Oh gut feelings. How you torment me so!
From which career path to take, to whom to marry, I’m the kind of person that relies quite heavily on my gut. People say it all the time; “listen to your heart”, “trust your gut and you can’t go far wrong”, and my personal dreaded favourite, “when you know, you just know”.
What is this ‘gut feeling’, and why do we offer each other advice so readily to listen to it, and especially to rely on it as some kind of psychic guide when it comes to making major life decisions? Can you ever ‘just know’, really?
When I got engaged to HF, my gut went on overdrive: “this is wrong” it told me, constantly, to the point of making me physically ill. If you’re going to make a decision as monumentous as getting married, that is the right time to be paying attention to your gut instinct, surely? And, if you don’t ‘just know’, then perhaps it’s just not right.
Except what I wish I could go back and tell myself now, is that your ‘heart’ and ‘gut’ feelings do not know the future. They do not have magical powers, and they can’t tell you whether your decision will lead to success or failure, happiness or heartache. What they point to instead, is fear.
My gut/heart/inner-self or whatever you want to call it, was so terrified of making a ‘mistake’ (having had it ingrained by every Hollywood and Disney movie known to man that such a thing is possible), that it started waving a big red flag as soon as HF proposed and the possibility of being hurt was trebled.
In some cases, there are reasons to listen to these feelings – if there’s an underlying issue such as conflicting views on faith or having a family, for example, and certainly if you’re in a hurtful or abusive relationship in any way. These situations need prayerful consideration. But if it’s something like “the way he chews his food really bothers me” or “I don’t feel the same spark as I did with that hard-to-get/unavailable/uncommitted ex”… then perhaps it’s more a case of the fear-factor.
The other tricky issue, as a Christian, is deciphering whether or not these niggles could actually be a prompt from the Holy Spirit. In the Bible there are plenty of examples of people being convicted about things by the Spirit, and the apostle Paul writes about his conscience “bearing witness in the Holy Spirit” . When your gut is prodding you, it can be hard – and highly anxiety-inducing – to be sure whether it’s fear or God speaking.
But here’s the helpful distinction for the anxious person: the language of the Holy Spirit is not panic.
The God of peace doesn’t fill you with an overwhelming sense of anxiety as a way of telling you not to marry someone; especially if that person is a kind, loving and good match for you. Instead, we need to look to what the anxiety is pointing to inside – what fears are dwelling underneath the veneer of feeling “this isn’t right”.
So the next time your gut pipes up with its ‘sense of knowing’, pay attention, because it’s telling you something. But just be cautious about how you read its message – when it comes to gut feelings, all is not always as it seems.