1. Be Realistic About Your Emotions
This has always been one of my favorite quotes. Viktor Frakl was a Holocaust survivor and the perfect model for how to overcome impossible circumstances. As a mental health practitioner, I have high empathy and always say “I believe that your experience is real for you.” However, this does not mean that I (or those around you) agree that how you’re feeling is appropriate, or that your perception of the situation is helpful or accurate. Don’t make an agreement with the enemy about anything; resist him and he will retreat (James 4:7). I don’t want you to settle for less than you are capable of, and neither does God. Please hear me correctly. Your emotions are important, but they are not entirely reliable.
I love how Rhonda Sommer (LCSW)* puts it: “Indulging emotions leads to poor judgment. Poor judgment matters because you set yourself up to waste your life choices.” As one of our leaders at church, Pastor Domingo, put it, “You have opportunities to choose God’s best for your life, or not.” Should we give each other emotional support? Yes. Should be be there for one another in times of pain and hurting? Absolutely. But I refuse to help people continue to be a victim to and prisoner of their negative emotions and for them to potentially miss “God’s best” for them.
2. Change your Perception
Joy is about perspective. This holiday season brings with it a variety of emotions, but I want to challenge you today… Instead of making it your goal to simply “cope with the holidays,” make it your aim to disagree with your “go-to” feeling and change your perspective about where you find yourself. Recognizing that it is possible to identify and move towards a contradicting or opposite feeling is imperative in “stressful” and anxiety-producing situations. Viktor Frankl undoubtably became versed in this discipline, allowing him to experience joy and to choose his attitude in the middle of a death-camp.
To again quote Rhonda Sommer (LCSW): “Feelings travel together with their opposites. If you feel lopsided in an emotion and want more movement, ask yourself what is the other side, the polarity…You may have trained yourself to only pay attention to one side. It’s time to relearn that both are available. Here are other feelings and their possible polarities. Owning both creates a greater range of possibilities.” Below are some of Ms. Sommer’s feeling polarities; this list is not comprehensive, but it provides a “how-to” reference for identifying contrasting emotional experiences.
Betrayal < – – – – – – – – > Trust
Boredom < – – – – – – – – > Creativity/Curiosity
Loss/Sadness < – – – – – – – – > Joy/Fullness
Self Interest < – – – – – – – – > Gratitude
Disappointment < – – – – – – – – > Satisfaction
The goal is not to get “stuck” on the left side, but to move closer to the right, which requires “taking action” and adjusting your attitude. You are always capable of moving towards the positive; be humble and bold enough to challenge any character trait, hurt, or adversary that says otherwise.
3. Don’t Put Your Hope in People
Listen, I love people. I work with people, I love my family, I am married, I am a Pastor at our church. This point is not the same as saying “don’t love people” or “don’t enjoy people” or “don’t look forward to the positive feelings you get at church or with family members you love.” I make this statement because, if we gain our peace and happiness from friends and family (aka: humans)… we will never be content, and certainly not joy-full, and most definitely not secure in our identity, despite our circumstances. Do you see the connection? True thanksgiving and contentment are tied completely to our identity. In Psalms 146:3, David says: “I will praise the Lord while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Do not put your confidence in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”
I have said this before, but I will declare this until we all understand it fully and deeply… if we put our worth and value (identity) into something that is temporary and fleeting (aka: humans, possessions, financial gain), when they get lost, die, break, get stolen, and fail… we will become lost, die inside, break down, sense that something’s been stolen, and feel like failures. We love to quote Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.” That is great! Such a powerful scripture. But could it be true that if we don’t choose to place our identity in Christ that we may not actually feel the reality of this verse? The key is to take Paul’s advice in the two verses that are often neglected; Philippians 4:11 and 12: “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And then… “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.”
Example: Psalm 23.
David went through some hard times; he battled sorrow, shame, depression and all of the despair that accompanies it. But, David seemed unwilling to stay “stuck” in these seasons of sadness. He changes his perception about what he is going through and remembers what God is capable of in his life! He trusted the Lord. He found His identity in God, and God loved David too much to leave him in the “darkest valley” or the “valley of the shadow of death” (for you KJV’ers). David felt God’s rod and staff guide him. The rod is the Hebrew word “shebet” meaning a couple of things; “a club” (a Shepherd’s instrument used to protect against predators) and “a sceptre” (a mark of authority, carried and used by a king or someone in royalty). The staff is from the Hebrew word “sha`an” which means “to trust, to lean on for support” (a mark of comfort).
Check out how the Passion Translation** puts it:
“1 God is my Fierce Protector and my Pastor. I always have more than enough.
2 He offers a resting place for me in his luxury-love. His tracks take me to the quiet brooks of bliss, The oasis of peace.
3 That’s where he restores and revives my life. He opens before me the pathways to God’s pleasure, Leading me along in his footsteps of righteousness, So that I can bring honor to His Name.
4 Lord, even when your path takes me through The valley of deepest darkness You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way. Because you are with me I have no fear of danger! Your authority is my strength and peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I’ll never be lonely for you are near.”
So, this Thanksgiving, let’s choose to be honest with ourselves and pay attention to the way our emotions are making us feel and think. Let’s choose to shift our perception of and attitude about our circumstances. Let’s choose to put our hope into a God that is eternal, never-fading, ever-lasting, peace-bringing, permanent, and unbroken. Let’s choose God’s best for us through contentment and giving thanks, together.
*Rhonda Mills Sommer LCSW, SCD, ACSW; therapyideas.net/emotional.htm
**The Psalms: Poetry on Fire. Copyright (c) 2012 by Dr. Brian Simmons