Emotions and the check-engine light

I’m tough on cars. I usually run them into the ground before I move on to the next one. The first car I ever drove was the family’s 1984 Oldsmobile station wagon. After that, it was my dad’s 1990 Chevy Lumina—torch red, beige interior. I loved that car. The Lumina was the car my brother and I shared through high school.

After the Lumina, a parade of less-appealing vehicles helped me get from point A to point B in my life. A 1984 Ford Crown Victoria LTD (that’s a story in itself). My mom’s little Saturn. A big old blue Buick. Until I could finally afford my own car—a 2005 Chevy Malibu, which I purchased in 2008.

Someday I’ll write a post on my car adventures. They have been many. But one thing remained constant with each vehicle I drove—I tried to take care of them. I drove them until they wore out in most cases. But if any lights ever popped up on the dashboard, I told my dad, or I took the car in for service.

I’m not a mechanic or a car expert, but I know enough about cars to realize that when the little engine light on the dashboard turns on, you’ve got a problem.

That’s a no-brainer, right? Of course, right. I would never ignore the check engine light on my car’s dashboard. If I did, I might get into trouble on a trip somewhere. Or I might cost myself a lot of money later on to fix a gigantic problem, when I could have handled it before it became gigantic.

It’s not okay to ignore the check engine light in my car. So why is it okay to ignore the warning signs in my emotional health?

That’s what emotions are, you know. They’re like check engine lights. And if you ignore them, they tend to make you explode (or implode, though I can’t tell you which is worse).

I don’t like emotions, especially the ones that make me cry. Emotions make me vulnerable. Open. Easy to hurt. Emotions turn me into a sappy mess who needs help, and I don’t like being that person.

But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with being a sappy mess. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Actually needing help is normal. God even knew that we would need help carrying our burdens and encouraged us to come to Jesus just as we are, baggage and broken dreams and exhaustion included, to let Him help us carry our load (Matthew 11:28-30).

But I don’t do it. In my mind, emotion equals weakness, and I struggle with pride. That being said, do you know how difficult it is to be a Feeler personality without allowing yourself to feel?

Talk about confusing. And it’s not just yourself you confuse. You confuse everyone around you too.

Emotions you ignore become hurt feelings and vicious cycles. They become something you stew over, something you can’t let go of, something you can’t escape. And you go from controlling your emotions to your emotions controlling you.

It’s a lot like your car, honestly. When you see that check engine light come on, you’re still in control. You decide whether or not to go in for service. You decide if it’s worth dealing with now or not.

But give it a few weeks. Maybe even a month. Or longer. And the simple problem that made your check engine light turn on has become a crippling mechanical issue that leaves you stranded in your driveway or in your office’s parking lot. Now you’re not in control. Now the damage is calling the shots.

Have you heard that hurting people hurt people? It’s true. And I don’t want to be that person either. I’d rather be a sappy emotional mess and be my honest self with the people around me that have everyone thinking I’m strong enough to make it on my own.

So how do you learn to deal with your emotions? Frankly, I’m still working on that. But one thing I know works for sure: Ask God.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

The Lord wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to approach Him with our problems, our questions, our doubts, and our struggles. And when we need help, He wants us to ask Him first, even if all we need is directions.

Ask Him to reveal to you where the problem is. Ask Him to give you wisdom in how to deal with what you’re feeling. God gave you emotions, and He’ll help you learn to manage them.

I don’t like dealing with my emotions, but I need to. Otherwise I’ll be bound to obey them instead of the other way around.

Biblical stress relief is a thing

Stress is normal, right? It’s how we’re supposed to live. It’s how we demonstrate that we’re effective workers.

I mean, if I’m not stressed out about something, does that make me a sub-standard employee? Does that make me lazy or disinterested? Everybody knows that the best employees are always rushing, always exhausted, always stressed about something, right?

I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re physically capable of carrying that kind of stress for an extended period of time. So how do we change it? How do we fix it?

I’m not an expert, but I have lived with a lot of stress in my life. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I know that following Jesus isn’t easy (John 16), but Jesus also says that His burden is light and those who seek rest should come to Him (Matthew 11:30). So where’s the middle ground?

That’s how I found Exodus 14.

Yes, Exodus. The Old Testament, Moses and the Burning Bush, ten plagues of Egypt–Exodus. Just about everybody knows the basic story.

