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.

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Don’t know where to go next? Ask.

Sometimes I get stuck. I don’t know what step to take next, and when that happens, I tend to lean toward not doing anything at all. I have a tendency toward being like that lazy servant who buried the money he was supposed to invest because he was afraid of failing.

I think we all end up there at some point in our lives. Sometimes we just run out of map. When that happens, what do you do? It sounds obvious to ask for directions, even though that’s the wise thing to do. But it’s one thing to ask for directions. It’s another thing to actually follow them. But what happens if you don’t get the directions you expect? That’s a completely different story.

The Bible is full of examples of God issuing commands or orders to His people. All throughout the Old Testament, and even in parts of the New Testament, it wasn’t unusual for God to tell people exactly what He wanted them to do. But there are other times throughout Scripture where people didn’t know what to do. Those are the points I’m interested in. Because God isn’t going to magically appear in front of me and tell me what to go do with myself.

Basketball hoop on the garage at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Basketball hoop on the garage at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 30:8.

Then David asked the Lord, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?” And the Lord told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”

 

When we don’t know what we’re supposed to do next, we’re supposed to ask. Many biblical heroes like David and Joshua looked to God for guidance and instructed others to do the same. Most of the time in the Bible you’ll see it referred to as “inquiring of the Lord,” and that sounds fancy and scary and impressive like you have to have a special ceremony to make it work. But you don’t. In the Old Testament you might have needed a ceremony, but we’re in the Church Age now. Jesus died to give us open, free access to God. So all we have to do is ask in Jesus’ name.

Over and over in Scripture, people who ask for God’s direction end up where they need to be, and the people who don’t ask and try to fumble their way through life without Him, end up in trouble.

So ask. Ask if God wants you to take a job. Ask if God wants you to date that person. Ask if you should go or stay. Just ask. But remember something:God will tell you what you’re supposed to do in the Bible. He isn’t going to answer you through prayer in a way that contradicts His Word. Can’t happen. He will always be consistent. So if the Bible says your course of action is wrong, God won’t condone it when you’re talking to Him. Keep that in mind.

Also be willing to accept a No. God may say no. He’s not wishy-washy or weak-willed. He’ll tell His children no, if that’s what we need to hear, and it’s up to us to obey and trust that He’s got something better in mind than what we want.  He also may tell you to wait. And that’s almost harder to hear than a no.

Ask for direction. Be willing to hear God’s answer. Be willing to do what He says.

It may not be the answer you want, but it will be the answer you need. It will be direction you need to get you where God wants you to be.

The trail at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Think twice before you take the first path

I’ve had a number of really exciting cab experiences during my stay here in Chicago, most of them centering on the cab driver himself. But yesterday, I saw something I’d never seen before.

The cab driver was taking us back to our hotel, and the streets were pretty congested. I don’t think I’ve seen a moment where the streets haven’t been congested, to be honest. We crossed an intersection, moving really fast, and the driver slammed on his brakes. Why?

Because a man in a wheelchair was wheeling himself down the middle of the street. Cars swerved both ways around him, and he kept waving at everyone to keep coming. Now, either he was daring them to hit him or he didn’t realize he was in a really dangerous place.

We got around him without getting ourselves or him or anyone else killed, and the taxi driver just shook his head and said in his very thick Nigerian accent: “That’s just not very smart, man.”

The trail at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

The trail at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:25.

There is a path before each person that seems right,
    but it ends in death.

Have you ever done something really stupid in the heat of the moment? It made sense right then, but when everything calmed down, you realized how much of an idiot you were.

I’ve been there. More than once.

At first glance, the idea seems perfect. The plan is flawless. But that’s just surface thinking. If you take the time to think it through, to look below the surface and consider the consequences of your actions, you might start seeing problems.

But when you’re in a rush or panicking or desperate to see some kind of movement, you rarely stop to think about consequences. When you’re in action mode, all you want is instant gratification. And, I’m not going to lie, acting without thinking often provides instant gratification.

