Response to Emotions

jesus-weptJesus wept. (John 11:35)

His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. His emotions weren’t out of control. He simply wept. He felt. He expressed those feelings.

And so did the people around him after he wept. They certainly had a variety of responses:

  • The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36)
  • Some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
  • Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” (John 11:39, following Jesus commanding the stone of the tomb be removed)

We respond differently to situations, as well as to the way others respond to those same situations. We declare people are too sensitive or justified. We’re surprised by how well or poorly we think they’re handling something. We have our own emotions to sift through, and our emotions affect our response to others’ emotions.

Be careful. Emotions are great companions but terrible leaders. They enhance life, but they don’t run life. Don’t give them the power and control they don’t deserve, either in your own life or your assessment of others.

Everyday Emotions

What, in general, do you do when you experience emotions?

  • I push them aside and forge forward.
  • I feel helpless and am often stopped in my tracks.
  • I sense the opportunity to look at what God’s exposing about me.
  • I’m motivated to change and grow.

Emotions expose us. We can feel unmasked. Emotions enhance our experiences, as if a highlighter has illuminated what’s going on in our lives. What do you think of when you think about being exposed?

I think about being on an island. My first thought is of being on the beach. Not the relaxing resort beach where refreshing drinks and snacks are readily available. A deserted beach. The sun is beating down, and there’s little escape if some odd creature or person wants to attack. I’m visible to everyone who is in the area as well as to the elements. I don’t feel safe.

Exposure feels unsafe. It’s unsettling.

I can also feel exposed in the very depths of the island jungle, where the vines and bushes are overgrown and hide the path. It’s a different kind of exposure. It’s exposure to the unknown and uncertainty. I can easily get lost, and I consider what could be lurking in the overgrowth.

Emotions can lead us to depend on God. The small word can is critical, because emotions will not automatically lead us to depend on God.

We can also get bogged down with our emotions. We experience negative emotions and we want to turn them into positive emotions. We experience positive emotions and we want them to last forever. We want things our way, and we usually want them to be easy. But we don’t experience easy emotions, because life isn’t easy. We get uncomfortable, and we want to change. Well, let me rephrase that. We often don’t want to change. We want something to change more than we want to be changed.

Let’s take a look at some changes in Scripture.

God said to Abraham, “I will change the name of Sarai, your wife, to Sarah.” Genesis 17:15

When Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart. All these signs came true that day. 1 Samuel 10:9

You changed my sorrow into dancing. You took away my clothes of sadness, and clothed me in happiness. Psalm 30:11

Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. Romans 12:2

Our faces, then, are not covered. We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

By his power to rule all things, he will change our humble bodies and make them like his own glorious body. Philippians 3:21

Now consider the following:

So God created human beings in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female. Genesis 1:27

You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well. Psalm 119:13-14

“I say this because I know what I am planning for you,” says the Lord. “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future. Then you will call my name. You will come to me and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12

That was not because of anything we did ourselves but because of God’s purpose and grace. That grace was given to us through Christ Jesus before time began, but it is now shown to us by the coming of our Savior Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:9-10

I hope you recognized this one: God didn’t mess up His design of you.

He’s not capable of messing up. He created you in His image. He has a plan for your life. He even knew what mistakes you’d make throughout your life, and He still loves you and wants nothing more than to be in an ever-deepening relationship with you. He will pursue you – whether you’re not following Him and need to make that decision or you’re following Him marginally or you’re passionate about Him. He designed you for more, and He will pursue you, tapping you on the shoulder, whispering in your ear, and knocking on the door of your heart so that your daily life – including your decisions, attitudes, and yes, emotions – is impacted in the purity of who He created you to be and the everyday messiness of living on earth as you move ever closer to eternity – with God or without Him. Rest assured, God did not mess up His design for you.

For a biblical study of emotions, click here to order Pure Emotion, a 10-week study of emotions for individuals or groups.

