Archive for the ‘emotions’ Tag

Should Faith Control Emotions?   5 comments

This interaction occurred several days ago on Facebook with a friend who got a brief response from me after she posted a quote.  You can see she is very gracious and open.  I have changed the names for privacy’s sake.  Our FB interaction is followed by a personal message I wrote to her.

Jennifer: “You either pass on your fears or your faith”     to think about…

Janathan: sometimes how I express my faith stirs up your fears and my fears expressed calm your fears.    to think about.

Jennifer: good point Kent, still reflecting on your comment. My initial thoughts on the area of fears … sometimes expressing or admitting our fears ‘demystifies’ them, & I can see value in that,.. also hearing others admit their own fears helps me realize i’m not the only one… I think what I appreciate about the above quote is the thought of being able to ‘transform’ a paralyzing fear into a faith action. Rather than being immobilized by fear, moving towards trusting God with it. Fear does not come from Him… whatcha think??


Janathan:I think I’m wary of what seems over-simplification to me, assuming solutions when I haven’t taken sufficient time to fully understand the emotional dynamics at work (a definition of “pat” answers). We might say ‘love’ and ‘faith’ are simple, clear, easy to identify… until we start realizing how common misconceptions are, confusing love with lust, possessiveness, admiration, etc. I think we have to agree that all emotions were created by God and of high worth. God created fear in us, and the Bible regularly commands us to fear. My biggest fears tell me something really important about my own woundedness, and if I try to simply control this fear with ‘faith” and not understand my deeper heart issues, I think it causes real personal and relational problems. What is your perspective?

Janathan: On the other hand, one can be equally disrespectful of one’s own feelings by exacerbating them rather than listening to them (though I think conservative Christians tend to err on the former side… as one well-known writer titled a book “Emotions, the Believer’s Greatest Enemy.”

Jennifer: hmmm i don’t like simplistic answers either.. and will often ‘chew’ on a thought for a long time (including your quote 🙂 but at the same time, I’ve had to face some of my biggest fears,… and in the midst of those fears have often found myself unable to do anything else with but transfer them to God. “perfect love casts out all fear” is a concept i don’t fully understand yet it seems to involve trusting the Source of Love to such an extent that we have nothing that’s too big for us to face. The kind of ‘fear’ you refer to,.. i would associate with a respectful fear.. and not an immobilizing fear. appreciate your thoughts..


Janathan: I agree, Jennifer, sometimes fears are so intense we have to find a means of calming them before we can begin to understand them. I think there are many ways of doing this, such as adding a safety net or sharing our fears with someone who is safe for us (this is an act of faith as well). I know I have had numerous misconceptions of faith in my past, misconceptions I still struggle with. One of the biggest ones was to use “faith” to shame my feelings, in which case my feelings went underground, seeming to be conquered, but simply adding another layer of distance between myself and my heart.

Jennifer: hmmm good points. I’ve had to work through ‘fear of admitting fears’…. because as I looked back on my life i realized that the fears i ‘verbalized’ (admitted out loud) were exactly the ones that i ended up having to face in reality. 😦 Still working thru that one, but I think one of the lessons I’ve come away with, was that God wanted me to experience His peace even in the midst of my biggest fears (and I did,… for the most part! 🙂 From what I can tell, fear doesn’t GO AWAY.. we just learn to manage it. I’ve prayed endlessly for God to take away my fear of flying.. but it’s still there. What I had to face was my fear of dying instead.. With cancer, I had to face my fear that His plans weren’t good ones (from my perspective),.. but as I look back,.. so much GOOD came from having it.

Beth: Such thought-provoking comments. You’ve both alluded to the idea that fears have a variety of sources. Yes, fear can be emotionally based, but it can also be based on objective facts and truth. Jesus said “… I am the truth…”. Truth is his very essence and thus he also knows all. I’ve learned that I can trust my God more than I can trust myself. We can all be easily manipulated (emotionally) and we can also manipulate others and we can even manipulate ourselves. But God can not be manipulated. Thus I choose to put my trust in Him who is truth, and pray that he gives me the wisdom to discern the source of my fears and take control of all my thoughts. (2 Cor 10:5 “…destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”)

Jennifer: thanks for your input Beth… i like the verse about ‘taking your thoughts captive’ … i think it fits the discussion. Though I have to admit.. i’m a very practical person… and as much as I understand the ‘exercise’ of doing that,.. i still don’t understand what are the practical, tangible results.? In other words,.. what actually changes in relationship to our fears?