The Basics

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

God tells this shepherd dude, Moses, to go to Pharaoh (King of Egypt) and demand the release of the Hebrews, the slave nation Egypt was working to death. (Cue Charlton Heston: “Let my people go!”) Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t budge. (Cue Yul Brenner: “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) God smites Egypt with fleas and frogs and boils. Oh my! Pharaoh relents, and the Hebrews go free. But that’s not the end of the story.

God tells Moses to lead the Hebrews (a.k.a. Israelites) to the Red Sea. Basically, God directs them into a dead end. The Israelites don’t know that. But God makes sure that Pharaoh knows. And God sets it up so that the Israelites, His beloved people, are like sitting ducks. Even more than that, He “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the King of Egypt will come after the Israelites.

Pharaoh does. He and his whole army chase them down, and God parts the Red Sea so that His people can safely cross. Then, God collapses the Red Sea on the Egyptian army as they’re in pursuit. Not a single one survived.

It’s sobering to remember just who God is and what He’s capable of, isn’t it?

So where’s the stress relief?

Look. God got them into this situation. He told Moses where to set up camp. He knew it was a dead end. He knew they were vulnerable. And then He went and ensured that Pharaoh and his entire army would come after them. Why?

“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (Exodus 14:17-18)

God put His people in this situation so that all of Egypt could know who He is. God let the Israelites face terror and annihilation so that the world could know His great name and know that if they turned to Him, they could be saved.

But what matters about this whole story is the fact that God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.

[su_pullquote]God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.[/su_pullquote]

Are you following Jesus today? Are you living for God, doing your best to keep His Word, to trust Him? I am. But that doesn’t make life easier. In spite of doing everything God asks of me, I usually get more trouble. But instead of handing my troubles to God, I clutch them tighter. I try to fix them myself. But I didn’t run into this trouble because I was doing my own thing. I ran into trouble because I was following Jesus.

That means it’s not my trouble to fix. It’s His.

I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to solve problems I can’t solve. But that’s where my stress mostly comes from. Instead, I need to trust that God will provide a solution My when it’s time.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, though. You can’t look at every situation in your life this way. The first thing you have to do is check your heart. Are you actually following God? There’s a chance your own actions have led to this difficulty you’re facing.

But if your heart is clean before Him, if you’re honestly following Him with everything you have and trouble still finds you (it will), remember this.

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

Isn’t it possible that the things that are stressing you out right now—the ones you can’t control—have actually come from God? Maybe God wants to show how awesome He is through your life. Maybe God wants everyone to know His name through you.

exodus14-14Hold on to that with both hands. Recognize that He’s the one who calls the shots. Let Him work. Get out of His way. Stop trying to control things yourself and trust Him like you say you do.

My God moves mountains and parts oceans. He can do the impossible because that’s who He is. And when I consider all the trouble in my life, I need an impossible God to help me. And if that means He has to let me sweat a bit in order to help everyone else recognize who He is, bring it on.

My life is in His hands. So why should I be afraid of anything? He got me into this. He can get me out of it.

Keep trusting even if you have to keep letting go

When I give my worries and problems to God, I struggle with leaving them there. How about you? That’s one of those Christian metaphors we like to talk about–casting our cares on God, laying our burdens down, etc. Practically speaking, it means you do what you can according to God’s rules and then you let God work it out. You don’t spend time worrying or speculating about what could go wrong. You don’t invest emotional energy in fretting anxiously.

Has anyone mastered this concept? I haven’t.

Every time I entrust my fears and failures to the Lord, within moments I’m taking it back. And then I have to go through the whole process of letting go all over again. I get so angry at myself. I get so irritated. But I realized something the other day.

I don’t know anybody who’s mastered the art of trusting God completely. We all fail at this. We all try to carry our own burdens without His help. So instead of beating ourselves up about how often we take our troubles back from God, maybe we should focus on how many times we’re willing to let go of them.

pexels-photo (1)Today’s verses are Luke 11:9-10.

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

God wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray and talk to Him. He wants us to hand over our burdens because they’re all too heavy for us to carry on our own. But what if we have to ask Him over and over again? What if we have to turn over the same problems again and again?

I don’t like to pester people. I don’t like asking the same questions over and over again. I don’t like being asked the same questions over and over again (this is one of the reasons I would never make it as a journalist). But sometimes you have to. Sometimes you’re not asking the right question. Sometimes you’re asking the right question at the wrong time.

