Thursday, June 20, 2013

Please Don't Feed the Feelings!

Let me start by apologizing for my absence in writing for the past couple of weeks. Besides a week-long trip to Cancun, Mexico with my husband (thank you, Lord), I had a trip immediately after that to Champaign, Illinois to help my daughter and son in-law further settle into their first real home. All of that plus playing "catch-up" at home has made for a busy start to summer. But it has been a wonderful and blessed start to the summer--I am not complaining.  

With all our running around the past few weeks, I have taken a bit of a mental vacation from writing, as well.  My husband and I decided upon our arrival to Cancun, to jointly unplug from the Internet. It was a fabulous decision and we had a much-needed peaceful, rejuvenating, fun, and relaxing vacation together.  Utter refreshment!  I devoutly believe you can't truly enjoy your vacation and be "present" on it, and be stuck to your iPhone.  It just doesn't work.  I am still praising God that Matt wanted (and was able) to let go of his techno gadgets, too--and mostly that the decision to do so was more his than mine!  He did work on email while I was getting ready for dinner each eve, but I can't blame the guy--sadly, my beautification process isn't quick these days, and he gets upwards of 300 viable emails a day for which he has to "skim" and reply.  So it was time well-spent and helped him more easily leave his phone in the room-safe each day.  The poor guy spends his life looking at his iPhone, and I know at times it really wears on him.  I never nag him about this because it is the nature of his job--and that job feeds us and keeps a roof over our heads.  But let me encourage you this summer on your travels--let go of your phone and gadgets as much as you can.  It is ridiculous how obsessed we are with them and how they rewire our brains in ways that are not healthy.  We are constantly over-stimulating ourselves and looking down.  You miss so much in life when you are looking down. 

Having not written for three weeks, I feel a little out of practice with it and felt void for a blog topic yesterday. So I began to pray about it. I felt like I had nothing to say (yes, there's a first for everything)!  I am not trying to be overly dramatic about my need to write this blog--my readership is not so large that it is a "do or die" situation (nor am I being paid to write it, obviously).  It is just my nature to put deadlines on myself and push myself.  But after praying, the answer came quite quickly...and humbly.  

It was a simple, every day moment, actually.  I was in my car running errands in Lawrence, KS, sitting at a busy intersection waiting to turn left. It was about lunchtime, so traffic was horrid and I had sat there for several minutes with no clear moment to make my turn.  The line of cars behind me was growing quite long and feeling quite oppressive.  At this particular intersection, there are no lights.  This outlet road comes out of a busy shopping district onto a very busy, 5-lane road with a 50mph speed limit.  The road on which I sat had 3 lanes--a left-turn-only lane, a middle lane, and a right-turn-only lane.  Those of you who know me know I am such an impatient, speed-demon driver, that I was in no way sitting there over-cautiously holding up the left-turn lane.  If anything, I was plotting if I could get away with a near-death experience and make my turn!  Well, the fine gentleman behind me had had enough of waiting.  Life was too important for him to actually sit in his car safely and politely for a few more minutes.  So he belligerently floors it around me and makes a right turn from the middle lane, cutting off the girl in the right-turn-only lane, who had been waiting like me.  He had his near-death experience (and forced others to have theirs), and almost caused a major accident in oncoming traffic.  I was appalled--and I'm a bit of risk-taker driver myself.  But then it got better.  I finally had a clearing to make my left turn, and the girl who had likewise been sitting in the right-turn-only lane waiting to make hers, suddenly decides to turn left FROM THE RIGHT-TURN-ONLY LANE, and cut me off.  I sat there thinking, "Is this crazy town??!!"  So I had to wait, yet again, for several minutes for another clearing.  People behind me were honking and extremely angry now.  I was getting shots of middle fingers and angry faces yelling through their windows at me like I could hear them (or hopefully perhaps, they were yelling at the girl who had cut all of us off with her nut-ball left turn from the right-turn-only lane).  I was so ticked you would have thought someone had murdered my first born.  I confess to you that some words came out of my mouth that I am now ashamed of uttering.  Side-note:  One of my biggest fears is that I will be one of those old, senile women in the nursing home who angrily utters four-letter words at everyone with no filter at all, and shocks everyone that a supposedly Godly, Christian woman has such words rolling around in her head!  My husband and daughter both agree that at times when provoked, I am a totally different person behind the wheel of my car.  Why is this?  What causes road-rage?  Why do some of us choose to release our aggressions behind the wheel?  It is stupid, shameful, and ridiculous.  It is also very dangerous. 