Beth: Making our thoughts “captive and obedient” to Christ is definitely practical, with tangible & transformational results. Emotionally based fears are often reinforced by our thought life. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). It seems that fear and faith can not co-exist. Paul repeatedly tells his readers we have real power to control our thought-life, leading to transformational living. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2). As we renew/change our thinking, our emotions and behaviour will realign accordingly. When our focus is Christ and his attributes, it will result in our minds being filled with his presence and peace (Phil 4:8-9). Faith and fear do not co-exist.

Kent McQuilkin: Ah, Beth, what a very different view you and I have on emotions and faith!

Jennifer: Will need to reflect on your thoughts Beth… Sometimes it just takes time for a truth/principle to move from my head to my heart,.. and then into action. 🙂 Curious about your view on emotions and faith, Kent. 🙂

Wow, Jennifer, where do I even begin?  I understand Beth’s view, I was raised with that view.  There are good and bad emotions and we must choose the good and refuse the bad.  The good emotions are telling us the truth about the world and God, and the bad emotions are telling us lies.  We encourage the good emotions and discourage the bad emotions by thinking the right thoughts about each, often using Scripture as the basis.  We talk ourselves out of the bad emotions and into the good ones.  This is how faith works to free us from bad emotions–I keep telling myself the truth until I believe it (and truth comes from propositions, not from feelings, which can’t be trusted), and as I slowly believe more, my bad emotions dissolve.

In a sense I believe and follow this approach for superficial matters.  As everyone knows, emotions can be very changeable and fleeting (which makes us reluctant to trust them).  If Kimberly does something that slightly irritates me, I throw some “truth” at my feelings (“she also has to forgive me for my irritating behavior” or “she’s just tired”) and let it go.  I can do this because I am secure in our relationship—I know she cares deeply for me and respects me and my feelings.  It is just an emotional hiccough I feel.  However, if the feeling persists, I know it is telling me something I need to hear.

To suppose that emotions are fickle and unreliable because they constantly fluctuate is a serious misunderstanding I think.  What I see with my eyes constantly changes—I see a chair, then a table, then you, then my book… does this mean my visual perception is unreliable?   On the other hand, if I kept staring at the chair and it turned into a cat and then into a pecan pie, I would have major doubts about my visual perception.  Just like my eyes, my emotions are “reading” constantly changing situations, so that to be consistent, they must constantly fluctuate, but when that situation returns, that emotion returns.  Emotions are remarkably consistent and reliable measures of how our situations are impacting us.  We realize this when we use all our reasoning powers to change our feelings about someone, and one look from them brings those feelings flooding back.  In other words, our emotions are telling us something profoundly true and accurate, stubbornly so, though we may misinterpret them easily if we have been raised in a culture that teaches us to doubt them.

I think that is where we get thrown off the track.  We assume that our emotions are measuring the facts about the current situation, and this consistently proves false.  But that is like blaming the gas gauge for giving the wrong mileage.  Our emotions can tell us things about the current situation that our minds cannot (we call it intuition), just like our gas gauge can help us estimate how many miles we have driven.  But that is not their purpose.  Emotions primarily tell us about our own hearts, not about external situations.  This was very hard for me to grasp at first.  I thought my anger against a friend measured his guilt.  It doesn’t.  It simply says something is going on in my heart that I need to figure out.  Whether he is guilty or not is a very different issue, related but different.

If my emotions are given to me by God, they are all good and valuable when treated as they were designed.  But if I suppose some are bad, then I will refuse to listen to them, perhaps quite effectively drowning out their voice, the voice of truth.  I may credit Biblical thinking and faith for this result, but I feel strongly that such an approach ultimately hurts rather than helps me.  If anything, I have discovered that faith can do the opposite—it can give me the safety and courage to identify and listen to my unwanted emotions instead of pushing them away.  I think that blaming and fixing my emotions is much like using my finger to push the gas gauge needle to “full”.