God will always answer. He is unfailingly patient with us, and He doesn’t get upset or unhappy if we pester Him.

Granted, if we know the answer is No, we shouldn’t keep asking. That might bother Him. But if you honestly don’t know what to do or to believe, ask Him. And don’t just ask Him once, ask Him over and over again until you get an answer. And I believe it’s the same with our troubles.

God remembers that we’re not perfect. He knows us inside and out. He knows our control-freak tendencies, and He isn’t angry at us when we try to take things back from Him. But He grieves when you try to keep it.

Don’t keep your troubles because you’re afraid to give them back again. Don’t beat yourself up or assume a negative perspective because you lose patience with God’s timetable. Everybody does. We’re all in the same boat.

It takes a lot of faith to trust your worries and your fears and your problems to God. It takes even more faith to keep giving them to Him, even after you take them back.

Just keeping turning your problems over to God. There’s not a time limit or a transaction limit, like at a bank. It’s better if you don’t take things back from God after you turn them over, but if you do, you can always give them back again.

Bearing each other’s burdens doesn’t mean we carry them

When someone shares a problem with you, how do you react? Do you nod and smile sympathetically? Do you jump in and try to tell them how to fix their problem? Do you care at all?

I wear other people’s problems like a pack across my shoulders. At least, I used to. I’m getting better about it. But it felt to me like the only way I could help others. Bearing burdens with them. That’s what it means to bear one another’s burdens, doesn’t it? If I can’t sleep because a friend is having a hard time or because a coworker lost a job or because a relative is sick, that means I’m a truly dedicated friend, right? I’m bearing their burden with them.

Not quite.

We are called to bear burdens for each other, but what if it’s a burden too big for you to carry in the first place? What do you do then? And what good will you possibly do anyone if you wear yourself out worrying about something you can’t change anyway?

carrying_burdenToday’s verse is 1 Peter 5:7.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

It doesn’t matter if your worries and cares are your own or if they belong to someone else. If it’s something you care about, if it’s something you’re worrying about, give it over to God.

But, no! If I’m not worrying about it, that means I don’t care. Isn’t that how we think? That’s how I’m wired. I have some issue in my mixed up head that tells me the more sleep I lose over someone else’s problems, the better a friend I am. The more anguished I am over a friend’s misfortune, the better a Christian I am. After all, if I’m suffering along with them, that must mean I’m a step above other people who don’t feel anything.

Isn’t that how we think? Or is it just me?

Now, of course, we’re called to care about each other. Of course, God intends for us to relate to each other with kindness and compassion (and compassion truly is something I struggle with, in the generic sense). We’re not supposed to be cruel or selfish, but by the same token, we’re not supposed to run ourselves into the ground worrying about something we can’t do anything about.

What’s the point? To make yourself feel better? That’s not a sufficient reason to wear yourself out. Just think, if you spent less time worrying, you’d have more time to actually encourage the people you’re worrying about.

Acknowledge your friends’ struggles. They’ll have many. Acknowledge your own struggles. You’ll have more than your fair share, and denying them won’t help you either. But once you acknowledge them, also recognize that God is bigger. He can help you sort through all the difficult situations you’re facing today. Maybe the answer you get won’t be the one you wanted, but God will give you the answer you need regardless.

But don’t just shoulder someone else’s worries. Don’t try to carry someone else’s problems. You aren’t strong enough, and your shoulders aren’t big enough. Friend, you aren’t strong enough to carry your own problems.

But God is.

So if you try to shoulder someone else’s worries, just let them roll off of you and onto Jesus. He’s got it. God’s got a plan, and it’s good. And your worrying about it won’t change the outcome one bit.

A wheat field before a storm at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Get excited but let God do His job

When I think I’ve figured God’s plan out, I get really excited about it. I’m not very good at concealing positive emotions. Any emotions, actually. Forget the sleeve. I wear my heart on my forehead.

And that’s good. I think God wants us to be excited about the things He’s doing in our lives. But there’s a difference between being excited and trying to take over.

A wheat field before a storm at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A wheat field before a storm at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 19:21.

