The Importance of Feeling the Feels

The Psalms are full of examples to us of being honest in our emotions with a faithful God who cares for us.  There also is an entire book named for one particular emotion to example to us how it’s done: Lamentations.

Feel the FeelsEmotions are a vital part of our humanness.  Yet we tend to either justify our over-reacting to our emotions or we shut them off.  But understanding and being honest about our emotions is imperative to our relationship with God, others, and even ourselves

For those who become overwhelmed by an emotional experience, it’s good to quiet the body, mind and soul and ask, ‘what is this emotion really about?’  While we shouldn’t excuse our behavior because of our emotions, neither should we tell our emotions to simply ‘shut up’.  Our emotions are telling us something very important.  They are telling us I desire, I hurt, I’m tired, I am afraid, etc.

For those who have suppressed emotions, it’s good to practice quieting the body, mind, and soul and ask, “what am I really feeling right now?”  We can often get caught up in suppressing our emotions because we don’t know what to do with them.  The result is dying to our emotional/spiritual side altogether.  Unfortunately, when we suppress our emotions it tends to come out sideways whether we want it to or not, in the form of anxiety, depression, control, and addiction.

We need to be able to feel the feels in honesty.   Bringing our emotions to our minds allows us to own our decisions and take responsibility for our lives.  It enables us to accept the things we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can.

The Psalms are full of examples to us of being honest in our emotions with a faithful God who cares for us.  There also is an entire book named for one particular emotion to example to us how it’s done: Lamentations.

It is good to acknowledge our feelings for what they are.  But feelings can also lie to us, telling us we are guilty when we are not, telling us we are a lost cause when we are not, or telling us life is hopeless when it is not.  So, asking ourselves honestly, ‘what is this feeling about?’ and living out courage to change the things we can, is the only way we can live authentically before God and with others.

What can our feelings tell us? 

I am wrong:  Really thinking through this is important.  There is a difference between ‘I am wrong’ and ‘I did something wrong’.  The truth is you might have done something wrong, in which case God has provided ways to clean up the mess through accepting responsibility, confession, and making amends.  If the thought is ‘I am wrong’, then understanding your true purpose and identity in life is taking steps to freedom.

I grieve: Grief is one of the worst feelings because there is absolutely nothing that can be done with the loss.  But loss is supposed to hurt.  There is no way to heal from grief unless you go through it.  If you try going under it, over it, or around it, you will get stuck in it.

I desire:  Desire can be good or bad, depending on what you are desiring.  It will help to know if it’s a good desire by asking, what need is it fulfilling in me?  What will be the fruit of obtaining it?  Desiring peace is a good thing unless you are giving a tyrant what they want.

I’m tired:  Am I tired because I’m running from my emotions? Am I over-achieving?  Being self-reliant?  Is there a change I can make in order to rest?

I fear:  Fear is good if you are standing near the edge of a cliff.  But fear is not good if you have to be in control of everyone around you in an attempt to have the perfect life.  Ask what is this fear about?  What evidence is there that this will become a reality?  Is this mine to control?

I’m sad:  Sadness is not the same as depression.  It’s a missing of something vital to our lives.  It means we are still alive and have desire.  It often means we have the capacity to love and care still.  Acknowledging our sadness allows us the ability to grieve the loss.

I’m angry:  There are some things that we should be angry about.  Naming the anger is the first step.  But we can’t excuse destructive behavior even when our anger is justified.  So, finding out how to move toward a solution is a healthy response to our anger.

I’m not safe:  It’s good to listen to your gut if you don’t feel safe.  By acknowledging this emotion you can then make a safety plan.  But, believing that there is no one who is or no place that is safe means there’s some healing work to be done.

Brene Brown has written that when you refuse to acknowledge negative feelings you shut down all of your feelings.  You cannot be selective in shutting down only some of your emotions.

Burying these emotions (and many others) will only produce destructive elements in your life.  Acknowledging them, asking what the emotion is about, and having the courage to make any necessary changes will lead to emotionally healthy spirituality.