It is true that I want to be free of those feelings of fear, anger, sadness (and even joy and peace) that are harmful for me and my relationships, but after failing in a life long effort at using the typical “biblical” approach I described above, I learned that listening to my emotions with compassion and understanding was the only way to discover my true brokenness and needs and take the long term, deep approach for transformation.  I put “biblical” in quotes since I find myself now with quite different understandings of verses like “take every thought captive” (ones that do not involve pitting my reasoning against my emotions—wouldn’t it be wonderful if our emotions and intellect could work as partners instead of competitors?)

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


Posted September 27, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, thoughts

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What Do I Really Need?   Leave a comment


By suggesting an alternative to wants-versus-needs thinking, which seems to pit rationality against emotions, I am not suggesting that no difference exists between needs.  Surely some needs are more important than others.  I want to challenge the notion that there is some simple objective way of determining my needs, and that, being objective, it’s evaluation requires no input from emotions.  (As a side note, we seem to have this odd notion that our emotions were badly damaged in the Fall, but that our intellect came through nearly unscathed, so that we can trust the latter more than the former).   There are things I clearly need, some for my body (food, water, shelter) and some for my soul (love, interaction, forgiveness).  Those things I need for my soul should never be forfeited for the sake of another, because I am foremost responsible for my own soul, and I never do well by another when I forfeit myself.  God is responsible for their needs.

I don’t mean that we never forgo some food for the soul as a benefit to another… just like skipping a meal, such choices are good for us if they are in the context of a steady, nutritional diet.  The key I think is my own health, for which I am responsible.  One can be spiritually glutinous or spiritually anorexic… in the first, the intake regularly exceeds the output and in the second the output regularly exceeds the intake.  Both are bad for the soul.  The first is characteristic of those we would call “selfish,” but is also characteristic of those who are starving (or feel as though they are starving).  The selfish individual has the emotional resources to do more for others, but chooses not to, while the starving has no such resources.  None of us knows another’s heart well enough to make this determination about them.

I Know What I Need!

My effort to bring false and true needs into the discussion fits here.  I believe the problem with those who are “selfish,” is not usually that they imbibe too much or more than their share, but that they fill up on Twinkies and Pringles, and since this does not meet their true need and they remain hungry, they continue to stuff more in to fill that gnawing hunger.  No one turns to alcohol to satisfy a need for alcohol.  They do it to reduce the pain from true needs that are languishing.  It is easy to make folks feel better by satisfying their false needs (it makes the giver feel better as well, so we are inclined to do it without thinking), and sometimes it is the best approach for many reasons, but I think it is good for us to realize we are not providing a remedy for their genuine needs.  Their unsatiated need will remain, stimulating their desire for another bag of popcorn.


Another Piece?

I could give a hundred examples in my own life of misunderstanding my needs and trying to satisfy my hunger with plastic pizzas and wooden fruit–the hungrier you are the harder you chew.  It has a profoundly disrupting spiritual effect in one’s life.  I have had a desparate need for acceptance all my life.  I felt unworthy as I was and thought I could not be loved unless I “got my act together.”  I could not trust any acceptance that came from someone who tried to overlook my faults, because such acceptance was undeserved.  My felt need was for holiness… greater and purer and more constant than I had so that I could be worthy, but no matter how much higher I climbed, my thirst for acceptance remained, driving me deeper into the desert.  My growth in “holiness” (as I undertsood it), instead of fulfilling me, was actually dragging me away from realizing and satisfying my real need, which was to discover and embrace God’s grace.  I’m glad my search was a cul-de-sac or I would still be climbing that mountain.

Posted September 22, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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As I Was Saying…   4 comments

Given the India diversion in blog postings, I will need to recap the story of my re-education that I was sharing.

1)      I thought people and circumstances outside of myself were the reason for my feelings in a direct cause and effect dynamic.  In order for me to feel better, I needed them to change.  In other words, I was trying to “fix” my feelings instead of learning from them, and I was doing this by pressuring the other person to change.

