Emotions are the Language of the Soul

There is an illustration of a train, which anyone who grew up in western evangelical society has probably heard more than once. That train has obedience as the engine, facts as the middle car, and emotions as the caboose. This tells us that we are simply to obey. Our obedience is backed up by facts, and then feelings, the caboose, will magically follow. At least, that’s what I always thought. The only problem was that the feelings never seemed to follow. My life consisted of two cars…..the engine of obedience and the caboose of facts. There was no room in my life for emotions. I prided myself on being an intellectual, a philosopher, an apologist. I didn’t need emotions.  Emotions were not to be trusted. They were fleeting, irrational, and would lead me astray. Besides, if I really were to pay attention to my emotions, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to handle it.

Through a series of events, a perfect storm so to speak, Jesus forced me to acknowledge a part of my being that had long been neglected- my feelings. In the face of pain so deep I could not ignore it, I came to realize that feelings are not just a nuisance to be stuffed and ignored, but an integral part of what it means to be human. I realized that I was made in the image of a personal and emotional God, and that this very personal God wanted to know me. But how could I open up my heart and emotions to God, when I didn’t even know how to look at them myself?

Emotions are the language of the soul. With them, we connect to ourselves, and to God. Emotions have been given a rather negative connotation in Western Society. We hear that word, and we immediately think of verses such as Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” And we do not apply the context of the rest of the Word such as the Lord’s answer to Hagar’s desperate emotions in the desert, David’s deeply emotional cries to the Lord in the Psalms, or Jesus himself as He wept and cried out to the Father. We take verses such as Jeremiah 17:9 out of context of the rest of the Bible and wrongly conclude that our emotions are not important to God.

The fact is, Western Christianity has done a very poor job of communicating the importance of emotions. While it is true that we are not to be led around by our emotions, being tossed about by them as a rickety raft by the waves of the sea, we are also not to ignore them. They are not to lead us, but we are to acknowledge them and care for them. We are to present them to God in order to hear from Him. Our emotions are an essential part of our communication to the God of the universe. He did not create us with emotions by mistake. Emotions were not a part of the curse at the fall. Rather, emotions were present from the beginning, and they were good, and they were a means of communication and connection to God. But somehow, in Western Christianity, we have made emotions themselves out to be the enemy, especially negative emotions. In doing so, we deny ourselves a vital part of the human experience. And not only that, but we leave ourselves hollow and empty. When we ignore our feelings, we are left with nothing more than what we can do or produce. It is this very type of performance oriented life that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. When we have no value for ourselves in Christ apart from what we can do for Him, we become harsh and critical toward ourselves, judging ourselves based on our performance. When we treat ourselves that way, we will always treat others that way as well. Thus, not taking care of our emotional needs leaves us empty, hollow, and often harsh human beings. I believe this has greatly contributed to the negative perception of Western Evangelicals. We are guilty of being a “get things done” group of people, thinking that things like emotions and feelings merely get in the way of getting God’s work done. When in reality, God wants to use our feelings and emotions to draw us closer to Him, to move us out of our brains only and into our hearts with Him. He wants to connect with us emotionally, in a way that is so dynamite that everyone around us sees our love for God and others. People feel love in our presence when we are connected to God this way.

It is possible, then, to devote our entire lives to God’s work, and to completely miss God Himself. All the while, turning people away from the gospel with our harsh and critical natures which will eventually become too difficult to hide.

When we pay attention to our feelings, not being tossed about by them, but bringing them before God in communication with Him, we will experience revolutionary change, heartfelt love for Jesus and others, and a sense of wholeness in Him that cannot be shaken.

It is a time for a revival in Western Christianity. We need to be shaken out of our performance oriented religion and into emotionally charged, heartfelt communication with God as He intended when He created us as emotional beings. We need to do away with the negative connotations that being emotional makes us less rational or trustworthy, and accept the truth that being emotional is a vital part of the human experience, and a vital part of our connection with God.

End Note Citation: These themes and ideas were planted in my heart by Peter and Geri Scazzero and their Emotionally Healthy Spirituality ministry.

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Approval Addiction

I am an approval addict in recovery.

