The Voice of the Heart

Chip Dodd is a trained counselor who founded The Center for Professional Excellence and Sage Hill: A Social Impact Organization (the latter essentially a counseling center). As his website bio states, Dodd helps professionals in all walks of life gain recovery from addiction, depression, anxiety and other behavioral disorders.

Out of this focus, Chip Dodd has given us his most known work, The Voice of the Heart: A Call to Full Living. In it he explores what he (and others) identifies as the eight core feelings: hurt, lonely, sad, anger, fear, shame, guilt, and glad. As he states in the preface:

“These eight core feelings are the beginning of the expression of all human emotional experience. From these core feelings we can expand the expression to name conditions of the heart such as awe, grief, envy, anxiousness, depression, revenge, delight, and boredom.” (XI)

He goes on to remind us, or perhaps, for some of us, let us in on something for the first time:

“Feelings are not impulses that need to be controlled; they are tools that we need to learn how to use well so that we do not behave impulsively and act out without the ability to take responsibility.” (XIII)

Dodd’s discussion about feelings flows out of his bigger concept of the Spiritual Root System. These are the “five roots that drink in the nourishment of life,” those roots being “feelings, needs, desire, longings, and hope” (p18). So, chapter 1 lays the background work (see the illustration below).

If you are like me, you grew up believing feelings were negative things and that feelings could not be trusted at all. For starters, I saw them inappropriately expressed in many places. Not only that, but within the Christian community, they were regularly tagged as negative or “soul-ish” (the soul not being as good or important as the spirit).

My personal belief is that a lot of our unhealthy Christian ideas about feelings come from an improper understanding of biblical words like soul and spirit. Most evangelicals hold to a trichotomist perspective – believing we are made up of three distinctive parts, mainly body, soul and spirit (soul and spirit are distinct “parts”). And, so, from where I stand today, I believe this pitting of the “spirit” against a separate thing called “soul” becomes very unhealthy.

But, as Dodd goes on to explain:

“Actually, each feeling is positive because of where it can lead. There was a time when I thought, and had even been tutored to believe, that the feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are. This is not true. All eight feelings are good.” (p39, emphasis mine)

It is not our feelings that are bad, but rather it is the behavior that follows those feelings that can be bad. Each and every feeling is a gift of God – even those first seven that normally get tagged as “negative”: hurt, lonely, sad, anger, fear, shame, guilt.

This is hugely important when learning to navigate the heart. Honestly, this is flat-out liberating to come to realize our feelings are good gifts of God! I know it is for me. Not only that, but feelings aren’t like light switches that you can simply flip on or off. They can come and go in the most unexpected ways and even at the most inconvenient of times. We all know this!

Anyone who tells you differently may have a serious problem with control and perhaps has spent considerable time suppressing his or her feelings. Suppression of feelings will only lead to unhealthy expressions of those feelings down the road. This is why it is important that we gain wisdom and understanding about these eight core feelings, as well as how they are used for both good and damage.

From this, Dodd gives us a threefold solution in moving toward full life (p32):

  1. Feel our feelings.
  2. Tell the truth about what is happening inside us.
  3. Recognize our innate craving for full life and our inability to control it, all so we can let God do what we cannot do as we experience these feelings in life.

The eight core feelings are specifically explored throughout the rest of the book.

In the concluding chapter, Chip Dodd lays out his “The Gift of Feelings Chart,” as shown below (found on his website and on p157 in the book).

This is the good and damage I spoke of earlier.

On the left side, we find the impairing, damaging behavior that could result from a feeling. On the right, we find the gift expression, which Dodd reminds us comes about through cultivating willingness, patience, work and time. So, as with the first feeling, the gift of hurt can either lead us to the negative reality of resentment or it can push us towards the positive substance of healing and courage.

Dodd and company have been hit with some slack from those we might call the “Bible police.” These folk are always applying strict tests to see if something is truly “biblical” or not. Of course, on some level, we need to consider aspects of psychology and practices of counseling in light of Scripture. However, the Bible has not been primarily given to offer detailed insights on psychology and counseling. That’s simply not the goal. Trust me. So, to apply some stringent (modern) biblical grid to Dodd’s concepts truly misses an opportunity to learn about these good gifts from God, our feelings.

In order to soak in more, I look forward to re-reading the book over the coming holidays. And it will be part of my teaching material for a leadership development class in the future. For those interested in exploring more about the eight core feelings, I would encourage you to check out the book.

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