2)      I divided feelings into good and bad, legitimate and illegitimate.  If the person “causing” my feelings were at fault, then my negative feelings were justified, and they should stop doing what they were doing so as to relieve my bad feelings.  If the person “causing” my feelings were not at fault, then my feelings were illegitimate (wrong), and I had to talk myself out of those feelings.


3)      If I can manage okay with the other person’s irritating behavior, then I should say nothing and just endure.  If I could not handle it, I should tell them how their behavior was affecting me and ask them to stop.  Again, my feelings were being controlled by the other person, which put me in bondage to them emotionally, and required them to change to maintain a good relationship with me.

4)      Kimberly insisted that I had a right to my feelings, all my feelings, and that all my feelings were legitimate and true… not a true reflection of the guilt of others, but a true reflection of my own perspective and experience of life.  My “bad” emotions were telling me something valuable about myself, not about the other person.  If I listened to this emotional message empathically instead of with shame (accepting rather than rejecting the feeling), I could discover important things about my own woundedness.

5)      Kimberly encouraged me not to hide my unhappy feelings from those I love, because sharing them is an avenue into deeper relationship.  But if I shared my feelings as a means of getting her to change, it would push us farther apart and ground our relationship more on legalism, encouraging her to believe that my love is conditionally based on how she behaves.

6)      I thought genuine care always led to accommodating behavior.  If the other person cared about me, they would change what they were doing.  If they didn’t change, it proved they didn’t care.  Since these two were inextricably connected in my mind, when the person did not change, it proved they didn’t care.  I didn’t realize my real need was for her to care about my feelings, not for her to take responsibility for my feelings by changing.  As I thought, “My need + your love = your accommodation (and vice versa).  How could you possibly say you care if you make no effort to ‘improve’?”

Each step of learning came with a great deal of pain for both Kimberly and me.  Kimberly kept insisting that she was not responsible for my feelings, that regardless of how I felt towards her, this was not an indication of her guilt or responsibility.  She felt deeply hurt when I blamed and shamed her, even if it were simply a sideways glance, pause, or lifted eyebrow to suggest that she was failing to meet my expectations.  I kept believing that if she did not change, she did not care, and that hurt me deeply.  This whole perspective of hers blasted my mind with questions.  Are all expectations in a relationship unhealthy?  Is accommodation or compromise a bad idea?  Can a person truly care and still not change something that is hurtful to another?  Are my emotions really completely independent of your behavior towards me?  It still did not make sense.


Posted August 31, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Fixing Emotions   4 comments

Like most men, I want a fix.  When I am agitated or discouraged, I want help to escape, and I expect this to come not from empathy but from fixing the problem that is causing those feelings.  If I am afraid of losing money, help me protect my money, and my fear disappears.  If someone is irritating me, get them to stop, and my irritation will fall away.  I didn’t wait to ask myself with compassion, “Why am I afraid, what is going on in my heart?”  That was obvious… the situation was causing my bad feelings.

When my wife shared her feelings with me, I offered solutions instead of empathy, just like I wanted for myself.  But in trying to offer solutions, I was making her feel worse.  When I said, “There is no reason to be afraid because_______” I was trying to relieve her fear, but she heard me say that her feelings were illegitimate. It took me forever to change my approach, and I still struggle with it.  It seems to me that if I empathize with her feelings, I am giving her more reasons to feel sad or fearful or bad, and I want to rescue her from those feelings.  But as I tried to understand her perspective more, I gradually realized that I too needed empathy for my feelings rather than solutions to “fix” them.  I needed it as much as she did, because empathy invites me to be compassionate to myself, and with this active self-support, I discover the wound that underlies my feelings.  But I didn’t want discovery, I wanted relief.


I am a very good fixer, and when I fix situations so that my unhappy feelings are lifted, I feel better, but I learn nothing about myself through those negative emotions.  As a result they came back just as strongly when the situation returns.  Instead of emotional renovation, I was constantly working on repairs… the same fixes over and over.