 

Trusting Outcomes or Trusting God

When bad things happen, it doesn’t mean God isn’t powerful…or He is useless…or He’s mad…or doesn’t love us.

Trusting Outcomes or Trusting God
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Recently, I’ve talked with several people who have dealt with anxiety or control issues.  As we are talking about the need to let go of control and to trust God, they will say something to this affect:

“I guess I need to trust God that my friend will forgive me.”

“I need to trust God that my mother won’t have cancer.”

“I need to trust God that my kids will be safe.”

“I’m trusting God to meet all my (perceived) needs.”

“I need to trust God that everything will be o.k.”

The problem is that this is “trusting” God with an expectation that He will do what we think is best. This is trusting for the outcome.  And, if God doesn’t do what we think is best, then we are tempted to think He doesn’t love us…or He’s useless to us…or He can’t be all that powerful.  It can also be an issue of trying to manipulate God.  It can lead to, “If God doesn’t do what I want, then I’ll be mad and give Him the cold shoulder.  I’ll go into depression and leave the church because He can’t be ‘trusted’.”

It can also lead to anger because we think “I’ve done my part of the bargain of trusting and God hasn’t kept His part of giving me what I trusted Him for.”  This is still an issue of trying to be in control.

Powerless and Fearful

If we leave it at “I need to trust God” without an expected outcome, it can leave us feeling powerless and fearful.  Much of what I do in counseling is to help people separate my part, their part, and God’s part.  It’s tempting when dealing with anxiety or control issues, to try to do God and other people’s parts.  When we come to recognize that I am responsible to do my part and not to do other parts, we retain the right kind of power.

Focusing on ‘my part’ leads to peace.  My part is to make amends and ask for forgiveness, even though I can’t expect forgiveness.  My part is to take care of myself by eating right and taking care of my body, and I still may get cancer.  My part is to take precautions in protecting my children, and I still may miss a danger sign.  My part is working and spending money faithfully, but may end up with medical bills.  My part is to make decisions for myself and let other’s make their decisions.

The fear comes because if we can’t control a particular outcome, then we believe we just have to let all the bad stuff happen.  But just because we can’t control an outcome, doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play.

Trusting When Bad Things Happen

Here’s the truth: bad things happen.  Rejection happens.  Catastrophe’s happen.  Death happens. And when bad things happen, it doesn’t mean God isn’t powerful…or He is useless…or He’s mad…or doesn’t love us.  It doesn’t mean we have to like it or we can’t grieve.  It also doesn’t give us the right to control others.

When bad things happen, scripture says He is with us.  Scripture says that when we trust Him with the bad, He will turn it for good (Rom. 8:28).  If we trust in everything being o.k., it will lead to a life of disillusionment or a life of control to make sure it will be o.k.  To ‘trust’ means we let go of God’s part and other people’s part and accept the responsibility of our part (Gal. 6:7-10).  We receive both the good and the bad (Job 2:10).  We let go of control, by receiving from the hand of the Father, His presence with us (Ps. 23:4).

 

A God of Rest

The God of the Bible is not a taskmaster.

A God of Rest
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

I remember the day clearly…my alarm clock started blaring after what seemed like only minutes after my head hitting the pillow.  Annoyed, I looked up to see that, in fact, seven hours had vanished and a new day had begun.  I hit the snooze button and began to catalog the events of the coming day.  I began to organize each item on the to-do list in my head in the most productive order possible.  If I had coffee, then checked email, and then exercised I could be done in 55 min.  But if I exercised first, then had coffee and then checked email I might be more awake and therefore shave off a good five minutes of email time.  After cataloging my entire day this way (before landing on the floor) I suddenly realized that I couldn’t work harder, faster, or smarter and I would still be further behind at the end of the day than when I started.  Depression started to set in, but I clearly didn’t have time to deal with that so off I went.  It ended up being true too.  At the end of the day, I was further behind than when I started and depressed.

