During my senior year of high school, I seriously worried that no guy would want to marry me because I was such a moody mess. I cried over the smallest things. My temper flared with regularity. And, my feelings could do a ‘180’ in the time it took to walk from my bedroom to the kitchen–without provocation. Who would want such a wreck?
I realize now that I was a hormonal teenager. But I’ve also figured out that I lived hopeless, never imagining I could be different because I felt controlled by emotions. I didn’t know I had a choice in the matter.
But I do now.
Now I know that thoughts generate emotions. Now I know that truth is core to our thinking and feeling. When my toxic thoughts spiral, so do my emotions. When I perceive something as truth that is not, my emotions tank.
In other words, Elizabeth George, in her book Loving God With All Your Mind, has proven to be right when she explains that ‘thinking on what is true’ is recognizing “the Bible is true–not feelings or thoughts” (p.29). But when I first read this sentence, I had to wrestle through it. I wrestled till I realized I had mistaken ‘real’ feelings for truth. And as I traced the feelings of anger, resentment, and hopelessness back to their sources, I could always find originating thoughts that were not based on truth.
Since we already addressed our mental life, I won’t be repetitive here. But it is important to recognize how integrated our thoughts and feelings are. Where one goes, the other follows. For our purposes in this Abide series, we’ll focus on taking back control of our feelings because spiraling emotions can block our ability to draw near to God.
This is a good place to interject that feelings are God-given. They’re not evil. They’re not meant to be stuffed or ignored because of their inherent bad-ness. Because they’re not bad. Emotions are gifts! They warn us of danger. They help us to feel the injustice of a situation. They allow us to experience goodness. But, too often, feelings go off the rails, and that’s when the enemy grabs hold. Derailed emotions become prime property for enemy strongholds.
One of the enemy’s favorite entry points is through our disappointments (Lysa, 150). He’ll grab hold of disappointment–in ourselves, others, God, or the world–and feed it. He’ll lie, tempt, and trick us into unhealthy cycles of thinking and feeling in order to keep us stuck in disappointment.
“The enemy uses disappointments to cause so much trouble in an unsettled heart. A heart hungry for something to ease the ache of disappointment is especially susceptible to the most dangerous forms of desire. Especially when that heart isn’t being proactive about taking in truth and staying in community with healthy, humble people living out that truth.”Lysa TerKeurst, p.150
Left unchecked, disappointment deepens into bigger feelings that seem endless–it morphs into resentment. It lashes out in anger. It leaves us in a puddle of defeat, which the enemy loves because he’ll use defeat to tempt us to give up and walk away–from jobs, families, and Jesus.
In my own life, disappointments have led to great worry about my son’s future. If I allow it, worry quickly becomes anxiety that churns my stomach while stress tightens my shoulders. Fear then rises and grips my head till it hurts, and I lose my ability to see what is real. As a result, when I go to God in this state, I ‘worry’ my prayers.** Over and over, I say the same things, basically speaking aloud what’s going on in my mind. There’s no faith. No hope. Just fear.
It has helped me to picture my worry as a balloon that grows larger with every anxious breath till it consumes me, fills the space around me, and pushes against the holy throne room I desire to enter, blocking my way.
Simply said, unrestrained emotions can be breakers to our abiding life. But, we have a choice in the matter!
Builder: Choosing Our Emotions
Just as I used to think my moodiness was the only option, it’s easy for us to believe our emotions run the show. But, the truth is they don’t have to. Lysa TerKeurst, Jennie Allen, and Elizabeth George–three Christ followers who struggled with chaotic feelings that held them in chains–say the same thing: we can choose our emotions.
Aimee Walker, founder of The Devoted Collective, outlines three actions we can employ as we endeavor to choose our emotions:
- First, God invites us to relinquish, to let go of control. When we stop striving and start surrendering our expectations and assumptions to Him, we can begin trusting God to be our strength.
- Once we release ‘control,’ we can realign our emotions (and thoughts and actions) with God’s Word. When we sync everything in us to His truth, barriers to true intimacy with Christ–like giant bubbles that block our way–are shattered.
- Control relinquished and hearts realigned, we can receive whatever truths and gifts God offers us. No longer in chains, we are free to open our hands and hearts to the One who has so much for us.
(taken from Miracle Week: A Devoted Collective Resource)
So, when Paul tells us to think on what is TRUE (Philippians 4:8), he’s reminding us to realign with and receive what we’ve been given (v.9). Priscilla Shirer clarifies, saying that we’re to realign with and receive God’s Word. Beyond reading, realigning with and receiving is “meditating on the Word, internalizing its principles, then implementing them in your actions” (p.89).