Here was the sticking point for me in receiving Kimberly’s compassion.  I could not imagine genuine care that did not result in her help or accommodation.  If she truly empathized with my situation, she would surely act–help with the dishes, refill the gas tank, spend more time with me.  If she didn’t give tangible assistance as able, she was simply uncaring no matter what her words said.  If she did not help meet my needs, it proved she didn’t really care.  And her lack of care stoked my fear that I was not worthy of care.  My only option was to pressure her into acting to resolve my feelings and renew my sense of worth, and I usually did this by shaming her for not doing more.  Kimberly reacted to this, as you might expect.

Over a great deal of time sharing and thinking I slowly realized that what I really wanted and needed was her love and genuine concern, and I was closing her down to that by blaming her and demanding that she change.  When folks pushed in front of me or cut me off in traffic or ignored me, I thought I needed them to change, but my real underlying need was simply to have someone care about my feelings.  That made all the difference.  If my wife bangs the cupboards because she slips or thinks I’m downstairs or finds the door sticking, I feel no agitation.  Knowing the whole context makes me realize that her behavior does not result from a lack of consideration for me.  I may be irritated at the situation, but not at the person.

But what if the person knowingly kept doing those things that troubled me?  I simply refused to believe they cared if they didn’t change.  My need + your love = your accommodation (and vice versa).  How could you possibly say you care if you make no effort to “improve”?  I felt bad and it was their fault, they were responsible for my feelings.  But if others control my feelings, I’m in trouble because I am then their emotional slave (or we are mutual slaves, which is the essence of co-dependence).  Kimberly finally broke through this block in my thinking, but the process was very painful for both of us.

Posted August 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Thought: How We Treat Our Emotions   4 comments

We all know we have some influence over our emotions, and there are various reasons we may find it beneficial in particular situations to manipulate our emotions: if emotions are impairing our functioning on some crucial matter, if we cannot control our expression of emotion and that expression is damaging others, if we don’t have enough space (time, safety, etc.) to process our feelings just now.  In such cases we are not ignoring our feelings or pushing them away, but we are asking them to wait for a bit until we can address them.

If as a rule we listen and support our feelings and what they are telling us, then the exceptions I suggested above won’t undermine our spirits.  If as a rule we try to control our emotions instead of listening to them empathically, it is as healthy as trying to control your spouse—the more “successful” you are at this effort, the more damage is done.  It took me a very long time to begin to deal with my emotions based on the principles of grace instead of the principles of law.

I can manipulate my emotions by suppressing them or by aggravating them and neither approach is healthy.  It is one thing to listen graciously and patiently to my anger until it has told me all it needs to say; it is quite another to pump up my anger.  When I use various means to exacerbate my feelings, I am being just as untrue to my genuine emotions as when I refuse to hear them.

I find that the best question to ask myself regarding my feelings and my response to them is “why?”  Why do I feel so angry?  Why do I feel the need to stimulate them further?  I used to ask myself these questions in condemnation, just as my irate mother used to ask us: “What is WRONG with you?!”  This was not asked in a comforting way to find and relieve our suffering.  The natural follow up to such a question was, “Just stop it!”  And that really was my attitude towards my own feelings.


When I was in India, I kept throwing my unwanted emotions out the back door, only to realize too late that it was not the back door, but the closet door, and the shelves collapsed under the weight of my ignored emotions, driving me into deep depression.  Trust me, when you ignore or shame your emotions, it does not fix them or get rid of them, it just forces them to keep working behind the scenes where they sicken and weaken your spirit.

Good and Bad Emotions?   21 comments

After dozens of conversations I started to understand that Kimberly believed feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are.  “Excuse me, but haven’t you read in the Scriptures all the evil that comes from anger?”  I respond.

“Well,” she says, “if God himself gets angry, it can’t be all bad.”

“Ah, yes, but everyone knows there is ‘righteous’ anger and ‘unrighteous’ anger.  If you start feeling the bad kind, you are sinning, and must stop feeling that way.  You can get angry for the wrong reasons or for the right reasons, and you should not get angry for the wrong reasons, so if you do, you have to repent.”  She clearly did not believe the childhood morality I was taught.

