I'm still undecided as to whether I learn more from hearing confession or going to confession. I learn to know my parishioners better in hearing their confessions; I learn to know myself better in making confession and receiving Absolution from my pastor. But as to whether I learn more theology from the Word of Absolution and the pastoral care that I am given to speak according to my office, or from the counsel and care that are granted to me with Holy Absolution, that's hard to say. Either way, what do I have or receive that is not given to me by the grace of God?
I've recently been searching for the right way to comprehend and deal with feelings and emotions. There's evidently something "in the air" these days, because it's not only me but others who are also struggling to come to grips with elusive and vacillating emotions. Lutherans have rightly tended to downplay the role of emotions in the realm of faith and doctrine, but have probably overdone their precautions in the realms of piety and life. Or maybe I'm only describing myself and my own past efforts to avoid depending too much on feelings. Fair enough, we shouldn't depend on our feelings, and we shouldn't do anything "too much," but neither should we despise this aspect of the way that God has created us: to live in love toward one another and in love with Him. Feelings and emotions are not the problem, but sin, which has warped and twisted our feelings and emotions, turning them inward instead of outward. The solution is not that we should deny or avoid them, but that they be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer; for these also are God's gifts to be received in faith and with thanksgiving.
Anyway, although I basically know all this in my head, there's still the challenge of putting it into practice. How does one get a handle on his emotions or channel them in a positive direction? The first and foremost response is to confess the ways in which my emotions have been misdirected — in selfishness and anger, in pride and envy — and to receive the free and full forgiveness of those sins and failings in Holy Absolution. Christ be praised for such gifts of His!
In doing that, I have also received some most beautiful pastoral counsel, which seemed at once so strikingly profound and so simply obvious — it was like settling into a comfy easy chair at the end of a long, hard day. Rather than fleeing my emotions, or allowing them to drive me further and further into myself (which is into sin), I can learn from them to know and love my neighbor. In other words, my emotions can teach me a kind of empathy that I would otherwise not know or have for others. I guess it's just a variation on the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Well, sure, that makes perfect sense.
So why didn't I think of that? Because I have nothing that is not given to me, and this I needed to be taught by the one who is sent to speak the Word of the Lord to me. Apart from that, my feelings and emotions, and my struggles with them, are always getting in the way of clarity and compassion. Apart from that Word that is spoken to me from outside of myself, I only end up spiraling downward, ever and always collapsing into me, myself and I. But now, instead, this Word of the Lord, this pastoral care that has been granted to me, calls me out of myself with my own feelings and emotions in tow. Instead of pining away for myself, I can understand my neighbor's feelings and emotions in the light of my own experience. My desire to be loved and understood can direct me, according to the New Man who lives in me by grace, by the Word and Spirit of God, to love and understand my neighbor. My fears and frustrations, my anger and anxiety, my hopes and dreams, my cares and concerns — all of these things become a school of understanding, in which I learn to know my neighbor's griefs and sorrows, hurts and needs.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to become our merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, became like us in every way (save without sin); He also has partaken of blood and flesh, like unto our own, that we might be made like Him by grace. He prays and intercedes for us as One who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows in His own body to the Cross. In love and mercy and compassion, He has suffered for us, that He might also suffer with us. He feeds our mortal flesh with His own Body and Blood, given and poured out for us, that we might have life by His death, and peace and rest forever. As we, therefore, are given to have the same mind and heart and the Spirit of Christ in us, so let us learn from our emotional experiences to know our neighbor well, to comprehend him (or her) in compassion, and to serve as we are served. In knowing and loving our neighbor, we are also known and loved by Christ our Lord. How much more shall I, having been sent by His charity to shepherd His sheep and to care for them with His Word of the Gospel, deal with them with a sympathetic and compassionate heart.