But instant gratification comes and goes. It doesn’t stick around. And maybe you’ll be satisfied for a moment, but after it’s over, you’ll be stuck where you were before. And then you’ll have the consequences of your actions to face.

I don’t know what the crazy dude in the wheelchair wanted yesterday. If he wanted attention, he sure got it. If he wanted someone to run him over, he was right where he needed to be. But if he was just trying to get from point A to point B without dealing with the crowds on the sidewalk, maybe he could have come up with a better solution.

Just because an idea seems legit at first glance, don’t jump on it immediately. Take the time to think about it, especially if it’s going to require a large investment from you. And beyond just thinking about it, pray about it. Ask God for direction and keep reading your Bible. You never know what you might find in Scripture that will give you the answers you need. God reveals Himself to us in many different ways, if we’re willing to keep our eyes open.

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Fix your thoughts on what’s going right

I don’t mean to eavesdrop. I really don’t. Sometimes people’s conversations just pop out at me. And I generally try not to pay attention because you can’t generalize. You can’t (well, you shouldn’t) judge a situation based on a small exchange you overhear between two people.

But some conversations strike you as so strange you can’t ignore them. That’s what I heard yesterday morning.

“What was the worst part of your week?”

That question wouldn’t normally stop me. It’s not that unusual of a question. But when it’s coming from a motherly figure to her little girl, I had to take a moment to process.

Why would a mother ask her child that as they’re walking out of church? First off, I might be wrong. It might be an aunt. It might even be a grandmother for all I saw of the woman’s face. But either way, coming out of Kidzworld at NewSpring Church, why would you steer the conversation that direction?

If you aren’t from Kansas, you probably don’t know about Kidzworld. So let me be the one to tell you it’s a children’s ministry that makes you want to be a child again. Let’s be honest, grown ups, there aren’t many things that can do that. Kidzworld makes me wish I was a kid again. Children come out of this crazy ministry with life lessons and examples of how to use them in their schools and in their homes, and if you ask them, they’ll tell you exactly what they learned. It’s ridiculous!

And, honestly, that’s what I thought this mom was asking. And that’s why I stopped to listen because there’s nothing more exhilarating to be able to hear a  little kid explain a biblical principle in his or her own words.

What was the best thing you learned today? Or what was the lesson about today? Or what did you learn in Kidzworld today?

But no. That wasn’t the question.

“What was the worst part of your week?”

Again, I’m trying not to be judgmental. I could be jumping to a wrong conclusion. There could be a perfectly rational and logical and reasonable explanation.

What I think upsets me more than anything is the question of whether or not that’s my reaction to life. When I talk to someone, older or younger or peer, is my first thought to ask them what made their week rotten? Am I quick to jump to the negative? Do I direct the conversation to what’s wrong in life instead of what’s going right?

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:8.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

How often do you fix your thoughts on what God is doing in the world? And when I say fix your thoughts, I mean focus on it. I mean take a moment to sit back and think about all the amazing, miraculous, incredible things God is doing around the world and in your own life.

When was the last time you did that? I wish I could tell you I did it more often, but I don’t. I get too busy with life. I get so crazy running around trying to get so many things accomplished on time that I don’t take the time I need to reflect on what God is doing. And as a result, I stop seeing what He’s doing in my life and instead start seeing all the things He’s not doing that I wanted.

People have called Philippians 4:8 a filter for your mind. It’s the verse you’re supposed to use when you’re thinking about anything. Run your thoughts and your conversations through the filter of Philippians 4:8 and see if they hold up.

I’m not saying that we should live in denial. We can’t ignore the fact that the world is broken. We can’t ignore the fact that our lives aren’t what they should be or that we make mistakes. That’s true. All of those things are true.

But there are other true things.

God loves you enough to sacrifice for you. God wants a relationship with you. God cares about what happens in your life. He cares about the choices you make.

All of those things are true too. So why don’t we focus on those things instead of how broken the world is? Why don’t see how much God loves us instead of how flawed other people are? Why don’t we start a conversation by asking what’s the best thing God did for you this week… instead of what’s the worst part of it?