Sometimes, the most difficult addictions to identify are the ones that do not come in the form of pills or needles.

I lived most of my Christian life as an approval addict. I didn’t realize it until it was almost too late.

As an approval addict, my whole sense of worth as a person came from my husband, my church leaders (one of whom is my dad), and a few other key people in my life. My addiction was no fault of theirs.

I spent my evenings devoted to discipleship and outreach. Any spare moment was spent trying to keep up on the house or get the laundry caught up on. I was running myself into the ground, and all for the approval of people.

As our family grew, I was becoming more and more and more tired. I was growing more and more frustrated. I was unable to keep up with the demands that I placed on myself and the demands that I felt others had placed on me.

As my demands grew, my stamina diminished. I would often let people down, and then beat myself up about it. I would forget an important meeting or fail to get the house in order.

The more I tried, the more tired I became and the more tired I became, the more I fell short. The more I fell short, the more I hated myself. The more I hated myself, the more tired I became.

This went on in an absolutely viscous cycle that left me disoriented, unsure of who I really was, and far away from the love that God intended me to experience in Him.

One fateful night, it all came to a screeching halt. My thought life had become so dark, that I was genuinely convinced that everyone would have been better off without me, even my small children. I would not have attempted to end my own life, but I remember calling out to God,

“God, why am I even still here? What good am I doing? Why can’t you just take me home to be with You? I can’t understand why I’m here. I don’t want to be here anymore.” 

I meant it from the darkest depths of my soul.

It was in that moment that I realized that there was something very very wrong with. I realized I needed help. My life was not working for me anymore, and finally the fear of living the rest of my life that way became deeper than my fear of what people would think of me.

Looking back, the night that I realized I desperately needed help was the turning point. The worst night of my life turned into one of the best things that ever happened to me, because out of that darkness, I finally realized that I was not okay.

I began to see a Christian therapist. When I walked into the office for my first visit, I had no idea that those once a week visits would help me to completely turn my life around.

My therapist helped me to identify things about myself that had long been buried under the demands of others and my desperate need for their approval.

They say the biggest step toward recovery is to admit that you have a problem. That was true for me. As soon as I admitted that there was something desperately wrong with me, I took the steps necessary to get help, admit that I had an approval addiction, and start healing.

I began to truly believe in my heart that Jesus already approves of me and that nothing I do or fail to do will change His love for me. I began to enjoy life again. I felt that I had the freedom to say, “no” when people asked something of me. I felt that I had a right to enjoy the things that God placed within me for me to enjoy. I started writing again. I started running again. I started getting out into nature again. And most importantly, during all of these activities, I began to practice the presence of God. No longer did I feel like I had to meet every single need that crossed my path. No longer did I feel a sense of guilt whenever I was not helping someone, sharing the gospel, or engaged in a church event. I began to experience God in every little beautiful detail of life. I began to experience the joy of His presence in my children’s laughter, the sunrise, the smell of rain after a hot spell, the feeling you get in your lungs after a long hard run. I felt Him everywhere and in everything. I never could have regained that sense of myself and that sense of Him if I had not first admitted my approval addiction and sought recovery.

It was not as easy as I make it sound. It seems easier now that I have been practicing my new way of thinking for so long. But at first, it was an uphill battle. My brain was already trained to seek the approval of others. Getting their approval was like a drug. It felt good. I felt I needed it to survive, to feel a sense of purpose. Saying “no” or letting someone down felt bad at first. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was letting everyone in my life down. I felt ungrateful and sometimes even selfish.

But the real act of selfishness had always been my relentless pursuit of approval from people. You see, I was never really doing any of it for them. It was all for me. I wanted them to make me feel like I was worthwhile. I loved the feeling of martyrdom that I got from making a huge self sacrifice in order to serve someone else.

Saying “no” and making time for “self” was really just putting a stop to my drug of choice. I had to stop getting approval in order to really cleanse my mind of this addiction. I knew that at some point in my life, I would go back to serving and helping people as Christ called me to do. But I also knew that during this cleanse, I had to take time away. A sabbatical if you will. An extended Sabbath. I had to stop putting that drug into my system long enough to re-train my brain not to seek the approval of others but to bask in the approval of God, which was unconditional.

So I took an extended period of time in which I did not do much for anyone. I said “no” more often than I said “yes”. With the help of my therapist, I learned to recognize the warning signs of slipping into my approval addiction. When I noticed those signs, I prayed through my emotions to uncover the truth. I did this multiple times a day. At first, it was really difficult. Every part of me cried out for approval from my husband, my extended family, even my kids. It felt like death to deny myself of seeking their approval. But what resurrected out of that death was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

I never imagined that life could feel this good. Even in the tough times, God is there, an everlasting source of peace and the only approval I will ever need.

I have been able to move back into serving again, but it comes from a totally different motive. I noticed that other people’s ungratefulness no longer has an effect on me. When I serve now, it is because I genuinely believe that it is an act of service to God, and something that He has specifically placed on my heart to do. So I am able to do that act of service out of a genuine love for God, and it matters nothing whether anyone else notices or not.

More importantly, however, I do not feel that I need to meet every need that I am made aware of. I do not feel that I need to do everything that everyone else asks of me. My heart does not sink when I decline. Instead, it soars, knowing that I now have the power and the right to decline, and God’s love for me does not change one bit when I do so.

An excellent source for further reading on this subject is The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero.

 

Faithful are the Wounds of a Friend

Let’s talk about reproof. Yeah, I know, not a very popular topic, but it merits discussion as the Word of God talks about it. I will attempt to answer some common questions about why it is important that a church actively practices biblical reproof.

When should I reprove someone?

Go for restoration, not revenge.

When someone has wronged you, and your heart is right toward that person, reproof is the next step. How do you know if your heart is right in reproving someone? Ask yourself, “Do I want to speak to this person for a sense of revenge and justice? Or do I genuinely care about this individual and want to see her free from entrapment in this particular sin?” If you can honestly answer with the latter, then the next right thing is to go to that person in love. If you attempt to reprove someone out of anger or a need for revenge or the desire to put that person in her place, it is likely to go really really poorly, leaving more hurt feelings and bitterness than before. The goal of reproof should always be restoration and never revenge.

What if that Person does not Respond Well? 

If you have already spent time praying for this person, and you are certain that your motivation in talking to this person is coming out of a love for God and for them as well as a desire to see them grow, change, and benefit, then you have no business worrying about how they will respond. How you reprove someone is your deal. How someone responds to it is their deal. The only time that there is an exception to this general principle is when someone has a stacked history of blowing up in response to loving rebuke. In such cases, perhaps it is better simply to pray for that person. I’m not claiming to be an authority on this. This is just my thought. If you find yourself wronged by someone and with a heart that genuinely has that person’s best interest at heart, but that person has a history of blowing up in the face of loving reproof, I might consider talking to a pastor or elder before you make a decision about what you are going to do.

What if someone reproves me, but I really don’t think I did anything wrong?

This can happen. Perhaps you did something wrong, perhaps you did not. But either way, this person is coming to you saying that you have offended or sinned. The first thing to do is to remain calm. Give the person coming to you the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are coming to you out of love and genuine concern for your well-being. Then ask yourself, “Is there any morsel of truth to what they are saying?” If there is, acknowledge it and commit to bring that area of your life before Jesus. If you believe that what you have done was the right choice, at least commit to praying about it and asking God to search your heart. Always thank the person for being concerned for your well-being and for your spiritual life and growth. Even if this person came to you with an angry and vengeful heart, they will likely be taken aback by your humble response, and you will have helped move the relationship toward restoration.

Lack of Reproof leads to Gossip

Gossip usually doesn’t happen because someone wakes up one day and decides they are going to slander someone and turn people against them for no reason. Gossip usually happens because someone has felt hurt, maybe even violated. It happens because people want to feel validated. They want someone to hear their side of the story and to sympathize with them. It is rarely as malicious as you might think. Gossip usually comes from hurting hearts- hurting hearts that have not been restored to the person who hurt them. When someone is hurt and prays to God for help in forgiveness, makes his heart right toward the person who hurt him, and goes to the person in love, gossip has no chance. It is stamped out before it even begins. A church free of gossip is a beautiful thing. But even when gossip does happen, you can still apply all of these same principles of reproof and go to that person. Otherwise, you will end up gossiping about someone who was gossiping. A bit hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t like confrontation. Why should I bother?

Because if you don’t, Bitterness has opportunity to rule in your heart.

Without active reproof, churches will fall apart as bitterness festers in hearts. Members will come and go, but few will remain and see the fruit that comes from lasting relationships. When people wrong us, we have a few choices. We can try to forget about it and act like it never happened. But even if we forgive the person who hurt us, we will not have the opportunity for a deeper relationship with them, and all of our friendships will remain surface level.

We can let it fester and grow bitter. Now, this is obviously not the right choice, but unfortunately it is the one many people choose because it just sort of feels good to hang on to that resentment. Too often,  people intend to forgive and move on, but they never actually forgive. As much as they intended to forgive….as much as they wanted to forgive….when they hear that person’s name, they cringe. When they see that person in the lobby at church, they look the other way. A person who leaves enough bitterness to fester in his soul will, when once enough people in the church have wronged him, eventually leave and start the whole process over at a new church, thinking there will be better people there when the truth is, the problem was in his heart all along. The only real solution to deal with someone who has wronged you is reproof. Reproof, when done in a biblical manner, restores and deepens relationships, builds trust, and keeps a church  functioning together for the long hall.

“Faithful are the Wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

 

 

Dear Single Sisters,

This is not going to be the obligatory Christian blog post about your singleness and how they are the best years of your life and you should cherish them blah blah blah.

I know. You have a biological clock that’s a tickn and you are going to throat punch the next person who tells you to live it up now because you won’t be able to when you have a husband and kids blah blah blah.

I’m going to give you some advice that may, ironically, expedite the process. Or it may not. Only God knows. But this advice, if taken, will make you more attractive and more prepared for marriage. And, if you choose to remain single, you will still find joy and satisfaction if you do this.

Here it is:

Convince yourself that marriage is not going to make you happy. I am dead serious about this. You must know this. When you know it, you will be more ready for marriage than ever before. Do you know how many women dream of marriage, but never think a day beyond? It’s like they think life is a Disney fairy-tale that ends after the wedding day. We are products of our culture, I tell you. The day after your wedding will come, and it will not be happily ever after. No matter who you marry, there will be hard days. There will be lonely days. There will be difficult times. There will also be good times. But if you go into marriage expecting that it will be the source of your happiness, you will destroy it. Marriage was not meant to make you happy. It was designed by God to sanctify you. Joy may very well be a byproduct of sanctification, but there will be little to no joy if you expect your spouse to be the source of your happiness. It will drain him. No one can do that for you but Jesus. Jesus can do that for you now. You don’t have to wait to be married to be happy.

When you are deriving your joy from Jesus, you will become one of the most attractive people around. People will long to be around you. Why? Because you are filled with the Holy Spirit. You are filled with confidence that you are loved and cared for by the Creator of the Universe. You know that you don’t need to snag a husband to be happy. You know that being single does not mean you are undesirable or unloved. You are happy and confident now, and that makes you irresistible.

And when someone falls in love with this beautiful, confident, joyful woman, he will have the luxury of being your husband without the pressure of being your source of joy. When our emotions are dependent on what our husbands say or don’t say, we drain them of life and leave them feeling like failures. Because let’s face it, the greatest man on earth will never be able to meet our need for attention and validation. Only Jesus can do that. So if you let Jesus do that for you now instead of thinking you need a man to do that for you, you will not only become a more attractive person, but you will have a mindset that is ready for marriage. You will be ready for a marriage where you are filling up on the Holy Spirit and pouring out into your spouse rather than trying to fill up on your spouse, who will never be able to do that job like Jesus can.

So whether you meet your future spouse tomorrow, ten years from now, or whether you remain single, you can be full of joy if you start really believing that marriage will never be the source of your happiness and that a man will never be able to give you the kind of validation that you will find in Jesus.

Does Your Life Stink?

Imagine you injured yourself, and it led to a gaping wound. Now imagine you did not go to a doctor or even attempt to clean that wound, but tried to cover it up. You use bandage after bandage, but the wound gets infected and festers. Eventually, it begins to stink. The infection begins to spread to other parts of your body, and before you know it, your life is in grave danger, all because you hid your wound instead of taking care of it properly.

Emotional wounds are like that, too. When we are wounded, we often hide it from ourselves and those around us because we do not want to be vulnerable, or because we simply do not have the skills and knowledge to grieve healthy. So, we cover it up. We use coping mechanism. We ignore our feelings. We find pleasurable outlets in a vain attempt to forget our wounds. Over time, perhaps you will forget the wound on a conscious level. But subconsciously, it is still there wreaking havoc on your life as it spreads to every aspect of who you are. Eventually, you become a stench to those around you. That emotional wound which you thought you could cover up begins to stink. You begin to reach out to people for validation, but they will never be enough to validate you. You will begin to drain your friends and family with your constant need for attention and validation. Eventually, they will not know how to help you anymore. So you will believe that everyone has deserted you, that no one cares, that you are utterly alone in the world. You will turn to more pleasurable outlets, some of which may be destructive to your life. You will look for your sense of worth and value in other people and other things. But always, you will be left empty and alone.

You will be left empty and alone because the wound is still there, gaping, oozing, festering, and stinking.

In order to feel whole again, you have to acknowledge the wound. Once you have acknowledged it, you have to uncover it. You have to stop pursuing your distractions, and look at the wound. Once you have acknowledged its presence and stripped away the coping mechanisms and distractions you have been covering it up with, you will need to clean it.

Jesus will help you clean it. All along, you have been hiding the wound from yourself. Jesus knew about the wound, but you wouldn’t let Him see it. You wouldn’t even look at it yourself. Now that you are willing to acknowledge the wound and stop covering it up, it’s time to ask Jesus to take a look at it. He is the Great Physician, the Healer. He is the remedy for the wound.

If your wound tells you, You are not enough, Jesus tells you, I loved you enough to die for you. 

If your wound tells you, You are so stupid, Jesus tells you, I don’t create stupid things. 

If your wound tells you, No one could ever love you, Jesus tells you, I have loved you with an everlasting love. 

As you begin to allow Jesus to speak the truth which is cleansing ointment for your festering wound, it will slowly begin to heal. It will hurt at first. Sometimes it will be more pain than we thought we could endure, but Jesus will be there with you as you go through the pain of uncovering the wound, letting Him see it and apply His truth to it.

Soon, the wound will begin to show signs of healing. The infection is gone. It is still tender, perhaps, but it no longer stinks. It is getting better and better by the day as you look at it, tend to it, and apply the healing ointment of truth to it.

Others will notice you are no longer a stench. You do not cry out desperately for attention and validation to cover a festering wound because the wound is healing day by day. We will not be fully healed until that day when we are with Him in heaven. Healing is a journey, but once we start walking that path of healing, we begin to look more and more like Him. We become closer and closer to Him. One by one, our wounds begin to heal, and we become a pleasing aroma to those around us.

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Jeremiah 30:17 “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord, because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’”

Isaiah 1:6 “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil”

Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Emotional Health

It is to the disadvantage of many Christians that they believe therapists and counselors have no place in the Christian’s life. They believe reading or praying or going to speak to their pastors will give them everything they need.

I was once one of those people. It wasn’t until I faced the very real possibility of my marriage crumbling that, in desperation, I sought the help of a therapist.

Her name is Loie. After my first meeting with Loie, I felt something I had not felt in a very long time: hope. Hope that I could change. That I could feel okay again.

You see, I learned a very important thing from Loie. I learned that I was in fact deeply entrenched in a co-dependent marriage- one that was riddled with controlling and enabling behaviors. It was not until my husband and I both admitted this that we were able to get on the path of healing rather than destroying each other emotionally.

We are very close with our pastors. They are loving and wise people. It is not in opposition to them that I say this. Pastors do not always have the training it takes to help people who are deeply emotionally wounded.

My therapist, who is herself a believer, understands the way the brain works on a scientific level. She understands emotions and how experiences and memories are tied to emotions, where they are stored in the brain and why we react in certain ways. She understands relationships and communication.

She has devoted her life to understanding God’s design of the human mind. Just like medical doctors have devoted their lives to God’s design of the human body (they may not acknowledge that it is God’s design but that is neither here nor there), therapists have studied the mind, the brain, and emotions.

If you would go to a medical doctor when you break your leg, so should you seek an emotional doctor when your heart has been broken.

I am in no way saying that God does not have a place in healing. He absolutely does. He is the Great Healer. The Great Physician. However, I am saying that in refusing to see a Christian therapist when you are emotionally wounded, it is much like refusing to see a doctor when you are physically wounded.

There is no shame in seeking emotionally healing. There is no shame in admitting the need to ramp up our brain health. There is no shame in admitting that we have been emotionally wounded and need emotional healing. Unfortunately, Christians have been among some who discourage people from seeing therapists and counselors, pressing them to see pastors and read their Bibles instead. Pastoral counsel and reading the Word of God are of utmost importance, and certainly have the power to bring healing. But God has also gifted people who have devoted their lives to the study of His design for our emotions. And there should be no shame in seeking out help and healing from those experts.

If you find yourself in a difficult marriage or struggling with your emotions, anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, know that you are not less Christian for seeking emotional help. In fact, God may use your story of healing to inspire and encourage others. I know He has used what my husband and I have gone through to speak truth into the lives of others. I do not regret what we have been through. I am thankful that it brought us to a place of humility in which we were able to seek the help of a Christian therapist and get on the path of healing in Jesus.

If any of you out there are reading this and wanting to start your healing journey, please pick up the book, Becoming a Family that Heals by Drs. Tom and Beverly Rodgers. It will give you hope.

Empowering Moms

Moms….fellow believers. I have to say that I am so tired of the blogs, videos, and memes that essentially make moms feel like they are helpless to take control in their homes. I get it. I hate the “mom-shaming” too. And no, I would not condemn the woman in Target whose toddler is having the tantrum of his life. We’ve all been there. I get it, trust me. But this anti-mom-shaming movement gives me the sense that moms are simply supposed to succumb to this idea that we are totally helpless in controlling our homes. We are just supposed to take the good with the bad and say, “Well, that’s how motherhood goes. It’s a trade off.” I’m calling B.S on that. Really, mothers, you are not helpless! You have the power to create a peaceful environment in your homes. You have the power to love and to discipline in a way that will make your children bring joy to you. The Bible promises that! Proverbs 31:28.

Instead of taking control of our home environments, implementing consistent and loving discipline, I am seeing even Christian mothers succumb to this idea that angry toddlers are going to run their lives and it is simply a part of motherhood, and no one better dare suggest they make an effort to get their children and homes under control because…you know….mom shaming. Guys, I hate mom shaming, too. I really do. And I am not saying this to shame you, but to give you hope and to empower you. You really can create a totally different atmosphere in your home. I am not saying that you will never again have the occasional meltdown in the grocery store. We will all have those moments. But I am saying that 90% of your time with your kids should not and does not have to consist of meltdowns and bad behaviors.

You and your children will be so much happier when you realize that you are powerful enough to change your home life! You have what it takes to direct, instruct, love, and discipline. You have been given everything you need to be set apart from the moms of the world. You have all of the tools you need to raise kids who will be different from the children of the world. You can make a change, and you do not have to succumb to this idea that you just need to roll with the punches and take the good with the bad. No, you can take control and run your house the way you want it run, and instruct your children to be the kind of human beings you want them to be. Yes, it takes work, but when you implement these habits, your life with your kids will be so much more peaceful and full of love and grace. You will not be run by your children. Rather, you will run your home according to godly principals.

A great place to start is with Paul David Tripp. His book on Parenting can be found on Audible.

Press on, sisters! Motherhood is the most difficult job you will ever do, but through Jesus, you have the power to take control of your home. So let’s stop buying into the world’s lie that you are helpless to create a peaceful environment. You are not helpless. You are full of the love and power of Jesus Christ.