one of my go-to books and passages to help me when I feel either on edge, or overwhelmed

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12

Life can seem overwhelming to me much of the time. People around me may not know it from simply watching or interacting with me, but if they get to know me well at all, they’ll realize that I feel pressure about this and that. Challenges are of course a part of life. Some people don’t seem to struggle any with ill feelings, but I’m not one of them.

2 Corinthians starts out with Paul acknowledging despair for good reasons, even to the point of giving up on life entirely. But with the helpful twist that he felt the sentence of death in himself, so that he might no longer trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead, and who would deliver them from any deadly peril which faced them. The letter ends with the same theme, highlighting Paul’s own weakness, and then that of our Lord’s in his crucifixion.

I find it most helpful again and again and again, world without end, to accept the difficulties, and hard places. To simply accept them, period. Not radical in understanding, but radical in meaning, indeed. But for the same reason spelled out by Paul in the passage above (click the link to read it all): to help us be more completely dependent on God. I would like to add from other places in scripture, also more interdependent on each other, for that is the way God would have it. Even in 2 Corinthians, Paul is working with others, so that it’s a team. We do well to share our struggles, or what we might call over-burdens with each other for needed empathy, possible counsel, and prayer. At the same time learning to carry our own load better, while casting on the Lord the things which weigh us down. Above all, as 2 Corinthians makes clear, and especially this passage, we need to learn to accept and even come to delight in our weaknesses, in order that we might experience the Lord’s help and strengthening.

Something I can easily forget, but which I need to remember more.

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what moves us?

Emotions are a part of life, along with reason, so that there’s a time for a number of activities which need to be done, or at least which we humans do, many legitimate, and some possibly not (Ecclesiastes 3). I am moved by a good number of factors, but one of the most basic and I might add, essential ones, is simply to make a living for my family which involves meeting the responsibilities of my work. And then there’s necessary items I need (or ought) to do around the house. As well other basic things we all regularly do for good reason.

But what underlies all of life at the core of our being? What do we essentially live for, and if need be, above all else, would die for?

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

We know what moved the Apostle Paul who said elsewhere that for him to live was Christ (Philippians 1). What motivates us above and beyond everything else, and actually impacts what we do on lesser levels to some extent, if nothing else except that we are a different person in doing those things, is Jesus and the gospel, and the life and will of God found in him.

Sometimes I’m distracted and detoured by lesser things, which may give rise in me to something lesser, essentially in what can become something of an idol in the heart, something which displaces God and God’s will for us in Jesus. But God in his love convicts and brings me back to my senses in and through Jesus, so that I want to continue on and grow in what matters above all else. And not only puts everything else in place, but helps us glorify God in whatever we’re about.

At times we’ll be moved by lesser things, sometimes for good reason. But those are not where we’re to be anchored and live. We live for God’s will for us in Jesus, for the gospel. Our hearts and lives compelled by nothing less than the love of God in Jesus our Lord.

 

reprogramming our minds

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Neurologists and psychologists tell us that our minds are not reliable guides. That they are both good and bad (see a TED talk, well worth the short time needed). We condition ourselves to think and then continue to think in certain ways according to patterns set. And what often ends up amounting to an obsession to us just deepens the groove which is set, so that like on a vinyl record, the needle can be stuck on a certain part. And the groove can get much deeper over time.

That should help us both be more realistic as well as knowledgeable over what needs to be done. It will take time, and not without setbacks. But what is needed is a new pattern to be set.

Two friends shared with me, one the passage above from the Amplified Bible (hit the above link) and the other, the TED talk. Although I don’t entirely trust the Amplified Bible, I think the point in there of whatever brings peace is one important, even crucial side in telling whether or not something is of God. We need discernment. Of course being at peace by itself is not enough. We need to be committed to the gospel, and to the teaching of scripture. It’s not simply how we feel, nor is it a matter of how we think. Neither our emotions, nor our mind by themselves are reliable guides. We need them both along with help from others, particularly from God.

I am much better at handling troubling thoughts and emotions over a day or more than I used to be. What I’m not doing well yet, at least for the most part is how I handle the problem at the beginning. That is my goal, to change the groove so that in both the thought process and the corresponding emotion, I will reflect what is actually from and of God, and not of myself or any other.

Again, I realize that this will take time along with effort. What I hope for is a marked change so that perhaps one year from now I will be able to see needed growth and change.

 

 

not dividing the head and the heart

Michael Minkhoff’s post, How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings is well worth the read. Even if there is only some truth in what he’s saying, and I think there’s plenty, it is enough to help one understand why either emotions are suppressed resulting in a cold, hard hearted rationalism, or why they’re given full sway resulting in a disparaging of the intellect and good, clear, coherent thought. What is needed of course is everything which makes up our humanity made in the image of the one who is moved not only with truth but in an emotional sense, with pity, compassion, anger, etc., in love.