Lesson from Nature: Moving On

©PurePurpose.org
©PurePurpose.org

“Go across to the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites…This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:5-7,24)

I don’t know what each person intended by stacking his or her cairn on the beach. Some might have simply thought it looked fun or challenging. Others might have done so in remembrance of something or someone. Each stone, each stack was different. But to me, they meant something. Despite not knowing the motivation behind each and every one, they were a reminder of the lesson God taught me about setting standing stones for Him. Not literal stones, but certainly spiritual stones. As I wrote in Pure Emotion. It started with a painful experience, signified by a large, unavoidable stone…

I dealt with it the best I could (which looking back, seems like not dealing with it at all), and I moved on. A few years later, I could feel it poking at me again. I felt like I was right back at the rock even though time had passed. I felt as if I hadn’t grown or healed with the passing time. So I worked it out again, a little differently, hopefully a little more deeply…and I moved on. Again.

A few years passed and it started sticking out again. I trudged back to the rock. Repeated coping and healing. Fast forward. Trudge back. Repeat. Fast forward. Trudge back. Repeat. It was an exhausting process. I didn’t think about it much in the “in between” times, but each time I trudged back, the effort and pain caught up with me. Each time I thought I was ready to move on. Each time I was caught off guard with the pull back to the rock.

And then, several years ago, I’d had enough. I felt the sharp poking, and I knew what was coming. The exhaustion set in, and I wasn’t happy about it. I was downright angry and said, “God. Why do you keep pulling me back to that place? I thought we’d dealt with this!” I clearly heard his answer in the depth of my soul: “Susan. I’m not taking you back there. You’re trudging back there on your own.”

What?! Why would I put myself through the agony? Yet I wanted to learn and grow, and I was tired of the weariness, so I listened. And God taught.

Consider the trauma like a burn. I’ve never experienced a severe burn, but I understand it’s excruciating. When someone suffers a severe burn, the focus isn’t on reconstruction. It’s on easing the trauma and stopping the burn. No reconstruction can immediately take place. The swelling has to subside. Tissue has to heal. And then reconstruction can take place…after some time.

From what I understand, the reconstruction can be more painful than the original burn. I’m sure there are some similarities. Just as I felt the pull back to the original pain and trudged back to it, a burn victim might feel that initial trauma. Similar pain, but different. The healing that’s taking place couldn’t have taken place at the time of the trauma. But it feels similar enough – and might even feel more painful – and it brings up all kinds of excruciating pain.

After the reconstruction, time must pass in order for the swelling to subside and tissue to heal…in preparation for yet another reconstructive procedure, at which time the process cycles yet again. Feels like the same pain as the trauma. Perhaps worse. But it’s another stage of healing.

And the process repeats itself. Perhaps a little different each time but part of the same journey.

I thought God was pulling me back to the original trauma. But he was healing me a little more along the way. He knew I needed rest in between. He knew it was best for the healing process – and still is. My journey of healing isn’t over, but now it looks like a series of standing stones. You see, each time God worked on me, there’s a monument to commemorate it. I move on from the stone. If I were to camp under it, I wouldn’t need the monument to remind me of the journey. Instead, the stone reminds me of the relationship I have with God. He works on me, and I set a stone of remembrance. And another and another. I keep journeying. Instead of trudging back to an earlier place along the journey, I can stand right where I am, turn my head, and see a line of standing stones as a testament of the dependability of God. I can see and declare, “God was there for me. And there and there and there. He brought me here. And He is here with me, too. I can depend on Him for everything at every place along the journey.” Praise God!

Emotions are moments, not monuments.

We can be pulled back to monuments we’ve erected when we’re experiencing emotional responses. Current pain reminds us of past pain, and we return to the monument. Current frustration reminds us of a pattern of frustration, and we return to the monument. Current fear reminds us of past fears, and we run to hide behind the monument.

But today’s emotion isn’t yesterday’s emotion. Similar? Yes. But if you’re growing in your relationship with God…if you’re asking him to reveal His godly emotions to you and reveal the discrepancies between Himself and you…if you’re drawing closer to the center of His will, your emotions of today only have hints of yesterday’s emotions – an aftertaste. And today’s emotions are a mere appetizer of tomorrow’s emotions. God has a feast planned for you!

Are you ready to move forward, assured in His presence and provision, and savor what He has for you, right now?

