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I Shouldn’t Feel Conflicted About God

I Shouldn’t Feel Conflicted About God

Editor’s note: Dr. Allison Cook (you may remember her from her book The Best of You) is a therapist and the host of The Best of You podcast. Her forte is helping people recover from and release old hurts, build new health, and forge a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. In her new book, I Shouldn’t Feel This Way, she helps us unravel tangled messes in relationships and in our emotions and make positive decisions going forward. Enjoy this excerpt:


Katie was on the verge of sabotaging her faith. She just didn’t know it. In the face of a million competing emotions, she was trying to force-fit a spiritual solution that did not account for all of them. She was stuck neck-deep in her conflicting thoughts and feelings. Instead of facing them, she was projecting a major decision onto God.

“How are you today?” Katie asked warmly the first time we met. “What a great couch. Where did you find it?” she continued, as if we were neighbors casually chatting rather than client and therapist starting our first appointment.

“I’m well, Katie. Thank you for asking.”

“And your family? Is everyone well?” she continued pleasantly. “Yes, we are all well,” I replied.

Conflicting feelings began to surface inside me. Should I continue with the pleasantries? Or should I play the therapist trump card?

“I’d love to hear more about what brings you here to see me, Katie.”

Katie folded her hands in her lap, carefully adjusted her blouse, and looked at me warmly. “I’m about to get married for the first time,” she said politely, “but I don’t love him.”

“You don’t love him?”

“No, I don’t love him. I believe God is calling me to marry him. But if it were up to me, I wouldn’t.”

And then she crumbled into tears.

“Why would God do this to me?” she sobbed.

It was all I could do to keep a neutral expression on my face. But the truth is I had heard a version of this story countless times before, though perhaps not as extreme. God wants me to do the thing I hate the most. I just have to do it God’s way. This is the cross I have to bear.

Underneath such rationalizations is often unnamed fear, doubt, or uncertainty. The dissonance festers, but instead of working our way through it, we pretend like we have it all together. On the inside we battle. But we tell ourselves I shouldn’t feel this way — especially about God!

The Problem with Spiritual Bypassing

If you grew up in a faith community, you may have been taught to spiritually bypass the complex feelings you experience. Spiritual bypassing is essentially a thinking trap. It ignores the richness and complexity of your God-given design. You feel confused, scared, or uncertain. You don’t know what to think or do. Instead of carefully working through the different layers of a complicated problem, you try to force-fit a spiritual pseudo solution. For example, you might tell yourself things like the following:

  • All I need is prayer!
  • Forgive and forget. That’s the best way to approach this situation.
  • Let go and let God.

Sometimes you spiritually bypass yourself. When you’re conflicted inside, it’s tempting to default to a subtle form of overspiritualizing — God would want me to do it! Or It must be God’s will! Or It’s the Christian thing to do! But does God really want you to do it? Is it really God’s will? Is it really the Christian thing to do? Instead of engaging your mind and the tools God has given you, in addition to your spiritual resources, you project your decision- making onto God. You give God too much responsibility for the decisions that you, in fact, are making. It’s the ultimate counterfeit trump card against inner conflict:

I can’t figure out what to do, so I’ll use God as a scapegoat.

Oftentimes other people encourage you to spiritually bypass — they assume that all your problems can be solved with a spiritual solution. A friend might encourage you to jump to forgiveness when what’s really needed is to grieve a betrayal and establish healthy boundaries. Or a faith community might encourage you to spiritualize a problem that is not primarily spiritual. For example, a spiritual leader might encourage you to pray harder for God to take away your depression or medical condition instead of helping you to find a professional who is trained to help you. Or they might encourage you to love the person harming you instead of helping you to protect yourself.

Spiritual bypassing keeps you from adequately addressing the problem you are facing.

 It also creates dissonance inside, or internal discomfort. You want to trust in God, but the problem is only getting worse. You start to blame yourself: If only my faith were stronger! As a result of that inner tension, you resort to any of the following unhealthy coping strategies:

Self-gaslighting: telling yourself you don’t feel what you really feel

Numbing: suppressing your emotions instead of working to cope with them

Magical thinking: disregarding reality and denying yourself the opportunity to discover practical solutions

You miss out on opportunities to develop skills, gain knowledge, or receive care and comfort from others.

Here’s what is true: God created you with an ensemble of inter-connected parts, including thoughts, emotions, and a nervous system, designed to work together harmoniously like an orchestra. Your job, in partnership with God’s Spirit, is to be the conductor of that orchestra, working patiently with all the pieces, bringing them out of dissonance and into a cohesive melody.

And that’s exactly the kind of work that my client Katie needed to do. Instead of facing her complicated feelings and working her way through them, she had tried to drown them out: It’s God’s will that I marry him! But parts of Katie weren’t sure about this decision. Parts of her were scared and anxious. Katie needed to patiently work through each of the truth-pieces in partnership with God until she arrived at a cadence that accounted for all the parts of her story.

Katie’s case was indeed complicated. I’ll admit that at first I assumed she and her fiancé weren’t a good match. I was concerned about her apparent lack of feelings for Ike, the man to whom she was engaged. But as I set aside my own conflicting thoughts and assumptions and helped Katie painstakingly examine the many truth-pieces of her situation, a different picture emerged for both of us.

Katie had grown up with a significant amount of trauma, including having been abused by her father at a very young age. As a result, she had often been drawn to men who discarded or mistreated her. Toxic dynamics felt familiar to her, and she mistook familiarity for safety.

But Ike was different. He was kind, patient, and loving. He treated Katie with respect. He wasn’t flashy, nor did he sweep her off her feet. The safety she experienced with him confused her — she didn’t recognize it as the buzzy chemicals she had often mistaken for love. As we worked together, it became clear that she loved Ike deeply and recognized that he was a man who would be a true, loving companion through all the seasons of her life. A part of her, however, didn’t recognize her feelings for Ike as love. This part of her experienced the safety she found in Ike as boring or uneventful — unlike the dramatic highs and lows of prior relationships. She was drawn to Ike, but she was also confused. Instead of working her needed to name, frame, and brave a deeper understanding of herself and of her relation- ship to Ike. She needed more time to completely fill out the missing pieces of this puzzle.

  • God doesn’t ask you to bypass the conflicting emotions you face.

What if those feelings are an opportunity to brave even deeper growth and healing?

Excerpted with permission from I Shouldn’t Feel This Way by Dr. Alison Cook, copyright Dr. Alison Cook.

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Your Turn

We have complicated feelings. We have complicated backgrounds so we can get tangled up and confused about what to do and especially how to feel. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Remember, that talking through what’s going on with a professional is a wonderful tool for healing! God gave us each other on purpose! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full