How Are You Feeling?

Dr. Ron Lehenbauer
May, 2020 

How are you? How are you feeling? I usually answer, “I’m fine. I’m OK. We’re self-isolating. How are you?” But how am I? How am I really? Let me see. What am I feeling? 

Sad (death all around – over 66,000 corona deaths in the U.S. at last count), depressed (I’m stuck here at home and can’t go anywhere – even hug my grandsons), scared (what if I get it? Am I being careful enough?), rebellious (this mask is uncomfortable. Do I really need it?), compassionate (so much stress and suffering – patients, medical workers, the elderly, grieving families), angry (rubber gloves discarded everywhere on sidewalks when I’m out walking – people being careless), doubtful (is all this social distancing really necessary – maybe we’re overdoing it), trusting (God will protect me – my life’s in God’s hands), resigned and hopeful (If I do get it and die, then I’ll be in a better place – in eternity with Jesus), disbelieving (Is this really happening – when am I going to wake up from this weird dream?), shocked (Everyone homebound!? I never expected to experience anything like this in my life – a worldwide pandemic? unbelievable!), worried (will my family – kids and grandkids – be OK – their health and their finances), anxious (maybe I’m watching too much TV news), grateful (food? a home? We really have all that we need. I and my family are very blessed!), wondering (why is God allowing all this to happen? What’s God thinking!? What’s God’s intent?), relieved (sometimes this feels like a vacation – or stacation – feels good to be able to stay home), irritated (I need a haircut. I need my teeth cleaned. But the barber and the dentist are not there), guilty (maybe I should be reaching out more to be of help to others – thinking about myself too much – watching too much TV) … 

Many different feelings come and go – helter-skelter. It might be good that I just now identified some of my feelings and wrote them down. It’s good to name them and talk about them. I recommend it. And maybe there are more I’m not mindful of. 

We may not want to experience some of our feelings. And we may try to avoid experiencing them. Who wants to live with negative feelings?! We may try different ways to get our minds off those feelings – suppressing them. Distracting ourselves somehow. There are lots of ways. We want to get rid of these kinds of thoughts and feelings. 

We call that “experiential avoidance” and it’s not the best way to handle our feelings.* It’s not in our best interest. It is a kind of dysfunctional avoidance, and it diminishes our quality of life – including the quality of our inner-life and our spiritual life – and moving forward. 

Some wise man once said, “Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different than they are.” I think the point is that sometimes it’s wise and best to just accept what you have no control over. Our thoughts and feelings are often automatic – they come and go without our planning for them – outside of our control. Sometimes they just are there, and there we are experiencing them. They can be very troubling. 

Many of us are praying the Serenity Prayer: O God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

Being willing to accept and experience difficult thoughts, emotions and sensations gives us a psychological flexibility to manage them in a healthier way. Those troubling thoughts and emotions and sensations don’t have to control us or dominate our lives. We can live with them knowing that thoughts are not facts, that they come and go, and that many of our thoughts aren’t true. We can ask God to forgive the thoughts we have that are untrusting or unkind or worse, knowing that God’s forgiveness is his continuing gift to us in Jesus. 

This is central to what helps me freely and peacefully accept any troubling feelings and thoughts in my head. I know I can’t control the universe or the weather or history or even what’s in my own mind. But I do know the God who created and controls this whole universe, and that he’s the merciful God who created, loves, values and cares for me and my family and all human beings. And I know I can trust in his loving promises. 

Promises like … (Isaiah 40:31) “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” … and … (Jesus in St. John 11:25f.) “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” 




Ronald Lehenbauer, DMin, MDiv, LMFT, has served as pastor of congregations in Jenison, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; and Flushing, New York, and as Circuit Counselor in both the English and Atlantic Districts, LCMS. He received his Doctorate of Ministry degree from NY Theological Seminary and holds Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo. Dr. Lehenbauer completed certification in pastoral counseling at the Post-graduate Center for Mental Health in New York, NY and also is certified as an Imago Relationship Therapist. A member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, Dr. Lehenbauer is a NY state licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, providing counseling for adults and couples.