Now, to top this off, not only was I getting further and further behind, there were all sorts of expectations I felt were on me that never even got on to the to-do list.  In this, I seemed to have a nagging sense that I wasn’t quite enough.   I wasn’t thin enough, involved enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough.  I didn’t write a book, change my household decorations every season, have my family in matching outfits for family pictures, or preserve my struggling wanna-be garden.  Every night I would fall into bed steeped in depression because I hadn’t been enough.  Something was wrong with this picture!

I began to wonder if God was a taskmaster and never satisfied with me.  Was He really “calling” me to all of this?  The things on my to-do list were not bad.  In fact, for the most part, they ran the gamut from daily necessities to really great endeavors.  And clearly, if someone else would deal with all of these tasks, I could easily fill my schedule over with other amazing things to do.  I suddenly realized that perhaps it was not God giving me my daily to-do list, but maybe I was putting more on my to-do list than God had for me.

As I looked at my entire life, I realized I had been running at this speed since I was about thirteen years old.  Perplexed, I began to wonder if the problem was not God’s but rather my problem…(don’t laugh).  I needed to come to terms with my striving, and the reasons for it.  I don’t think I was looking for my “personal identity” in my accomplishments, though that is always a possibility.  There certainly was a strong measure of self-sufficiency in the mix.  I wanted to ‘have my act together’ whether the world noticed or not.  I wanted to handle life, get it right, and be a “good Christian.”  More than wanting to succeed, I really just didn’t want to fail.  But when life did fail in epic proportions, striving and self-sufficiency were right there to take it to the next level of escapism.  At one point in my life, to escape tremendous emotional pain, I worked a full-time job and four part time jobs for a total of about 75 hours a week.  Can you say, ‘crazy?’  At this point I was living under a taskmaster.  My work wasn’t good, it was enslaving.  I was saving myself through self-sufficiency.  I thought I could master my problems.  I could manage it.

What I have learned since then is that the God of the Bible is not a taskmaster.  He has good work for us to do, but He isn’t a taskmaster.  In fact, when I looked to Scripture what I see is He is a God of rest.  From the beginning, He created a day of rest each week.   He called it The Sabbath, and commanded everyone to rest.  And when you look at the feasts the Israelites were instructed to have, they were often commanded to rest.  That strikes me kind of funny that they would need to be told, “stop working…step away from the work.”  If you think about it, all other god’s of the universe are enslaving gods. But our God gives us work that He calls good and then gives us rest.

Why Celebrate Recovery Isn’t Just For Addicts

That’s right! It’s not just for addicts! It’s for anyone who is stuck and can’t move forward in life.  

Why Celebrate Recovery Isn't Just For AddictsCelebrate Recovery (CR) is a 12-Step recovery program designed to deal with any hurt, hang-up, or habit.  That is almost unbelievable! How can one ‘program’ help deal with coping mechanisms, divorce issues, sexual issues, anxiety, depression, grief, fear, rejection, substance abuse, or any other hurt, hang-up, or habit?  That’s right! It’s not just for addicts! It’s for anyone who is stuck and can’t move forward in life.  

CR presents 25 lessons which are broken down into four sections; getting ready to write down your inventory, writing your inventory, dealing with your inventory, and continue to manage your inventory.  The term inventory is simply a list of significant areas of your life including sins you’ve committed, sins committed against you, traumas, lies you’ve believed, attitudes you’ve experienced as well as blessings you have received and discovering your identity.

Getting Ready

CR takes eight (8) lessons just to get us ready to write down and deal with our inventories!

  • We start by coming out of denial and recognizing ‘I have a problem.’
  • We realize that we have tried to control this problem and can’t.  We need a power outside of ourselves to help us and that power is Jesus Christ.
  • We begin to hope again because we understand that we matter to Christ and He has the power to help us recover, which leads us back to truth.
  • We choose to turn our lives and our wills to Christ’s care and control.  And we recognize that we must do something different than what we have been doing to get a different result.
  • We commit to complete honesty about our lives and we surround ourselves with others who have gone this road before.

This sets us up for success!