I sat there watching the oncoming traffic and thinking about all this, while watching the people behind me almost go into their own personal cardiac arrests.  Pathetic.  I began to pray.  What a waste of energy all of this anxiety and anger was.  I'm guessing none of us were about to lose our job for being late from lunch (it was no where near 1 PM).  I'm guessing none of us were on our way to the hospital to a loved one nearing death.  I'm taking a wild guess that no one in that line was having an "urgent bathroom moment."  So why were we all coming totally unglued?  I confessed to God my stinky heart (and my unclean lips).  For those few minutes while I (and half of Lawrence) continued to wait on a clear moment to turn left, I analyzed what was making me really angry right now, and it actually had nothing to do with being unable to turn left and being cut off by two rude people.  Yes, I was perturbed about all that, and frustrated that someone had chosen to risk the lives of others just to gain maybe 3-5 minutes.  And yes, I was stressed that half of Lawrence was mad at me and flipping me off at the moment.  But I realized I had been stewing about something unknowingly all morning that was truly the root of my attitude-issue.  Ashamedly, I had even had my prayer time that morning, but had failed to truly get to the heart of my real prayer needs.  My prayer time had just been a rote, "do list" item for the day--and that's always a recipe for a cruddy day.  My attitude was being fueled by feelings I was stuffing of untrue thoughts that had been whirling about me and bothering me all morning.  The poor actions of my fellow men at that intersection were just stirring them (and obviously, they were all repressing some underlying bad feelings and attitudes, as well).

For some reason, I was reminded of a quote I had seen that week:  "Please Don't Feed the Fears."  I love that quote, and strangely enough I felt as though God was altering it in the moment to say to me, "Please Don't Feed the Feelings."  Essentially, I felt God telling me that when I am upset about something, I have got to turn it over to Him immediately or it will only be fed by other negative things through the day.  Eventually, it will feed my attitude and thus, my actions and/or reactions for the day.  It grows like yeast.  It's pretty simple really.  Our minds are the control-center of our lives--our feelings, our emotions, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our actions stem from what we think.  We all have different demons that torture and attempt to rob us of joy in life.  Mine were taunting me yesterday and I had done a great job of ignoring and stuffing them--until provoked.  

Feelings are just that--feelings. They aren't necessarily fueled by truth and can be quite deceptive in our lives.  Yet many times we let them rule us.  They can affect our thoughts, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our actions if we let them.  Sometimes our feelings stem from our thoughts, and sometimes our thoughts stem from our feelings. They are closely related.  But if we don't keep our feelings in control, they will run us. They can have an immense amount of power in our lives.  Not only can our feelings rule or run us, they can ruin us.  Many a marriage has been ended in ruin due to untrue or harmful, "feelings" (that evoked unforgivable actions).  We've all heard the worldly saying, "If it 'feels' good, do it."  God help anyone who lives their life by that quote.  

Don't get me wrong--feelings are God-given, and many times they are a wonderful blessing.  God Himself expresses feelings--He gets angry, jealous, and feels love and grief.  Sometimes, God even uses feelings to bring us into a better place with Him, to reveal a truth to us, to warn us, or to shelter us.  Feelings and emotions, and our ability to relay or express them thoughtfully, are what separates us from animals (though there are those of us who believe that most animals DO have some feelings, but you get the idea).  I also believe in intuition--the feelings that God instills in us, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to protect and guide us.  Those are all good feelings and are not the feelings of which I am talking.  The feelings of which we need to be cautious are those that evoke harmful and wrongful attitudes and/or actions in us--anger, jealousy, bitterness, fear, resentment, poor self-esteem, self-loathing, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, self-pity, selfishness, unforgiveness, spite, and the like.  The only way to monitor this is to (dare I say it), get in touch with your feelings.  We are our own stewards of our feelings and emotions.  We are the only stewards.  If we don't do a self-check every once in a while, and turn our feelings and emotions over to God, they will begin to rule us and run us.  You hear people on reality T.V. say lame things like, "I can't help the way I feel!"  Well, yes, you can.  Feelings are God-given, and they are a part of our humanity.  But we do have control over them.  I guarantee you if my Pastor had been in my car yesterday, no four-letter word would have passed through my lips.  We choose to control our feelings (and the actions we exhibit from them), or we don't--period.  There are many things in life we don't "feel" like doing, but we have to do them.  God is such a great God that He often brings the feelings along when we ask for His help and are faithful to do what we are called to do in life--in the big or the small.  