You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

I probably shouldn’t post about this because it’s work-related, but it really made me think. So I’m going to anyway. My office got word a few weeks ago that we will be moving locations at the first of the year. We’ve been in a really iconic building in downtown Wichita for a number of years, and it was decided to move to a different downtown location with more space.

Everyone is really excited about it! Where we’re moving is a little newer too, and it’s a beautiful building.

Well, yesterday we got an email asking people not to go try to visit the new office location. Apparently some folks were so excited about moving that they tried to get into our new office space to look around. I’m guessing it’s folks who want to scope out the layout and lay a claim on where their desks will go. Or it could just be curiosity. I won’t deny I thought about trying to get in and look around. That’s why I laughed so hard about it, I think.

The email that went out made the comment that we don’t have the right to be in the new office space until after the first of the year due to safety issues and other considerations. And the first thing I thought of was how often can we say that same thing about God’s plans in our lives?

So many times, God reveals bits and pieces of His plan for us, and it’s really easy to get excited about it. After all, God’s plans are always exciting. But the more excited I get about what God is doing, the harder it is to keep my hands off.

I’m a control freak. I want to be in charge. I don’t like being in charge, but I stress less when I at least know what’s coming so I can prepare. But God doesn’t work like that. He wants us to remember that He’s the one in charge, and we have to trust Him. But does that stop me? Not usually.

Before I know what’s happening, I’m sneaking into a new office space that I haven’t got a right to be in, trying to stake a claim on an office area that I have no say about in the first place (no, I wasn’t one of the people who did it).

God knows all the ins and outs of His plan. He ought to. It’s His plan. And we get the opportunity to play a part in it, but that doesn’t mean we can grasp for control of it. And the more we try to control it, the more foolish we look.

I mean imagine how silly people would look wandering around that empty office space talking about which office is going to be theirs. They don’t know that for sure. At this point, we don’t even know what floor we’re on for sure. So any sort of declarations or planning is useless.

What has God revealed to you about His plan for your life? Is it exciting? Are you excited about it? Great! Hold on to that. Don’t lose it. Be excited! We don’t have enough true joy in our lives, and if Christ-followers actually got excited about what God is doing, maybe more people would understand how awesome God is.

But just because you’re excited doesn’t give you the right to try to take the reins from God. Believe me, you don’t want them. Trying to take the wheel when you don’t know where you’re going is just going to cause trouble and confusion and frustration, and that can only delay God’s plans for your life.

So stop interfering and let Him work. It’s tough, I know. But trust Him.  God is the only one who can handle the reins of your life, so leave the driving to Him.

Wheat head close up at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Humility and control

I am a control freak. I like to know what’s coming. I like to plan out my steps before I take them. There are times when I don’t mind spontaneity, but generally speaking I like to have a plan. But there’s only so much a plan can do for me when I’m not in control.

Have you ever been in that situation? Where you do everything right and the world still goes wrong? Where you have been obedient and done what you were supposed to do and even then, the circumstances only get worse instead of better? Have you ever been there? I have. And it’s frustrating. Because all throughout the Bible, God says to do what He says and that He’ll take care of us. But then when we do, sometimes it feels like He doesn’t hold up His end of the bargain.

Wheat head close up at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat head close up at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Chronicles 6:38-39.

If they turn to you with their whole heart and soul in the land of their captivity and pray toward the land you gave to their ancestors—toward this city you have chosen, and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name—then hear their prayers and their petitions from heaven where you live, and uphold their cause. Forgive your people who have sinned against you.

I usually hear this verse around election time. There is something encouraging about the thought of the believers of America uniting under a common cause and turning back to God. But it’s a dream. I haven’t ever seen it in my lifetime. As far as I can see,typical  American Christians are just as self-centered as the rest of the world, so getting them to agree on anything is practically impossible. But as I read this verse today, something else occurred to me that I hadn’t ever really thought of before.

If we want God to work in our lives, if we want Him to show up, we have to change our attitude. Or, rather, we have to be willing to let Him change our attitudes. Real change is something only He can do, but our attitude is up to us. Attitude is a choice that we make every morning when we roll out of bed.

As I stated before, and in many previous blog posts, I am a control freak. I don’t know why or how I got to be this way. I just like to be in charge of what’s happening around me because I feel like I can keep track of the details better than anybody else can. But there are parts of my life (major parts) that are too big for me. And I need to admit that, not only to God but also to myself. I need to stop trying to control everything, because some situations are above my pay grade. And it’s those situations and circumstances that I need to be humble about and ask God for help with.

