murky depths of the turbulent sea, the creatures you find there can’t be helpful. Why would I want to dive into the cold and be with those negative forces? I had carefully ordered my life to remove emotions from the decision-making process – emotions cloud judgment and make decisions muddy (or so I thought). Dodd walks us through, chapter by chapter, why each of them are positive forces in our lives.
“Feelings are not impulses that need to be controlled,” he says. Instead,
Feelings are God’s tools that allow us to live fully in a tragic place. Life is tragic and God is faithful. The gifts of feelings allow us to move near our faithful God and in His Presence we cannot help but find our gratitude in the midst of life’s risks, loses, and loves. Who would not desire such gifts but those in denial of how they are created?
The so-called negative feelings help us live in a whole hearted way. Take anger for instance. Dodd says that anger “moves us towards life,” and is a caring feeling. Who exemplifies anger? Jesus – a man turning over tables of money changers in the temple. Anger “is the risk of telling the truth or just doing a courageous act.” Anger also indicates other feelings within us, such as fear or loneliness, and its presence catches our attention and encourages us to search our feelings for what is happening inside us.
Our feelings are neither good nor bad, but can be used for both. We easily distort our feelings, and Dodd describes two impairments that go along with each feeling. And in my view, it is the presence of impairment that causes each of the feelings to get such a bad rap. In the case of anger, Dodd names depression (“we force our fight for life to be still and our cry for identity to be silent”) and pride (we “build a wall around the heart which we believe will stop or relieve life’s pains”).
This book is a helpful manual, a straightforward guide that walks through how our emotions work. Each chapter unpacks one feeling and its impairments.
Our age values rational thinking, reveres it even. But it isn’t right that we choose between a rational life and an emotional life. We don’t have the capacity to live out of rational thinking only. To believe otherwise is to construct a fantasy that we can achieve a clean, orderly and purely logical existence. But it is not in our DNA to stuff our emotions into a small jewelry box in the closet, just as it isn’t in the DNA of a cow to meow. We don’t now nor ever will make decisions that are purely rational.
It was in a firm rooting in a rational mindset that I processed the opportunity to exchange my job. And it was a disaster. The resistance to change there was high, and isolating. The ability to contribute was low. My own talents, so helpful in my former employer, were unwanted, unused hear. The money and the job title gave me nothing. To add insult to injury, after 6 months, the firm collapsed, eliminating my department and firing the CEO. They later were bought by another firm.
Not wanting emotion to be a factor, I simply ignored what was going on inside me at the time of my decision. I used cold, distant logic that I didn’t care much about to guide my choice, and I veered off the path I was created for. Simply put, I didn’t listen to the voice of my heart, and paid a price.
The Voice of the Heart exposes our age as having an oversimplified life. It is a book I have referred to routinely when situations bubble up in the day to day experience of life when I would normally have doubled down on a rational explanation of what is going on. It has helped me along odyssey, bringing me more understanding of my heart and better able to serve God and the people I love.
Nathan King’s blog, Hope Walking, is a place where he writes about what he’s learned from books, nutrition, theology, movies and events that happen to him along the way. He is on a pursuit to maximize life to fill it with joy, to uncover its meaning, and to live with purpose and intention.