Managing Your Emotions – What Can You Do? What Can God Do For You?

file1801281015946It’s hard being human sometimes, isn’t it? A couple of people and events have reminded me of this lately. In a world of modern conveniences, the hard part is more mental than physical. Amid plenty, we all still wrestle with uncomfortable or painful emotions. After talking through some concepts on managing emotions with my brother last week, he suggested that I write on the topic. (I’m very excited to have a reader ask me to write about something, even if it is “only” my brother.)

I’m an emotional person. You are too. Despite our ability to be logical and rational, people are largely motivated by emotions. We take actions based on how we feel more than on the facts of the matter at hand. This is a double edged sword. Positive emotions are rewarding in themselves and can inspire us to do the work that leads to better lives for ourselves and for others. (For a small example, I write this blog because I enjoy it. I’m excited to be writing this morning.) On the other hand, negative emotions (such as anger, sadness, frustrations, and fear) can drive us to take actions that are destructive and even self-destructive. It’s better to stay positive.

But ups and downs come with life. Although no one can be happy all the time, all of us can learn to be more positive and less negative. Indeed, this is an important part of our discipleship journey and the Holy Spirit will lead us in that direction. The first three things the Apostle Paul identifies as fruit of the spirit are love, joy and peace. (Gal 5:22) These blessings from God provide a deep foundation for other positive feelings such as happiness or contentment and allow us to shed negative feelings more quickly. But despite God leading our internal change, we still have some work to do to become the people he intends us to be. How do we do it?

Humans as mysterious, hard to figure out, complicated. (see here) Emotions are part of who we are, but only one “part,” and not separable from the rest of our beings. For practical reasons we will talk about our feelings as distinct things, but let’s not forget that really we’re whole people, indivisible beings. As with any complex system, when one “part” of us changes, everything else changes. Although we cannot usually directly change our feelings, we can change our thoughts and actions, which will alter our emotional state.

Perhaps the single best way to change your thinking is to talk with a wise and supportive friend. Even just the act of talking through your difficulties can defuse negative emotions to a certain extent. Hopefully your friend can help you to reframe the situation, find some good in it, or at least challenge any “awfulizing” you may be doing. Avoid any people who will “go negative” with you and drive you deeper into hostile territory. (You know who they are.) It may feel good in the short run to get angrier or more self-righteous but you won’t be getting more of the fruity of the Spirit.

Besides talking, try doing. Actions will also change your feelings. Exercise is great for elevating mood and relieving stress.   Perhaps go for a walk, get outdoors and sit in the sun, see a movie, or take a coffee break. To be different, do something different. But once again, don’t do the wrong thing. Alcohol, drugs, comfort foods, and mindless television viewing can all feel good in the short run but be harmful for your spirit in the long run. These are mostly ways of avoiding negative feelings rather than managing them.

This is obviously very superficial coverage of a complex topic. Whole books are written about managing your emotions. One that has helped me a lot is Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom by William Glasser, MD. It’s well worth the $14 or so it costs on Amazon.com. If you struggle with your feelings (and who does not) get a book or two on managing emotions. Try a search on cognitive behavioral therapy. Make this part of your personal development and discipleship program. Do the work.

Of course you need to work on yourself. Everyone does. But let’s not forget that we are limited. God is not. And your sanctification is God’s project as well as your own. He must create the internal change that we are incapable of creating in ourselves. As I cooperate in my own development I have found two basic ways of asking for God’s help. My more typical way is praying for God to intervene in various problematic situations and trying to “turn it over to God” as the saying goes. The basic prayer might be, God make it all turn out okay.  I’m going to leave it up to you and stop worrying about it. Amen.

Frankly, that doesn’t always seem that helpful. (No offense to God intended.) Perhaps it’s because I’m a more emotional person that most.  I don’t know.  But I do have mood swings and it’s not that always that easy to just stop worrying. Lately in the midst of any downturns, I’ve begun to pray that God directly relieve my discomforting emotional state. Basically I admit to him that I can’t think or act my way out of feeling discouraged, frustrated, or afraid and I ask him to intervene to change my feelings, to make me happy or positive again.

My prayer might go something like this:

God I am afraid and depressed. I’m worried. I know that I shouldn’t be. I know that this situation isn’t that big of a deal, but I can’t shake this feeling on my own. Please intervene now. Change my emotions yourself.  Please relieve me of this worry and restore my positivity. Renew my energy and happy outlook. I cannot get there on my own. Amen.

God has not let me down. Without fail (that I can remember) when I have prayed this kind of prayer and then got on with my business, I have been relieved of my emotional burden. The first time it happened, I was almost startled to realize how happy I was feeling only about a half an hour later. But really, why be surprised? Is there anything that God cannot do? God waits for us to admit our weakness, to rely on him, and to ask for relief. I need to do that more. How about you?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.   2 Cor 12:9

 

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P.S. For a Smile – Bob Newhart Addresses Negative Emotions

Comments

  1. Lisa Sienon says:

    Thank you and I so needed that today. It was most inspiring. You should do this on face book. I would have a following for you.
    Lisa Sienon.