Duplicity of Mind

doublemindedJesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” (John 20:25)

It’s not just what we give to whom but how we focus and to what we attend. We can build walls between what we do and what we think. For instance, have you ever sat in church, surrounded by an atmosphere of worship and reading of God’s Word yet let your mind wonder to something far from God’s presence? Can you listen to music or read Scripture yet get frustrated…even with God? Perhaps you even think, “I’m doing everything I know what to do to help me focus and get some problems solved, but it’s just not working!” Or perhaps a more accurate assessment is that things aren’t changing as you’d like them to change.

You can’t be productive and stagnant at the same time. But it can certainly feel that way!

You know you’re doing what you need to be doing, but if feels as if you’re stagnant. However, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re being productive. It might feel like the “same old thing,” but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working. If you’re seeking God’s will, reading God’s Word, talking and listening to God…with a pure heart…even if you feel as if you’re not growing, you are. God is working even when you don’t feel as if he’s working.

Of course, it’s always possible that you’re going through the motions without a pure heart. You could be determined that you’re only growing if you get a certain answer or feel a certain way, so all the effort you put forth—reading, studying, praying—becomes a bit “stalled.” It’s as if you’re going through the motions. But it’s not about your feelings. Feelings don’t always reflect reality. And the answer isn’t always the goal. The process often provides the answer. And really, don’t you already have the answer?

The answer isn’t a what; it’s a who.

It’s Jesus. You might not know the specifics of a situation, but in faith, you simply pursue Jesus. Even when situations don’t work out the way you want, you still end up closer to Jesus because of the pursuit.

And there’s no duplicity of mind in that!

Doubting Differences

doubtsAll doubt is not created equally. After writing about the doubt of faith (Mark 9) in Pure Faith, I’ve considered doubt from a variety of perspectives through several experiences, and I’m growing to understand it’s a bit more complicated than we sometimes assume.

As a faith-filled person, perhaps you see doubt as the opposite of faith, but one doesn’t cancel out the other. An ounce of doubt doesn’t negate all belief, and a dash of belief doesn’t pull doubt out of its funk. And different kinds of doubt require different approaches and attention.

Rational doubt. When we reason through why we shouldn’t believe something, we have rational doubt. God certainly created us with reason. He is an orderly God, and we are created in his image. However, we do not have his complete capability of understanding how everything is connected. We cannot fully comprehend who he is and why he does what he does. When we’re limited in our understanding, we can slip into rational doubt. Any gap we have or anything that seems to not fit becomes grounds for dismissal. Those gaps are especially where our faith comes in. Faith is the mortar that holds the pieces we have together. Rational doubt can be the killer of our faith is we allow it to be, but it can also be a faith builder and expander.

Emotional doubt. When we don’t feel as if something is true, we have emotional doubt. However, our feelings aren’t always accurate. God is an emotional God. Scriptures are filled will the expressions of his emotions. Again, because we’re created in his image, we, too, are emotional. When we take our emotional experiences and project their accuracy onto God, we misstep in faith. When we make faith decisions based on emotional doubt, we erode our faith and our relationship with God. Just because we feel something doesn’t make it so. When we let our emotions decide our faith response, we easily tip the scales from primarily faith to primarily doubt. Emotions enhance experiences but  left unchecked, emotional doubt will become a quagmire, but when we look to God for emotional accuracy, our emotions can provide stepping stones for sure-footed steps through sticky situations.

Spiritual doubt. When we move away from God, doubting his provision and presence, we have spiritual doubt. We wonder where he is, why he allowed something, or when we’re going to hear from him or see him move in our lives. We wonder if we really know who he is or what he’s doing. The answer? Yes…and no. We can know God, but we can’t know everything about him, because he’s God and we’re not. We can understand what he’s doing as we know his character and our experiences line up with the truth of God’s Word, but we can’t fully understand everything in our lives, because we aren’t capable of God’s omniscient perspective. Spiritual doubt creates a distance between us and God, but it doesn’t have to. Because of God’s consistent pursuit of us, he wants to make a way. He wants to build bridges over any pool of spiritual doubt. However, he won’t force himself onto us. He knows our hearts and our intentions, and he knows the source and purpose of our spiritual doubts. We need to struggle through some doubt in order to more deeply trust him, but when the distance our doubt puts between us becomes what we want more than the intimacy we can have with him, he will give us space.

