The one about trains

I’m a woman who is pretty in touch with her emotions. I feel things and I feel them completely. There are good and bad parts to this aspect of my personality. Passion in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it can be misapplied and become exhausting. I’ve been thinking lately about an old analogy my mother used to say to me often as a child and teenager and how much I still struggle to put the analogy into practice. I can’t remember the first time mom used this analogy (and trust me she won’t remember either) but the gist of it is as follows. My feelings are completely valid and it is good for me to feel them. But, if my life is like a train, my feelings need to be the caboose and not the engine. If my feelings are the engine I run the risk of going off the rails.

I do think that at 26 I am better at letting my feelings be the caboose than I was at 17. However, I sometimes still find myself letting my feelings drive my whole day. It’s a hard concept to get down and something I think I’ll be working on for the rest of my life. It’s a conscious choice in the morning when I wake up to not let my feelings about any situation overwhelm the tone of my whole day.

One way that I combat this tendency is by some good old fashioned introspection. When a thought comes through my brain I ask myself “is this feeling true?” I’m really good at lying to myself and also being my own harshest critic. The grace I am willing to extend to others I have a much harder time extending to myself. So the first step is to decide if I’m lying or being too hard on myself. Not every thing I feel is the truth. Again what I feel is valid, but validity does not equal truth. If after the first step I decide what I feel isn’t true I say that to myself every time that thought resurfaces. “Oh yeah I remember, I thought this yesterday but this thought is not true.”

Now sometimes a thought will come into my head and I’m not lying to myself. When this happens I have to reshuffle my train cars. “Okay this feeling is true, but it doesn’t have to drive me. It will still be just as true as the caboose.” This reshuffling is hard. My feelings do not want to be put at the back of the train. I’m reminded of a song by Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot. In the song Baptize My Mind he sings

Both my hands are filled with guilt
(Be my absolution)
Oh with my eyes are blind with filth
(Be my absolution, absolution)

Hey, baptize my mind
Hey, baptize my eyes
Hey, baptize my mind
For these seeds to give birth to life
First they must die

The feelings I have to take captive are more often than not thoughts of guilt and filth that cloud my every movement. It’s only when I step into the water of God’s grace that my blind eyes can see the truth. I can’t move my feelings to the back of the train until I can see clearly. And Jesus is the only person that helps me see clearly 100% of the time. This isn’t something that I ever expect to completely overcome. But I do look back at my younger self and see growth and progress which gives me strength when I wake up the morning unable to see past the feelings that overwhelm me. I may not be able to see at that very moment, but I know how to clear my eyes so that I can.

Do any of you struggle with feelings that overwhelm you? What do you think of my mom’s train metaphor? (FYI if we’ve been friends for any length of time you probably knew this story already)


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