Inventory

Now this is where the rubber meets the road and it starts spinning out, doing wheelies, and flipping over.  This is where we tend to lose people. I’ve heard it countless times, “Why do I have to rehash all the crap in my life?  Can’t I just move forward?” Yet, every recovery program has an inventory process so it must be important! So, the answer is, yes you can move forward but without healing from past wounds it’s like walking over broken glass with bare feet. You simply cannot heal until you deal with the past.

In CR, there are three inventory lessons in which we write down the good, the bad and the ugly.  We write down people who have hurt us, people we have hurt, life’s significant events, deaths, and how we’ve responded to these traumas.  We answer questions like who am I resentful of, jealous of, or am critical of? What makes me lose my temper or what do I worry over? Have I stolen from anyone or been dishonest?  We write it all down. I suppose that’s the scary part as we see ourselves looking back at us from the paper. We begin to own our stories, so that our stories will no longer own us.

Writing down our inventories is not meant to shame us or make us proud.  We simply write down the truth about our lives. We then take our inventories through God’s healing process to find freedom.

Dealing with our Inventories

Here is where the miracles happen!  God’s healing process is simple, but it’s not simplistic.  This is so difficult that we really can’t do it on our own.  We need safe people to help us navigate the truth by helping us see when we are still believing lies.  We need safe people to grieve with us in the losses of our life. We need safe people to be an example of how to walk the road to freedom.  And, of course, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to do these things. It’s not meant to be done alone.

  • We start by confessing our sins, our needs, and weaknesses.  This is the first step of the healing process!  It’s a guaranteed promise.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness.”

  • We admit our wrongs to another person.  This is such a necessary part of recovery because this is where we walk out of shame.  I know it feels like we would be walking into shame, but that’s not the truth! We tell another person our sins and the world doesn’t end.  In fact, most of the time, at CR you will hear ‘me too.’ You get to take your mask off here, you get to be the real you, and you are loved for who you really are.  Your mask gets thrown away.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

  • We are ready to have God remove our character defects as we voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in our life.   (In religious terms that’s called repentance.)

Matthew 5:6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.”

  • We evaluate all our relationships.  We offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us and make amends for the harm we’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others.  This needs to be wisely done and having others help you navigate these relational issues is huge!

Luke 6: 31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

And there we have it!  Boom-Sha-ka-la-ka!! Confession – Admitting – Repentance – Amends –Forgiveness.  These steps break any bondage we are stuck in and put us back in right relationships with God and (as far as we can do) with others.  At CR, we call it ‘cleaning up my side of the street.’

You see, these steps don’t really make sense.  If I were to create steps, it would be all about gaining control of my own world or finding solutions to manage my own happiness.  That makes sense to me. But God’s plan is possible for all to follow because He does the work. When we have done our part in following God and in restoring relationships, He breaks any bondage we are held to and we find freedom. It’s interesting to note, that even secular recovery programs use this as a basis because God’s principles always work even when you don’t give Him credit.  It’s a spiritual law much like the law of gravity.

What this does not do is fix physical issues such as cancer or even depression, although many people have found relief from depression when they follow these steps.  It does not control another person to act the way you want them to, although it can free you from their control. It doesn’t save you from the consequences of poor past decisions.  And it does not make life easy…sorry, life is still life.

Continuing-On

The last eight lessons of CR are how we continue to walk in the grace of God.  We establish new habits of confession, admitting our struggles to safe people, repenting, making amends and offering forgiveness on a daily basis.  We establish safeguards for relapses in our character, develop an attitude of gratitude, and learn to give away what we have received.

Celebrate Recovery works because at its core is the Gospel.  We learn to recognize our part in all of life’s issues and we trust God’s plan of breaking the bondage through His provisions.

If you are in or near Moscow, Idaho I invite you to come any Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at Real Life, Moscow Campus.  If you are outside of my area, then look up one of the 35,000 Celebrate Recovery groups world-wide here. 