So how do we manage our feelings and do the regular, "self-check" of our feelings?  For starters, PRAY--a lot.  Not just for your needs, but for your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  Tell God everything.  Pour your heart out to Him.  There is nothing you can say that will shock or abhor Him into not loving you--He already knows your thoughts and feelings anyway.  He WANTS to forgive you for your wrongful thoughts and feelings, and help you with the stuff you are carrying. Sometimes you just need to utter your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to Him so that YOU can understand them better and from where they are truly coming. For me, many of my feelings stem from FEAR.  So the original quote I saw, "Don't Feed the Fears," works well for me, too. God just wants you to tell Him everything, confess your sins, and acknowledge your need and desire for Him to show up in your life.  He is your heavenly Father.  He loves you more than anyone else ever could or ever will.  He wants to be your Savior and your Hero.  He wants to rescue you.  He came here to rescue you!  Besides, He has the perfect answers and solutions to all your problems anyway.  No human advice is better than His utterings to you when you are truly silent and still before Him.  In Romans 8:26, Paul shares about how he doesn't always know what to tell God.  But he just rolls with it and lets the Spirit help with that:  "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans".  In 1 Thess. 5:17, it is stated that we should, "Pray without ceasing," and in Hebrews 4:16, we are encouraged to go before God boldly:  "Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Obviously, God wants to hear from us often and He wants to hear it all.  Anytime you feel (pun intended) like your feelings are beginning to overtake you, get on your knees.  You don't have to actually get on your knees to get on your knees.  I get on my knees quite often while driving my car, while running, while showering, while biking, while sitting at baseball games, etc.  Praying in my car keeps my road rage in-check and I love to multi-task, so it works well.  I have some of my best God-time when I am alone in my car with my praise music pumping (I should have been praying in my car yesterday)!  But it is also essential and good to get alone with God at home and actually get on your knees while totally undistracted and in quietness.  Those are my best prayers.
Secondly, GO TO GOD'S WORD for the truth about Him, about life, about others, and about yourself.  No self-help book is better than His.  It is the very best Rx for emotional ailments of every kind.  For example, if you are being tormented about your looks and the enemy is telling you that you are fat, ugly, old, and useless, go to God's Word for the truth.  What does God say about you?  He says that you are, "the apple of His eye" (Zech. 2:8).  The Bible says that a woman's true beauty comes from her inner being (1 Peter 3:3-4, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight").  You have a choice at that point--you can believe the lies or you can believe God.  We must not fall for the lies that evoke false feelings in us.   Maybe you are hanging around someone who is poisoning you and arousing feelings that are tainting your being (purposely or not purposely).  I believe that God doesn't want anything or anyone in our lives that is harmful to our walk with Him or to our joy in living out the life and callings He has for us.  You have God's permission to remove negative, harmful things or people that feed ungodly feelings or emotional turmoil in you.  In Matthew 5:29 we read, "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."  Here Jesus is saying it is better to keep yourself from sin regardless of what that requires.  Hard and painful as it can be, it sometimes requires the removal of people. No matter what your particular ailment is (lust, jealousy, depression, fear, anger), there are verses in God's Word that speak directly to it.  They will lift you up and restore truth to your very marrow.  All you have to do is Google, "Scriptures for depression," and the floodgates will open. 

When we don't pour ourselves out to God in prayer and pour ourselves into His Word, we put ourselves at risk for feeding wrongful feelings and emotions in our minds and hearts.  If we are not focused and meditating on God and His truths, we will be focused and meditating on something else.  Our minds are rolling all the time.  It is up to us to manage the content.  

Related Scripture:

Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

1 John 3:20, "For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything."

Proverbs 28:26, "Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered."