Navigating the Tsunami: 3 More Emotional Survival Tips

crashing-waves

Ever had a storm of feelings bowl you over? I sure have! How do we deal with our wildly-crashing emotions Biblically? 

Last week, we looked at Emotion Facts 1-3. This week, I’ve got three more for you! 


4. Emotions are not indicators of spiritual experience.

“Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

 – C.S. Lewis –

Some mornings, the sun is streaming in golden through my window, my bed is so soft, and I stretch awake and pray it with a glad heart: “Good morning, Lord. Help me serve You today.”

And other mornings, my alarm blares and I groan. Half-asleep, all I can think is, “I don’t want to get up. Ugh.”

Sometimes, I’m this way when it comes to my walk with God, too. I’ll be ready to tackle the whole book of Leviticus one day. The next? I’m barely feeling up to the book of Jude.

However, a “mountaintop” experience is not a way you should gauge your spirituality. Even if your emotions don’t stand up and shout during your church’s service, you can still be in a right relationship with God. You can be praising Him even if you aren’t moved to tears with every song. You can be thankful without feeling a huge, overwhelming current of praise.

Sometimes we don’t feel much. That’s okay. Sometimes we just have to say, “Lord, I love you and I thank you for ____ even though I don’t feel like it. Please help me desire what You desire.” Act on what you know to be right. God is able to bring your desires around even when you don’t know how.

5. Emotions can be directed.

Emotions are crazy, knee-jerk things. I can’t concoct them, but I can choose whether to nourish them. I can fuel them, one way or another. When someone offends me, I can decide to dwell on the problem, or I can turn to truth. Reminding myself of how offended I have a right to be–that makes the sinful emotions grow. Reminding myself of how much I’ve been forgiven (and also that I’m not the center of the universe) helps realign my emotions with God’s word.

The emotion isn’t the problem. My response to that emotion is the issue.

Something I find myself doing often is this: When struck by a fit of feelings, I try to stop and pray. Right there, whether I’m unloading the dishwasher and feeling mistreated or I’m struggling to find a kind response to an out-of-sorts family member, I just have one refuge: God. I call it “shooting up a prayer.” It goes something like this:

“God, help me. I’m feeling____, but I want to honor You. Please help me respond like You would want me to.”

Those prayers lead my emotions, submitting them to God and asking Him to help me wrestle down these contrary attitudes.

As I said above, act on what you know is true and right. Surprisingly, I’ve found that my emotions climb aboard after the train starts rolling, not before.

6. Emotions are not the goal.

Chasing emotions for their own sake is a waste of time. Yes, following the way of our Master is the path to abundant life. I’ve often been blown away by God’s goodness, carried up on the heights of joy, or swaddled in the security of His peace. But seeking these blessings for their own sakes is not the answer. We can’t manufacture God’s gifts.

And, in the thick of swelling emotions, I recognize something deeper than my feelings…a settled thing called desire. It is more solid, more satisfying. It is something like believing that there is still a sun on the other side of the storm clouds.

Sometimes I feel out-of-sorts, but my deepest places long to glorify my Savior. Sometimes a fear  flickers into my life, but inside my fire still glows bright and strong with faith.


Truth is a foundation that stays solid even when the tsunami hits.

The secret is this: give your emotions to God. Whenever an attitude strikes, lift it up and say, “Here, Lord, please take this.” When you’re feeling awful and you don’t know how to hold yourself together, pray “Help, Lord.”

Enjoy the emotional highs, but don’t trust them.  When the lows hit, don’t believe their whispers.

Look to the hills, where your help comes from. Look to the Rock that is higher than you–and yes, the Rock that is higher than your Inner Tsunami.


“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ 

And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him….”

– Matthew 14:27-31, NKJV –

 

Navigating the Tsunami: 3 Things You Need to Know About Emotions

waves-on-the-sea

Every girl has one.

The Inner Tsunami.

Oh yes, I know all about it. I’ve been bowled over by its tides again and again. The emotions flood over the dike and everyone had better get out of the way!

While looking up quotes for this post, I stumbled across this one, reminding me of Disney’s infamous “Follow Your Heart” campaign:

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”

– Roger Ebert –

This quote presents an idea that is popular–and I mean WILDLY, like-a-wildfire-in-a-toothpick-factory, popular in American culture: the idea that the heart cannot possibly be wrong. Ever. Who are we, mere mortals, to argue with the dictates of emotions?

Now that I’ve stopped smirking, I have to contest Roger’s point. My emotions are masterminds at deception. So, I’m writing this post.

Why? Because, again and again, I’ve been swamped by an emotional tide. Carried along on a wave of optimism, swept off my feet by a rush of fear.

As women, we deal with a lot of emotions. The question is, how do we deal with our feelings without being drowned in the tsunami?


 1. Emotions are (not necessarily) a bad thing.

God created us to have emotions–and that’s a good thing! He designed us to be able to feel, to appreciate, to rejoice, to love–all with strong emotions! A complex number of factors contribute to these strange things we call feelings, including physical health, environment, internal desires, and willpower.

Emotions are responses.

When your bedroom door creaks open at midnight, that stab of fear that races through you does several beneficial things. It wakes you up in an instant. Your heart starts pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles. Adrenaline shoots into your bloodstream. Your body is on Red Alert.

This emotional response prepares you to either run or protect yourself, energizing your body above its normal level of functioning.

God designed this. It is good. You see, it is what you do with your emotions that matters.

2. Emotions are not good indicators of truth.

Emotions are complex. A mixture of biological and spiritual factors, feelings are not easy to put inside a box. I’ve had multiple–and conflicting–emotions at the same time.

Don’t trust them. 

When your mind and body react, take a moment to compare the feelings with the facts. Just because you feel it does not mean it is true.

Well. That’s a switch from the Disney way of thinking. Girls, whatever you do, please hear this. Do. Not. Follow. Your. Heart. It will lead you astray.

When the Bible talks about the heart, it is often referring to the inner person, the seat of our thoughts and feelings. God lets us know that we definitely cannot trust our desires, especially when they have not been surrendered to God with a heart of obedience (Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9).

When your emotions start to run wild, give them a dose of truth. Cling to God’s Word whatever you do, whatever your feelings might say. They are sometimes wrong, but God never is.

As Martin Luther said,

“You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.”

3. Emotions do not have to be obeyed.

Contrary to popular belief, saying no to your heart will not damage your psyche beyond repair. In fact, in the end, you’ll often be glad that you delayed responding to a fit of feelings. Wisdom teaches us that time to ponder and examine our motivations can be a good thing.

In my life, I’ve felt a lot of emotions of the traveling variety. Giving an idea or experience time often lets the feelings fade enough to gain some perspective. This is especially true of relationships: After a fun experience, I’ve come home bubbling over about this fantastic new girl that’s so much like me or this friendly new guy that I’ve met.

Early in my teens, my mom often patiently listened to my excited chatter, but she also cautioned me: Emotions die down. They’re like that. Feelings may roar like a tsunami today, but there may be not a drop in sight tomorrow.

And you know what? She was right. Twelve-year-old Shelbie tried to throw herself into making the girl down the street be her “best friend.” The emotions dwindled. Forced and not rooted in loyalty, that friendship faded.

Seventeen-year-old Shelbie might have daydreamed that she would grow up and marry that nice boy who played the French horn at the music camp, but seventeen-year-old Shelbie was wrong. Her emotions rushed and gushed for a while, but when she gave herself a little emotional distance, she discovered that feelings can be crazy, nonsensical things. Once upon a time, she couldn’t go ten minutes without thinking about French horn guy. Now, it’s the rare moment when she smiles and shakes her head that she was ever interested at all. Time often brings wisdom.

Now, looking back on years of tidal-feelings, I’m glad that I was prepared for them in one sense: I knew that, whatever I was feeling, I couldn’t just go around acting on whatever I felt. I had to let friendships go, whether I wanted to or not. I couldn’t make the world stop and conform to my emotional experience. I had to smile and tell the nice French horn guy that, “No thank you, I don’t email guys.” Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was completely worth it.

Truth trumps emotion, every time. Cling to God’s word, my sweet girls. He knows the way–and you’ll be awfully glad afterwards, when the feelings fade, that you held tight to His ways. 


Next week, join me again for 3 more truths about dealing with our emotions. In the meantime, comment below and share your tips for navigating these crazy things called feelings!


 “But when the cross is working deeply a believer comes to know himself. He realizes how undependable are his ideas, feelings and desires….True spiritual life depends not on probing our feelings and thoughts from dawn to dusk but on “looking off” to the Savior!”

– Watchman Nee –

 

Joy in the Desert

desert walkers

“Listen to the birds sing…Do they ever sound alone?
Do they spread their wings and yet question their strength to fly?
I’m trying hard to trust You Lord, but it’s safer said than done
So won’t You feather my faith
With a love for the open sky?”

– Andrew Peterson, “If I Wanna Walk” –

 

I wake up in painful dryness.

I whisper a few words into the dark and they seem to echo back to me, unheard.

Where is He? He said He would meet me here.

Of course, I wonder what exactly I have done to cause Him to be so distant. I haven’t been reading my Bible enough, I haven’t been praying enough–surely I can muster up the spiritual strength and then He will return. What have I been doing wrong?

There’s a sandstorm in my eyes as I try to read. Every word seems purposely difficult and obscure.

My prayers turn repetitive and restless, a desert wind wailing in the night.

Where are you, God?

I want to be thirsty for Him, but I can hardly choke down Scriptures that in greener days were full of glory.

How long will the swirling sand hide You from me?

How do I seek Jesus when everything feels mechanical and forced and drained of power?

How do I find joy when all I can see are weathered boulders and shriveled grass and endless, endless sand?

I have been wrong. Joy is a very different thing that what I thought.

It is easy, when water and good moods and inspiring writers are present, to think that delighted tickle of understanding and wonder is Joy.

Joy is in it, yes.

But that is not Joy.

Joy can still happen when I stand on a hill in a barren wasteland.

Joy can still be found when I’m huddled in the dark chill of a desert night.

And Joy can be there still, when the morning slips over the purple shadows of the mountains and the hot sun begins once again to scorch.

Thirsty, I just want to know how. How do I meet with Jesus in this place that seems so empty? How do I thrive when the cloudless sky beats down without relief?

Working harder. Pleading for His presence. Trying to conjure up an emotional response to the Bible reading.

Sometimes, these things still leave me dry.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve slipped into thinking that when I can’t feel God, then He must not be around.

If His presence is not powerfully stirring me, then I feel abandoned.

But God never promised us a cartload of pleasant emotions. Jesus stated facts–beautiful, strong, unshaken facts: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the desert, Joy is an act of belief, not a dance of feelings.

So when I rise in the morning and open my Bible and stare at pages unfeeling, I can still smile and bow my head to my Maker. I can still pray for the fountains of His delight. I can still believe in His promises, whether I feel them to be true or not. They are–and they must be my anchoring places.

Some mornings, this act of Joy may feel forced. Jesus told us to rejoice. So I can look around and thank Him–perhaps without the leaps of my heart that I would like to accompany my gratitude–but I can still thank Him.

I cannot always control how I feel, but I can always choose my response.

Because of that, I can wake up to an empty, cold room and know that my sight deceives me. Jesus is there, even if I cannot sense His warmth.

I can toil up a desert hill, sand slipping back under my heels, and praise Him for His love.

It doesn’t really matter if I feel the love at that moment. He is Love. And He has chosen me. I will rejoice in that fact.

When Joy is a choice, nothing can shake it.

The desert sands will slip away someday and grass will spring up.

But while the sun still beats down and the sand still burns, I will keep walking.

I will read when I feel nothing. I will pray although I feel alone. I will sing when it seems that no one is listening. And He will be there all along.

My feelings lie to me all the time. But Jesus never has.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

“The enemy can only bring defeat,
If he can somehow shake what we believe.
So our faith cannot be based upon
Only what we see or feel,
And the circumstances cannot change
What our hearts know to be real

So when doubts arise and cloud your mind
My friend, don’t be deceived
For with a knowledge of the Word of God
In our hearts we can believe

You can take God at his word
He is faithful kind and true
Not a prayer will go unanswered
In His time He’ll see you through

Keep believing in what you know is true
Keep believing, you know the Lord will see you through
When troubles rise in your life
and you don’t know what to do,

If you’re looking for answers and you can’t find your way
And the enemy tells you that there’s no need to pray
You just remember God is faithful and His word is true
Everything He’s promised is what He’s going to do
And you’ll be fine if you just keep believing.”

– “Keep Believing,” Gaither Vocal Band –

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and Marco Laython for this post’s photo.