Declarations

Proverbs 16:24 “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Declaration1Color

Proverbs 16:24 “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

James 3:9-10 “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

What we declare out of our mouths typically is what is on our hearts.  So, let me ask you a question…What are you telling yourself about you?  Are you speaking truthful, encouraging things?  Or, are you in some way not enough? Are you a failure?  Are you ‘just a worrier’?

I love what Graham Cooke says, “There is a huge difference between that which is true about a person’s sin habits and that which is the Truth about their new nature in Christ.”   As you declare that which is the Truth about your new nature in Christ to yourself, you begin to be transformed into it.

So, I have created a few declarations based on God’s Word to speak encouragement both to yourself and to others.  I challenge you to say this to yourself and with your kids every day for a month and see what kinds of conversations and transformations flow from it.  This is the first declaration…

I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)

I am strong and courageous (Josh. 1:9)

I am made with a purpose (Eph. 2:10)

If someone is unkind to me, I can remain kind (Eph. 4:32)

If bad things happen, God is with me (Ps. 23:4)

If I have worries God will comfort me (2 Cor. 1:4)

I am thankful in all things (1 Thess. 5:18)

I walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)

My mind is being renewed in Christ (Eph. 4:23)

Joy is mine (Ps. 16:11)

I’ve created it as a coloring page and you can print it as many times as you like.  It comes in black and white, but you can make it look like the picture above.

Email below and I will send you a FREE pdf coloring sheet.

When It’s Hard to Believe

I wondered why I was having such a difficult time believing I couldn’t do this.

When It's Hard To Believe
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Once again, I was sitting at a computer trying to figure out how to get a video to play from the internet, through a projector and onto the screen.  Seemed to me that this should be a simple task.  But I’ve struggled with this more than once. And, if I’m going to be honest, I’ve probably struggled with it a dozen times.

So, I contacted our amazing, can-do-anything-on-a-computer tech guy with, “I realize I’ve probably asked you this before, and I think I know the answer, I’m just having a hard time believing the answer.  Is there no possible way to play a video from  the internet, through our program, onto the screen in the multi-purpose room?”  His answer was “nope.”

I sat there for a few minutes trying to wrap my mind around his answer.  Really?  In the 21st century, when computers can do ANYTHING, I can’t do this?  I wondered why I was having such a difficult time believing I couldn’t do this.

And then it dawned on me.  I’m having a hard time accepting “nope” because I don’t want to believe it.  I WANT to play this video for an audience on a particular night.  I want this computer, this little intangible, life-sucking thing, to do what I want it to do.

And then all the connections started to make sense.  This is why someone has a hard time believing how their spouse’s brooding, cold-shoulder is devastating their family.  This is why a person may have a hard time owning their resentment and hatred for their spouse.  This is why a parent can’t wrap their minds around the fact that their teenaged child is making (poor) decisions on their own and they can’t control them anymore.  And this is why an adult child can’t stop trying to please a destructive parent.  There are reasons we hold on to what we hold on to.  If we believed it, we’d have to stop trying to make something happen.  We would need to stop trying to suck love out of someone who can’t give it.  And it hurts to let go of what we want.   

In letting go of my little computer struggle I found freedom.  Freedom to not try to come up with ways to get it done and freedom to find alternative solutions.   I can’t make the computer do what it’s not capable of doing.  When I was able to accept the reality of my situation, I was able to stop spinning in circles and move forward.  

The Benefits of Unforgiveness

The Benefits of
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Forgiving others is a good thing for by it relationships are restored and people are healed.  But forgiving others can also be a hard thing.  In some situations, it can be the hardest thing ever done and in other situations we can get stuck because we just don’t know how to do it.  Forgiving sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.

When a person hangs on so tightly to unforgiveness there is a reason they’re receiving a benefit from it.  

There was a time in my life where I found myself stuck in unforgiveness and I had some great reasons!  In fact, one of the best things I ever did was write down all the reasons I should not have to forgive and I presented it to the Lord.   I was quite pleased with my list and thought I had a pass on forgiving. The Lord very kindly walked me through the list and showed me how I had some misunderstandings about forgiveness.