“So,” she responded, “if emotions can be immoral, it means you choose them or refuse them.  Is that how your emotions work?  Because my feelings come without thinking, often without warning.”

“No,” I reply, “you can’t control your initial emotional reactions, but you can choose to hold onto them or to let them go.”

“And how do you let them go?”

“You tell yourself they are wrong and think of all the reasons why you shouldn’t feel that way, and you can talk yourself out of those feelings.”

“So, Jani, basically you should all over your feelings… you beat down your emotions with the law?”

Long pause as I think about this.  I decided long ago that motivating myself with shame is a bad idea.  Is that what I was doing?  Wasn’t I just listening to my conscience, examining myself, and repenting?  Should I not feel guilty for wrong feelings and stop myself from having them?  I knew I didn’t have total control over my emotions, but I had enough control to force out the bad ones. I had done it many times.

“I guess I agree with you that my motivation should not be legalistic.  So maybe I should work from the motivation of wanting good relationships, and everyone knows anger pushes people apart.”

She responded, “In my family, politeness was a much greater threat to true connection than anger.  I have often seen anger bring people closer together because it forces honest communication and each person ends up telling the other person how they really feel.  What do you think makes anger bad?”

“Well, you don’t like me getting angry at you!”

“It is not your anger that is a problem for me, but your blaming me.”  Okay this REALLY does not make sense.  If she was not to blame, why would I get angry?  Getting angry over an innocent behavior is just wrong.  How can you possibly separate anger from blame?  If there is anger, someone is to blame!  How could she say that all feelings are legitimate?

“So you think there is nothing wrong with being angry as hell at an innocent person?” I ask.

“Well, what do you mean by ‘wrong’?” she responds.  “If you mean ‘are some emotions immoral,’ then I would say no.  If you mean ‘are my emotions accurate or correct,’ I would say it depends on what you are measuring.  Feelings are unreliable interpreters of someone else’s behavior (your rage does not prove that I’ve done something wrong).  But feelings are great interpreters of your heart if you listen to them carefully.  Emotions always tell you something about yourself rather than about the other person.”

Wow, that’s really a revelation to me.  She is delinking my negative feelings from her culpability, a bond I thought inseparable.  I could only imagine my anger being justified if she were truly at fault, but she is insisting that my feelings of anger are legitimate in themselves, even if she has done nothing wrong, nothing “deserving” of anger.  They are legitimate for the very reason that they do not measure her misconduct… they simply alert me to what is going on in my heart, and do so quite accurately.  If I merely shove my anger away or talk it down without considering what it is telling me, I can gain nothing from it.

After mulling this over for awhile I ask, “Okay, so maybe emotions are not evil in themselves and are just a gauge of my heart, but aren’t some of them a gauge of my bad heart?  Doesn’t my anger or sadness or fear point to something that should not be in my heart, something for which I am guilty?  And isn’t it possible to hold on to or nurse these negative feelings and so keep myself under their power?  And doesn’t it matter how I express my feelings?”  I was determined to prove my “negative” feelings were bad in some way!

Posted August 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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An “Aha!” Moment   7 comments

I am often amazed at how long it takes me to come to a realization or understanding.  If someone offers me an idea that does not fit into my present worldview, I cannot use it, and often do not understand it.  When we started dating, Kimberly shared concepts that sounded like Chinese to me.  They just made no sense to me at all.

Last night she suggested something that I have heard from others, “If there are tasks that need to be done, and you don’t want to do them, you can push yourself in a way that validates and supports your needs and feelings—do the task for yourself instead of against yourself.  Do it for the benefit it will bring you.”

Yes, I have heard this before, I agree, but I have a problem.  If it is only me affected by my decision, that is easy enough to do, but if others and their feelings and needs are also involved, I feel obligated to push myself regardless of what I want.  That is, I can’t both listen to their needs and my needs when there is competition (and I downgrade most of my ‘needs’ to simply ‘desires,’ so their needs outrank mine).

