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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Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion

I’m a fairly emotional person, but I decided at a young age that I didn’t trust them. So I always try to make decisions based on what I know rather than what I feel, and that has served me pretty well over the years. There are some biblical precedents for living that way too. But what do you do with all your emotions? Because we all have them, even if we’d like to deny it.

God created us with emotions for a reason, and maybe we can’t always trust the way they make us feel, but they’re a part of our lives, for better or worse. The problem I run into is that I don’t take care of my emotions. I ignore them. I push them down and cover them up. And that might work for a limited amount of time, but eventually they’ll get out of hand. When my emotional batteries drain down to zero, that’s when I implode, and I usually take a few people down with me.

Managing emotions isn’t about ignoring what we feel. That’s just asking for trouble. Instead, it’s learning to recognize what is worth investing in emotionally, and it’s taking the proper time to rest after you’ve been through an emotionally draining experience.

6T45YAK7M1Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-30.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

This passage has a couple of different meanings, all of which are probably relevant to the average 21st Century Christian’s life. Jesus is mostly talking about the weight of religion and religious rituals that cause stress and exhaustion. Following Jesus isn’t religion. It’s not jumping through hoops or putting on a show so that God will be pleased with your performance. Jesus just asks you to come as you are and follow Him, believe in Him, trust Him, and live like He did. And it’s not a matter of performing or getting a perfect score or wearing the right clothes or knowing all the answers. None of that stuff matters.

Trying to do everything right all the time is exhausting. Trying to keep up appearances all the time wears you out. It’s a never-ending dance that you will keep trying to do for the rest of your life, and you’ll never succeed. That’s not the life Jesus has called us to.

But the meaning of this passage goes beyond just freedom from religion. In the Amplified Version, where it says that “you’ll find rest for your souls” it actually means “renewal and blessed quiet.” Following Jesus means that your soul will be refreshed. You’ll find peace in following Jesus, far beyond what any perfect performance can bring.

Jesus knows that we’re emotional creatures. We were created that way, and it’s not wrong to feel. Yes, our emotions can get the better of us when we stop focusing on what God says is true, but as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we can manage our feelings with wisdom. But even then, you’re going to wear yourself out. The emotional stress of the day is going to take it’s toll, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, and if you don’t take the time to recharge your batteries, you’re going to be running on empty when the sun rises tomorrow.

It’s okay to feel. It’s not wrong. Just be sure that what you’re feeling aligns with God’s Word, and if it doesn’t, take steps to make it right. If what you’re feeling doesn’t match up with what God says is right, shut it out. Don’t think about it. Don’t focus on it. Do what you can to change the way you think, and you will change the way you feel.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion. Jesus never asks us to work ourselves to death. That’s the farthest thing from what He wants. Yes, there are hard choices to make. Yes, following Jesus sometimes means you’ll go through dark times. But you can go through darkness and challenging circumstances and still be emotionally healthy.

So are you feeling rundown today? Run to Jesus. Go tell Him what you’re feeling and let Him take that heavy burden off your shoulders. He’ll replace it with one that’s a lot lighter, and He’ll show you how to find rest and peace in Him.

Sunset on the wheat field

Unforced rhythms of grace

Do you ever get bogged down with work? Boy, I do. And most of it is self-imposed. I have a list of things I need to accomplish because if I don’t complete them, I won’t be able to view myself as a worthwhile person. But my value isn’t dependant on how much I accomplish in my life. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around, but it’s the truth.
 
Granted, understanding that my value isn’t based on my accomplishments doesn’t mean that I can just stop working. But it does mean that I don’t have to do things all by myself anymore.  And it means that there has to be a balance between laziness and the performance-driven mentality of the overworked. But what is it?
 
I live in a rural area, and there is always so much to do to keep the house up, to keep the orchard alive, to keep the outbuildings standing. I also work full time as a copywriter and web guru for a global corporation. I also am in the middle of writing three novels and a short story a month in pursuit of having a job where I can work from home so I’ll have time to take care of my house and keep the orchard alive and the outbuildings standing. And on top of all that, I’m involved in my church, in the technical ministry and in the drama ministry. And I also try to have a life, keeping up with friends, with a book club, with family.
 
I’m not a Type A person. But I’m beginning to think that I live like one, flitting from one thing to the next, so busy and so overwhelmed with life and living that I’m little more than a zombie. So when I read today’s verse, it resonated with me.
 
Sunset on the wheat field

Sunset on the wheat field, Haven, KS

Matthew 11:28-30

 
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
 
That’s a pretty major claim. Notice that it isn’t really physical rest that Jesus is offering here, though. See that? This is soul rest.
 
And there’s a lot of other cultural statements in this verse that we could take hours to dissect. There’s so much more being said here than what is obvious. But this morning I’m going to focus on the obvious.
 
Everyone needs rest. We weren’t created to run 100 miles per hour all day every day. We need a Sabbath. And we need time for people, but if you’re the sort of person who never stops serving people, you need to get away from them.
 
This is the same passage in the Message.
 
28-30“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
 
What are the unforced rhythms of grace? What does that mean? It’s very poetic, but how is it applicable?
 
It’s living by grace. It’s believing that God has covered all your actions with Christ’s blood so there’s nothing you can do that will ruin His plan — there’s nothing you can’t no do either. It’s not trusting your accomplishments to make you worthwhile. And when you live by grace, nothing is obligatory. Service isn’t mandatory. Worship isn’t something you just do on Sunday mornings. And loving God becomes natural, just like breathing.
 
We aren’t supposed to run ourselves into the ground. We weren’t designed for that.
 
And this is the lesson I need to learn for 2012. I’m tired. I’m worn out. Not on religion, necessarily. I don’t really have religion, so I don’t get burned out on it. But I am burned out on everything else.
 
The key is keeping company with Christ. Oftentimes, I neglect Him for other friends or other duties or other plans. I know He’s always there, but I rarely take the time to actually sit and talk to Him. No wonder I’m exhausted. I need Him to teach me how to live, how to work, how to walk.
 
So that’s one my other goals for 2012, getting to know Christ better and learning to live by grace and not just by faith.