Over the years, whenever I begin to worry, I have learned to ask, is this fear truth? What is fueling the fear? Sometimes fear’s grip is so tight, I can’t see truth from lies, so I’ll get into Scripture and start reading what is true:
God has plans for a good future (Jeremiah 29:11)
God’s power can do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond what we can think or ask (Ephesians 3:20)
God’s love is so high and deep and wide that it surpasses comprehension yet fills us with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19)
And, little by little, the fear subsides–because I’ve relinquished control, realigned my heart, and received truth. I repeat this process till my emotions settle into the peace God has for me–I receive it, too.
I don’t know what emotions you battle, but the process is the same. And, we have more choices!
Builders: Choosing Surrender and Righteousness
Emily P. Freeman says we may not have control, but we always have choices (Next Right Thing Podcast, episode 227). And another choice we have in taking back our emotions is to choose to surrender our will for God’s will. Friends, we tend to be strong-willed creatures. We’ve grown up in a culture that values independence–where we’re applauded for “doing things my way.” A stubborn pride pushes us further into self–and away from the heart of God.
Choosing to surrender what we want for what God wants looks like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). The Savior of the world chose to lay down His own desire to avoid pain, humiliation, and death. He chose to set aside His will for God’s, demonstrating for us it can be done!
Another choice we have in this battle for our feelings is to choose righteousness. Righteousness is upright living that aligns with God’s standards, and we’ll spend some quality time with this idea next week. For now, it helps to know that we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to lead us into whole and holy living. And, one way He does that is to help us make a conscious choice to act in a way that is consistent with our new life in Christ (Priscilla, p.85)–including our emotions.
Friends, we are not helpless under the power of swirling emotions. We can choose to believe they do not have control. And, we are asked to relinquish efforts for our control. So, that leaves Jesus. The One who allowed Himself to feel all the feelings in the face of crucifixion–He voiced them, prayed them, felt them yet did not allow those feelings to overtake His will. Instead, He chose His emotions. He chose to surrender His will. And, He chose to stay on the path of righteousness.
And He’ll help us do the same.
- Emotions. There are so many, and the vast majority we can control–with the help of the Holy Spirit. But if you are having thoughts or feelings of hurting yourself or others, please reach out for help. And there is help. And hope. A place to start is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline–just text or call 988.
- Something powerful happens when we speak what we’re feeling. I’m praying each of you has a safe person in whom you can confide. You can also share here. We’re a community of Christ followers hungry to learn more about Him, eager to become more like Him, and honest when we fall short. How have your emotions tried to wield control in your life?
- A friend shared a new playlist last week, and I discovered an artist I hadn’t known before. After the song ended, Spotify kept playing similar songs, and that is when I heard “Sound Mind” by Melissa Helser. My reaction was certainly emotional. Heart pounding. Thoughts popping off like fireworks–who is this? what song is this? did she say ‘sound mind?’ Of course, I’ve added it to our Abide playlist. Drop everything and listen now. It’s near the middle of the list. (I’m pretty sure you’ll hear more about this song in the near future.)
I surrender anxiety
All the striving has to cease
In this moment, You’re still the King
This is the gift You are giving to me
A sound mind for the spirit of fear
A sound mind so that I can see clearly
A sound mind, Your Spirit is here
- Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO
- Books I’ve listed before but mentioned again today:
- The Devoted Collective (founded by Aimee Walker) is a ministry designed for women who wholeheartedly seek to grow in their faith. I’m honored to be part of the Writing Team, and I have fallen in love with the women in this community. I invite you to be part! In fact, TOMORROW (Monday, July 18, 2022) we begin a new Devoted Word study on the Book of John. You can become a member and participate with the community, which incurs a monthly fee, OR you can sign up for daily emails for free. Here’s the page that lists both options.
- Emily P Freeman’s podcast, The Next Right Thing. I specifically mentioned Episode 227 in this post, but all of it is so, so good.
- I’ll always recommend JD Walt, writer of Seedbed’s The Daily Text–a daily devotion-like email based on the Text (Scripture).
- **I got the idea of “worrying prayers” from JD Walt. He says, “There is a big difference between ‘worrying our prayers’ and ‘praying our anxieties.’ The former skirts the real honest truth. The latter trusts enough to keep it real.”