But just this morning I started to reconsider Kimberly’s words.  The problem is not pushing myself to do something I don’t want to do, but the thoughts that support that choice.  To motivate myself, I resort to willpower based on obligation.  This has always “worked” for me, that is, I complete the task.  But I can only do so by disregarding my own feelings.  Might there be a way to support my feelings and motivate myself apart from obligation?

It is very hard for me to practice this because my sense of duty trumps every other motivation by sheer weight of ingrained thought patterns.  I do onerous things always and only because I “have” to do them.  I have no choice.  I thought the problem was in the choosing, but perhaps the problem is in the approach to choosing, the why and how of the decision rather than the what.

I realize now that this is the first glimmer of insight in a very long process, years of remaking my outlook, hundreds of attempts at applying it.  I used to think that God’s grace should be gotten fully in one go and applied everywhere, like paint to a door.  I slowly came to realize that I can only apply the grace of God to those wounds that I first identify.  I can’t coat the door with WD40 and expect the unidentified squeak to stop.  I have to locate the rusty hinge and spray a concentrated stream.

Of course, grace is at work helping me to identify my issues, but it works on its own schedule, not mine.  I would like to know all my misguided beliefs now and focus all my time and energy into “fixing” them as quickly as I can.  This would work no better than a first-grader studying night and day so he can graduate from college in two years.  God is far more understanding and patient with my shortcomings than I am.  I imagine he would like to tell me, “Slow down.  Go easy on yourself.  Even 50 years is not enough time to make all the positive changes I plan for you.”   Oddly enough, for me to be more godly, I need to be more understanding and patient with myself; I need to receive this grace he offers me.  Who would have guessed?

Posted July 2, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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Anguish   18 comments

It does not cost me much to report on my experiences and feelings after the fact.  It is more difficult for me to share in the moment, to invite others into my journey when I am still in the quagmire.  I am more vulnerable in such times, so I ask those who leave comments to this post to be especially gracious in what they say.

I have been in a great deal of turmoil the last few days over my expected visit to Calcutta.  India was my emotional Waterloo, an inescapable, pervasive black hole.  I’m pretty sure these current feelings stem from very deep, unresolved issues while I was a missionary that tapped into an ocean of inadequacy.  I did not learn Bengali well… I was so ethnocentric, seeing their culture as inadequate… I failed to make any significant impact even though I nearly died trying… I was arrogant… I was stupid… I was closed to input….   “I’m a failure, a failure, a failure” was the heavy drumbeat that struck against my soul throughout each day.

I had no weapon with which to challenge these beliefs, no argument great enough to disprove my self-condemnation.  I thought my self accusations were a mark of true and deep repentance.  Here is an example from the journal I kept in India, castigating myself for sleeping till 5 a.m. instead of rising at 4 o’clock to pray:

Oh, Lord, break me.  Break this wicked pride so steeped in deceit. Break the great evil of my indiscipline – great because it keeps me from knowing you and seeking you and loving you with my whole heart.  Lord, how can you possibly use me in this city, or in the lowest ministry, if I am not wholly given over to the infilling, anointing and outpouring of your Spirit?  Oh, Lord have mercy on this foolish and hopeless child of yours. I have no strength of my own, Lord.  I know I am completely bankrupt.  I know how many times over and over I have failed you in the same things.  It is a wonder that you still love me Lord.  What an amazing love is yours!  How much you deserve a better child than I.  Make me fit to bear your name in this world or take me out of it, Lord.

When I returned from Asia, I was so broken that my only hope of functioning was to push all thoughts of that time aside, not deal with them, ignore them as best I could.  I quarantined that huge section of my heart because I was too soul sick to deal with it in any kind of healthy way.  Of course those self-condemning thoughts did not simply disappear, but festered in the dark, chewing like termites on my spirit.  The less aware I was of them, the more easily they could undermine my sense of worth.

And as I open that Pandora’s box again, I find my life energy draining away and a settled anguish taking it’s place.  I feel I am picking up a burden too great to bear.  I thought I was emotionally ready (barely) to visit Calcutta again.  I wonder.  Perhaps this is God’s divine timing to draw me into facing this great vortex of shame.  I would ask for your prayers as I wade into the river Styx

Posted June 30, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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