Some doubt is acute, and some is chronic. None will be wasted if it’s given to God to sort, but you have to yield it to him. Tell him about it. He already knows. He likes when you share. Search his Word and listen to the Holy Spirit as he weaves the doubt into faith. You can trust him, but it takes a step of faith to do so.

Take Your Temperature

temperatureFeeling unloved doesn’t mean you’re not loved.

Feeling lonely doesn’t mean we’re alone.

Feeling rejected doesn’t mean we’re being rejected.

Feeling jealous doesn’t mean there’s reason for jealousy.

Feeling a myriad of tumultuous emotions doesn’t mean you’re life is a torrent.

Before you send me angry messages of “How dare you tell me my feelings are unjustified!,” let me assure you that’s not my intent. I’m not saying your feelings aren’t what you’re experiencing. I’m not invalidating your feelings. You feel what you feel. What I’m suggesting is this: Consider that feelings might not reflect the reality of a situation. That’s why we’re studying emotions in the context of who God is and who he created us to be. Emotions are intended to enhance life. Sometimes they’re positive and sometimes they’re negative. We’re not going to get rid of all negative emotions, because life isn’t always going to go smoothly. But our emotions can be godly, which means our emotions will accurately reflect the reality of the situation and help us respond in healthy ways. (excerpted from Pure Emotion Bible Study)

I was standing outside on a hot day, a very hot day, and I felt hot. I could feel sweat dripping down my back as my body tried to cool itself down. I found some shade for relief.

I’ve also been outside on cold days, bundled in layers, rubbing my hands together, trying to shift my weight to keep my body moving to generate warmth.

In both extremes, regardless of how hot or cold I felt, I’d venture to guess my actual body temperature was a fairly consistent 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. God created the body to regulate temperature, and it does a really good job at it.

Regardless of how I feel, I need to trust God to filter the reality of a situation, including my emotional response, through the truthfulness of the Holy Spirit. I can feel angry, but the reality of the situation doesn’t call for godly anger. I can feel frustrated, but the truth of the situation may not warrant a frustrated response. The list goes on and on. And with each emotional response, instead of asking, “How do I feel?” and responding out of that feeling with a justification of my behavior, I need to immediately follow the “How do I feel?” question with “Does my emotional response accurately reflect the truthfulness of the situation?” Only God can tell me that, because only God has a sovereign perspective.

We can’t just skip over how we feel. We are emotional. God gave us emotions, and he gave them to us to enhance experiences, not distort them. If we rationalized all of our responses based on how we feel, we’d live in chaos. However, if we don’t recognize our emotions at all, we’d live in denial of who God created us to be.

Our physical bodies feel excessively hot or cold, but our internal temperatures are usually consistent. Our emotions might feel excessive, but God’s truth reveals the reality of each situation, so we can respond with accuracy.

Are you trusting your own assessment of your emotions more than you’re trusting God’s assessment of them? Are you responding with accuracy?

“No” Your Limits

I suppose I could have kept my eyes open a little longer. But I was sleepy, and the sun was so warm, and everything on my list of things to do could honestly wait. So I relinquished…and took a short nap. How refreshing!

Sometimes I push myself too hard, ignoring limits. Yet there are also times my limits are marked with a huge red flag. When I see the flag looming ahead, I stop.

According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/, a limit is “something that bounds, restrains, or confines.” What limits you? Create a list.

  • When does fear limit you?
  • What types of emotions limit you?
  • How does money, location, transportation limit you?
  • What relationships limit you?
  • How does “baggage” limit you?

There are situations in which a limit is placed in our path as a warning to take another route, proceed with caution, or cease pursuing that direction altogether. But sometimes we use limits as an excuse to stop, pause, or retreat. Sometimes, limits are a test of our perseverance.

I try to be too self-sufficient sometimes. Okay, a lot of times. The fact is my limits aren’t limits at all, because I know God, who has no limits. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10: 27) I’m only limited by my stubbornness to rely on my own strength, courage, and perseverance. I get worn out and can easily give up!

Take a look at your list of limits. Circle the items beyond God’s limits. You can keep those things on your list of definite “no-can-do” limits. Cross off the items that are not beyond God’s limits. My guess is, you’ll be drawing a few lines on your paper!

Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. – John 3:33-35