I come to this myself, hardly knowing what to make of it, except to acknowledge that I too am a victim of the lie that we simply need to put aside our emotions for a clear understanding. When actually we need to grow both in our “emotional quotient” as well as our “intelligent quotient.” How in real life mind and emotions, the heart and the head we’re never meant to be separated.

What is often left is an emotional immaturity which actually affects the mind for ill, since good thinking was never meant to be separated from feelings. We can’t do well in one without the other. We need the full healing of our total humanity in and through Christ, a life-long process until the redemption to come, when that work will be finished into something new and dynamic and growing. Something we may be able to find in ourselves now, only with some work and imagination, but which will then be obvious and flourishing in and through Jesus.

 

 

emotions

I was once told by a friend and mentor that I am an emotional cripple. That was a good number of years, even decades ago, and while I think my emotional life has come a long way, I still don’t see myself as completely whole in that area. Emotions such as joy and peace can act as buffers against the inevitable hard knocks and grind of this world. I have to admit that I struggle somewhat in trying to think through the issue of emotions.

I really do believe that emotions a part of our humanity from creation and are renewed in new creation in Jesus. Just the same, I can’t live by emotions, good or bad. They happen, they come and go. They are a byproduct, really, of living. We need to watch our lives, to guard our hearts, to hold on to faith and a good conscience.

I have wondered about Mother Teresa’s decades long suffering of “the dark night of the soul.” I have found in my own life that when I accept the dark times, even the times of inward oppression, it is often not long before those emotions and that experience is lifted.

I also wonder about what we might call a happified existence. Where everything is great all the time and there is much joy and laughter. I think we need more joy and laughter, to be sure, but I wonder how such an existence fits into the picture of the psalmists, who are often flailing away at life, even at God about life, sometimes even at God himself. Jesus himself, though a person of joy and peace, was also a man of sorrows and acquainted with suffering, or grief.

We need the presence of God through Christ by the Spirit. And that will help us. But perhaps the experience of darkness in this life helps us as well, in ways which are difficult, but in the way of following Jesus, the way of the cross. We have to learn to live with pain, with suffering, and to do so in the meekness and love of our Lord.

And so we go on, regardless of what we are experiencing inwardly, together in Jesus for the world.

when sad

Emotions are a part of life, and to be taken seriously. They can actually be a help or a hindrance, depending on what we do with them.

I have struggled more or less much of my life with depression, probably would be classified mild in clinical terms, since I’ve always been able to function and do what was required of me.

I find times of sadness in my life can be opportunities to seek to draw near to God. Sometimes I know at least in part what troubles me, and while one thing may be paramount, often I’m saddened over a number of things. That can be helpful in giving me much pause to stop, be still, be silent, and seek to come into God’s presence anew and afresh, or really “just as I am”, in and through Jesus.

On the other hand, sadness can be a danger as well. I can listen to another voice other than the voice of the good shepherd. That other voice will put all kinds of troubling and indeed perturbing thoughts in my mind which will eat away at my soul, making me struggle with anger and bitterness. And if something happens especially unexpectedly, what is in me may well spill out. Which then I’ll have to repent of.

Emotions are not to be despised and shunned, or buried within us. The Psalms over and over give testimony to the faithful being open and honest to God about what they are thinking and feeling, even when that is not good. Sadness along with other emotions can be our call to be still before God. To seek God and his face. To pray to him. Of course all in and through Jesus.

And while we need to go immediately to God, we can share our heart struggle to some degree with trusted friends when that is appropriate. That they might pray for us. And we for them, if they should ever share their own struggles with us. As we bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ, which is love, that unique love we find in God through Christ. And we do this ourselves and with each other with a heart by the Spirit of Jesus for the world.

dread and sorrow

What happens when it seems like dread and sorrow overtake us? Dread involves facing uncertainties or challenges we see as daunting and sorrow involves perceived loss. I live in this experience more or less most of the time. Sometimes it can be quite acute. Angst is akin to this, really feeling up against it, up against life.

Our Lord experienced something of this on his way to Golgotha. We see it in the Garden of Gethsemane where he suffered intensely emotionally, even pouring out sweat (perhaps blood?) in his anguish. Jesus entered fully into our experience, and he faced a trial that none of us have to in becoming sin for us, taking the cup of judgment in suffering, in God’s love for the world.

I wish I processed life differently. I do think that in time I will. It’s not like I don’t experience any joy and peace, because I do. It is part of living in a world in which there is suffering. And hopefully in the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, taking up ourselves something of God’s suffering in this world, in our quest to find and live according to the will of God.

When we consider our Lord’s suffering for us during this season of Lent, let’s not forget the intense emotional suffering he went through out of love. For us, for the world, for and in the love of the Father, and by the Spirit. He loved in his suffering to the very end. May we grow together in Jesus in following in his steps.