Unforgiveness Protects from Future Harm

I believed unforgiveness was a benefit to me because it was the only thing protecting me from further hurt. The reality was it was a ten-foot wall built all around me with a ceiling, cutting off all air and slowly suffocating me.

I came to realize that I could forgive and protect myself from further harm. I learned about healthy boundaries, which provided protection so that I could forgive.    

Unforgiveness Protects from Trusting

I came to realize that to forgive someone does not mean that I must trust them.  Some people remain untrustworthy.  It does mean that I want to give them an opportunity to build trust after change has occurred and that I hope they succeed in building trust. (Sometimes that looks like allowing a conversation with three cops present.)  It leaves the responsibility of reconciliation on the person who offended to do the work of change.

Unforgiveness Shouts ‘It Mattered’

I came to realize that to forgive was NOT the same thing as saying, ‘it didn’t matter’.  In fact, I needed to recognize that if something really needed to be forgiven, that was saying that it DID matter.   Christ died for our sins because they matter.  I can forgive and still recognize that the loss mattered.

Forgiveness also needed to cover all the tentacles that the offense created.  A single offense can have reaching impact on finances, relationships with children, extended family, and goals.  It can affect health, travel, schooling, employment and create fear and insecurity.  All these tentacles matter and also need to be forgiven.

Unforgiveness Feels Like Payback

I’m going to be honest here…I felt like payback was righteous and just, but it acted like a boomerang.  Wanting the offender to suffer like I suffered ended up being a consequence on me.  This desire didn’t affect the offender at all.  

Payback does not free an offender from or keep them in bondage. Wanting another person to suffer only enbondages you.  

Unforgiveness Requires a Debt Be Paid

The definition of forgiveness is to cancel an indebtedness and to cease to feel resentment. (dictionary.com)  Now this benefit of not letting go of a debt can be good for the offender.  Sometimes the best thing for an offender to do is to make amends and pay what is owed. It is possible to cease from resentment and allow the offender to experience all consequences they have created.  This is how they grow and change.  When we remove consequences, we stop change.

This becomes a challenge when the wound is gossip, murder, or outbursts of anger.  These seldom have no defined repayment structures.  A simple apology is not enough.  Repayment then becomes a turning away from these destructive habits and altering their behavior.  It’s acknowledging the hurt they have caused and asking for (not expecting) forgiveness, avoiding any excuses.  It also means they accept the consequences of their actions, which means they don’t fight against them and guilt-trip the offended person to get out of the consequences.  Sometimes consequences are life-long.  This is actually good for the offending person to accept.

Freedom from resentment is always possible, but letting go of a debt takes wisdom.  

This is NOT Easy

Just to be clear…there are no 5 easy steps to forgiving.  There are some things that we can forgive in our human effort…a friend forgets to call, a spouse says a hurtful word, etc.  But there are some things, in our own reasoning, wisdom and strength, we will not have the power in ourselves to forgive.  It takes an act of God.  

What Forgiveness Means

Forgiving someone allows you to let go of resentments and you may also need to let go of any debt they owe you: they don’t owe you repayment, they don’t owe you an acknowledgement of how they hurt you, they don’t owe you to change. This is between you and God. What this does is it sets you free from an expectation that may never be fulfilled.  This obviously means forgiveness does not equal a reconciled relationship.

Friends, if you struggle with forgiving someone, I’m sorry.  Your fears matter, your pain matters, and your story matters.  I encourage you to write out why you shouldn’t have to forgive.  Bring your list to the Lord.  Be truthful…even if you theologically know better.  You can write down “I don’t want to” or “they don’t deserve it” or “it’s not fair.”  

It’s very helpful for you to understand the benefits you are getting through unforgiveness so that you can receive these benefits through other means.  

The Lord understands your story and He is kind.  He will give you discernment if canceling the debt is best and wisdom with establishing healthy boundaries.  He will also enable you to trust Him if the debt is not paid and set you free from resentments.