So it all comes down to attitude. I need to be humble about my life and realize that I’m not in control. God is going to do what He wants with my life. He made it, just like He made everything else, so He has the right to do what He wants with it. But it’s my choice how I respond to it; I can either go willingly or kicking and screaming. God will have His way no matter how I choose to respond.

I get frustrated when I do everything I’m supposed to do and life still doesn’t work out, but when it comes right down to it, God is in control of my life. And if He needs to allow more difficulty into my life to remind me that He’s the one who calls the shots, so be it. In the end, He’s going to have His way no matter what, and His way is going to be good. His way is better than my way ever can be. And He’s proven that to me over and over and over again.

If we turn our hearts to God, if we change our attitudes about God and recognize that He is the one who’s in charge, and if we ask Him for help and realize that we can’t make it through life without Him, He’ll hear us. He sees us and moves in our lives anyway, whether we ask Him to or not. But when we change our attitudes, we start looking for Him. And then we can see Him.

So check your attitude this morning. Are you trying to control your life? Are you trying to be the one in charge? You can try it, but the more you try to control your life, the more of your life will slip through your fingers. Change your attitude; be willing to let God change your heart. It will make all the difference in the world.

Worrying about life at 88 miles per hour

The future is easy to worry about because we have no control over it. Even if we think we have control, we don’t really. We can convince ourselves that we can alter it with hard work or good opportunities, but no matter how you look at it, you can’t control every aspect. 

Wooden bridge at Glen Eyrie

Wooden bridge at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

I have always loved the Back to the Future movies. Marty McFly and Doc Brown and the legendary DeLorean are tons of fun. I love the whole trilogy, and I love how the things they do in the first movie negatively affect the world in the second and third movies. And when they try to fix what they did wrong, they make it worse.

But whether you think of the future like the one immortalized in the Back to the Future movies or if you think of it more like a winding path up the side of a mountain that you can’t see the end of, one thing is certain: it’s not something we’re supposed to meddle with.

And that makes us worry about it.

At their heart and soul, people are control freaks. Some people are worse than others, but I’ve never met another human being who didn’t want some kind of control over his or her life, no matter how much they might have denied it. And I don’t know why that is.

I’m speaking from experience because I’m the worst control freak you’ll meet. I want to know everything. I want to know who is doing what. I want to know who is going where. I want to know what is happening today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Shoot, when I found out how much vacation I was going to have in 2012, I wanted to sit down and plan out every day off in 2012 for the whole year.

Don’t get me wrong. Planning is good. It’s a good idea to have a contingency. It’s a good idea to be prepared. But we also need to be flexible. We need to realize that there’s a bigger story going on around us and sometimes our plans need to change because of it.

Today’s passage is John 14:1-3 and it’s Jesus talking:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

I can only imagine how tired Jesus had to get of telling the disciples to trust him, to not worry. I guess I shouldn’t pick on the disciples because Jesus does that to me all the time too.  Jesus said this to the disciples at the Last Supper, the last meal He ate with them before He went to the cross. The disciples were all upset and worried because Jesus had told them that He was leaving. The disciples, of course, worried about the future. Because they couldn’t see God (they thought). And they couldn’t understand Jesus (because they weren’t listening). And they wanted things to happen the way they wanted it to happen (sound familiar?).

I’m so much like the disciples all the time it astounds me. I share bits and pieces of their flaws, from the doubt to the impulsiveness to the skepticism.

The issue here comes down to trust.

I trust my ability to drive. So I drive over 100 miles a day.

I trust my ability to cook. So I eat the food I make.

I trust my ability to write. So I blog and write short stories and novels and articles about plumbing installations.

I trust. So I act.

So do I trust Jesus? Do I trust that He is who He said? Do I trust that He’s going to do what He promised?

So if I trust Him — if I really honestly trust Him — I need to act on that trust. I need to live by that trust. I need to demonstrate in my actions and in my thoughts and in my life that I really believe the things that Jesus has said. And that means not worrying about the future.

Jesus said He has the future worked out. He’s preparing a place for us and one day He’s going to come back and get us. I trust that. So I’m happy to stick around here doing what I can until He comes back. But I also trust that He hasn’t left me here with nothing to do, because He also told me He has a reason for everything He does.