It’s more than a filter. Philippians 4:8 is a lifestyle, and it’s not as simple as seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty. It’s not about optimists and pessimists.

It’s about making the choice to fix your thoughts on the parts of your life that make God happy and leading others–your friends, your coworkers, your children–to do the same. It won’t make the broken parts go away, but you’ll realize that the broken pieces aren’t as much of an obstacle in your path as you think because all you’ll see is how big God is in comparison.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Life’s too short to waste wandering the grocery store

There’s a popular stereotype that men hate asking for directions. Sitcoms have played with the concept for years, and in many instances it’s true. I don’t really know any guys who will voluntarily ask for directions. But it’s not just limited to men. I hate asking for directions. I’d much rather find my own way.

As I was posting about how poor my sense of direction is yesterday, I got to chuckling about my own proclivities to wander around until I find landmarks that look familiar. Would it be easier to ask someone which way I should go? Absolutely. But do I do it? Absolutely not! I won’t even ask for directions in a grocery store. I’d rather find it myself, even if that requires that I spend a lot more time and effort.

Maybe that’s pride. I don’t know. And maybe spending too much time looking for peanut butter isn’t a big deal, but if you get into the habit of refusing to ask for directions in the small things, it won’t be long before you refuse to ask for directions in bigger things.

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach - Texas

Sign on the Galveston Ferry, crossing between Galveston Beach and Jamaica Beach, Texas

Today’s verse is Psalm 25:12.

Who are those who fear the Lord?
    He will show them the path they should choose.

I hate asking for directions for anything. Does anyone else feel that way? I don’t know if that’s a pride thing or not, but that’s me. I want people to know that I’m not high maintenance, that I can figure things out on my own without bothering them. So I’d rather not ask for directions, especially if it’s something I can think through logically.

However, there are some things in life that nobody can figure out. Sometimes things happen to us that don’t make sense without asking for God’s help. We get hurt. People we love get hurt or sick. We lose our jobs. We face all sorts of trials and tests and challenges, and if we refuse to ask for God’s direction at times like that, there’s a good chance we’ll take a wrong turn.

It’s not that we’d be hopelessly lost. No one is hopelessly lost when it comes to God. But we may end up making a lot more trouble for ourselves if we insist on going our own way. And it’s not that we don’t want God in our lives. We just want to make our own decisions, we want to go our own way, we want to do things ourselves. And on one hand, I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. But think about the toddlers who insist on dressing themselves before they know how. They end up with clothes on backwards and shoes on wrong. Not dangerous but kind of silly. But how often are independent-minded toddlers satisfied with just dressing themselves? They want to do everything, and they want to do it on their own. Sure. Cute. But what would happen if you let that toddler drive the car or walk to the store or work in the kitchen?

A parent who lets their little child do things like that wouldn’t be called a very good parent. Why? I mean, aren’t you supposed to encourage independence? Aren’t you supposed to let kids explore who they are? Well, I guess. But is it a good idea to let them experience things they aren’t ready for, things they don’t understand? Of course not. A toddler driving a car? That’s a terrible idea! Not only could they get themselves killed but they could hurt other people around them.

Are we so different when we demand to live life our own way in spite of listening to what God has told us?

Refusing to listen to God is pride. Refusing to accept God’s directions, even though they’ve been plain to us, is pride. And pride is always dangerous, no matter what form it takes. If you’re refusing to take God at His Word because you think you know better, you’re just asking for trouble.

So stop fighting Him and start listening. Trust me, it’s not as bas as you think. And it really is a time saver. God wants the best for us. He’s not trying to squash our fun. He just wants to prevent us from making mistakes that will plague us for the rest of our lives. The good thing about asking for directions is that you can get where you need to be faster. You can accomplish more. Isn’t that better? After all, life is really too short to waste time wandering around the grocery store searching for peanut butter when all you have to do is ask for it.