The Big Let-Down

It’s the day after Christmas. Some will spend the day cherishing newly made memories. Others will nurse reopened wounds–wounds that took them by surprise when out of the blue, scar tissue ripped off, ushering in feelings buried deep within. And staring at the tinsel, the wrapping paper, the newly-opened gifts, they wonder if perhaps something’s wrong with them. Where’s their yuletide joy? Their Christmas spirit?

There are as many reasons behind the holiday blues as there are those who suffer from it. Anxiety regarding financial problems, loss of loved ones, relationship difficulties, and the onset of colder, darker weather can all trigger a downward spiral. Add to that the expectations of holiday euphoria, and many are left with a tragic let-down.

Christ came that we may have abundant life–free of guilt, shame, anxiety, and bitterness. The promise is there, but we have to grab hold of it.

Having trouble finding the “joy, joy, joy, down in your heart”?

Maybe it’s buried beneath a hefty mound of baggage. Now that all your presents are unwrapped, perhaps it’s time to do some unpacking.

Join me on Internet Cafe Devotions as we talk about seemingly random behavior in light of our bulging suitcases.

(Read the article here.)

Then tomorrow come back as I post the last of my top 20 blog post finds for 2011.

A Journey of Self-discovery

Today’s post comes to us from a dear sister in Christ, Joanne Troppello.

Joanne is an author of mystery and inspirational romance novels.  Her second novel, Mr. Shipley’s Governess, was recently released by Wild Horse Press.  She is at work on her next novel, a romantic suspense.  She is married and loves spending time with her husband and family. http://joannetroppello.weebly.com/blog.html

A Journey of Self-Discovery

A journey of self-discovery is bittersweet ~ first, you see the person you are and then, you see the person God wants you to become.

Who am I? What kind of person is looking back at me when I look into the mirror every day? That question has been on my mind lately. My husband and I have been reading the book, Deadly Emotions by Dr. Don Colbert. We read a section every night after our Bible reading time before we pray together. This book has been very intense—but in a good way. We’ve been learning how negative emotions are really toxic for your physical body and that there is a connection between your mind/soul, body and spirit. I always knew that but this book has driven that point home to me.

In this life each person carries baggage. It is part of life’s cycle. We’re born, we live and we die. The important question is what are you doing with your time while you’re here? Are you living and preparing for eternity? Do you even care what’s going to happen when you die? Do you think how you live your life even matters?

I think the how and the why matters more than we think they do. As a Christian, I am saved by grace and know where I’m going when I die, but I still believe that “faith without works is dead.” God has called us to be good stewards of our lives—time, talents, wealth, the whole package. Are we living with an attitude of gratitude or only looking at things with the glass is half-empty perspective? Are we living with the good of others in mind or only for our own gain?

I know…I told you this book, by Dr. Colbert, is good. It has gotten me thinking about life. I’m trying to live my life being good to my body. I work out three times a week, I try to eat healthy foods, but have I really been good to my soul? Yes, I’ve been feeding my spirit by reading God’s Word and praying, but I’ve been neglecting my mind/soul. Every time I allow anger or depression or tension or any other negative emotion to rule in my life, it is not only harming my mind/soul, but also is negatively affecting my physical body.

My Pastor once said if you get two out of three in line, the other one will fall into place as well. He was speaking about feeding the spirit with God’s Word and taking care of your soul and emotions so that your flesh would stay in line. So, that’s where I’m at right now—really learning how to take my time on this journey of self-discovery and find out how to become the woman of faith God really wants me to be. His grace is definitely sufficient for ALL things!

The Hardest Ones to Forgive by Ane Mulligan

Although I don’t believe in denying or suppressing emotions, I do believe in approaching them with caution and balance. There are times when our reasoning must over-ride our emotional response. This is often the case with forgiveness. Most often, I believe the determined choice to forgive comes first. The emotions follow as God aligns our emotions to match our choice. Today Ane Mulligan shares how this proved true in her life.

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The Hardest Ones to Forgive by Ane Mulligan

Sometimes, the hardest person to forgive is the one we love the most. We expect better from them. I can’t even remember what the argument was about, now, or what he said that hurt my feelings.

But I definitely remember the feelings. You know the “poor me” ones. Why is it wallowing in self-pity feels so good? I stood at the kitchen sink, long after he’d gone to work, washing the same cup over and over again and crying.

Of course, y’all know that’s exactly when the Holy Spirit decided this was an excellent time for an attitude adjustment. Well, I couldn’t agree more. The hubs certainly needed one!

Oh … You meant me? ME?

 

I argued with the Lord for a while. I mean really. After what I’d been subjected to, I needed some more wallow time. Finally I said, “Okay, Lord. Take these feelings from me. I forgive him.”

I dunked the cup back in the water, splashing soap bubbles up in my face. As quickly as I’d handed over my feelings to God, I snatched them back. “But he was so mean.”

Disclaimer here: the hubs was not mean. It was a clear case of I was right and he was wrong and refused to admit it—wink.

This tug-of-war with my self-pity went on for another 20 minutes. Finally, I gave up and gave into God. I let Him take my feelings and work on me. He could work on the hubs later.

I dried the cup and put it away. Then I tried to tap into my feelings again, but the Lord had done what He promised. They were gone. There wasn’t one iota of self-pity left. I’d truly forgiven.

What a freeing feeling. I had to laugh. I could hear the Lord chuckling at me and laughter is so contagious.

Hmm … I may try that next time.

Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, she’s worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), business manager, drama director and writer—her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for fiction (try saying that three times fast). She’s editor of the popular literary blog Novel Journey—one of Writers Digest’s 101 Top Websites for Writers, a humor columnist for ACFW’s e-zine Afictionado, and a past Board member of ACFW. She’s published dozens of plays and numerous articles and won several awards in contests for unpublished novels. A mom and grandmother, she resides in Suwanee, GA, with her husband and one very large dog.

You can find her at:
Her personal website Southern-fried Fiction
Come back tomorrow as we discuss how to handle perpetual wounds. What do you do when the one you’re trying to forgive continues to hurt you?

Fighting To Forgiveness

It was a beautiful spring day. Praise music drifted from my car speaker, and I didn’t have a care on my mind…until I stepped from the car. Standing with my hand on the gas hose, my thoughts took a wayward, and very unexpected turn. Out of nowhere, a memory resurfaced, bringing with it a surge of anger.

Dazed, I finished filling my tank, got back in the car, and tried to make sense of the situation. I’d forgiven this person long ago. Lord, don’t you remember all the prayers I sent out? Don’t you remember the tears I shed? Don’t you remember my surrender?

At first I felt defeated. Maybe my forgiveness hadn’t been genuine. So I poured my heart out to God once again, asking Him to remove this sudden surge of anger, committing myself, yet again, to forgiveness.

Since then, I’ve talked with others recovering from emotional pain and they’ve often shared similar scenarios. After fighting against it, ranting and raving, telling God how unfair the situation is and how He needs to send lightning bolts from heaven to set this offending person in their place, they surrender with a humbled, broken heart and trembling hands. Then freedom washes over them as God surrounds them with His love and they go about their day, only to be blind sighted a week, month, maybe even years later, when old emotions re-surface.

The truth is, forgiveness is not always a one-time event. Nor does it always begin with emotion. In fact, in my experience, it never starts with emotion. It begins with a rational decision to forgive, a teeth-gritting commitment followed by a desperate cry to God for help. But as we continue to draw near to Him, determining to forgive and surrendering our hurt, angry and bitter thoughts to Him, He begins to align our feelings to match our commitment.

But while God’s working to bring us wholeness and freedom, our adversary the devil’s devising counter measures to keep us in bondage and isolation. The last thing Satan wants is unity, but he probably won’t attack you when you’re in the middle of prayer. No, he’ll wait until your caught up in life to bombard you because then, just maybe you’ll be surprised enough to give in.

Satan is a thief and destroyer. He wants to rob you of your joy, your victory, and your peace. He wants to destroy you and your family. (John 10:10) The minute you take a step towards wholeness, Satan begins scheming how he can steal it from you. But here’s the good news. If you are in Christ, he can only work by your permission–he can only wiggle that foot into the door of your heart if you give him a foothold. Satan wants to destroy you, but Christ, who defeated Satan on the cross, came to give you life. Each day, you have a choice to grab one or the other. You grab onto life by drawing near to Christ in surrendered obedience, regardless how you feel. He takes care of the rest.

James 4:7-8 is one of my favorite verses, one I claim as a promise. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

When I resist the devil he flees from me. Stop and envision this for a moment—Satan fleeing, running fast in the other direction—from you. Now, envision the second part of this verse—God surrounding you. The Creator of the universe holding you in the palm of His hand. The Bible promises me, when I draw near to God, He draws near to me. Whether I feel His presence or not, this verse promises that God meets me the moment I turn to Him. James 4:7-8 is a recipe for victory, but to be victorious, I need to take hold of this promise and put it into action.

That day at the gas station, for a moment, I hovered between abundant life and defeat. Initially, I grabbed onto those bitter thoughts I once fought against with such determination. I held them, worked them, analyzed them…and quickly spiraled into increased anger. But luckily, God is bigger and never removes His lovingly watchful eye. As I sat in my car, oscillating between bitterness and surrender, He gently spoke to my heart, reminding me of His better way.

So, once again, I turned my pain and anger over to Him, asking Him to remove the negative emotions clouding my heart, replacing them with His goodness and love.

Then I prayed for the person who’d hurt me, which, I believe, is where the true power of forgiveness comes. Even if your prayer begins with gritted teeth.

I normally go through a series of steps, as I alluded to in an earlier post. First, I take my thoughts captive and refuse to dwell on or work the injustice in my mind. I tell God, openly and honestly how I feel, reminding myself that He understands. That He cares. Then, I ask God to remove my anger and bitterness and heal my wounds, surrounding me in His perfect love. (For it is His love, filling our deepest need and soothing our deepest wounds that heals us.) Then I pray for that person as I would for my own child, trusting God to align my emotions with my choice and prayer.

Come back tomorrow when Ane Mulligan shares an example of how this worked in her life–of a time when her forgiveness started with a choice and was followed by emotional release.

Raw Emotions

Emotions are a confusing issue in the evangelical world. It seems we jump to one of two extremes: either we rely heavily on our emotions, sacrificing truth; or we relegate them to the flesh in suppressed denial. Neither extreme is healthy and I wonder if perhaps both lead to the same emotion–bitterness. Tuesday we discussed the problems with allowing wounds to fester. Our wounds fester when we rehash them again and again, working the perceived injustice in our mind until it consumes our every thought. But I believe suppressed denial follows a similar path, the traveler’s journey is just a bit quieter. For a time, anyway, until those swallowed-down, pent-up emotions grow to the point of explosion. Then, watch out! There she blows–only it normally isn’t the inciting incident that leads to explosion. It’s a pen that ran out of ink, a driver going too slow on the freeway, or an unsuspecting spouse who happens to glance right when they should have glanced left.

Because of this, many opt for a get-it-off-your-chest, tell-all approach. When we lived in California, I participated in a Mom’s Club. This was the approach they opted for, and every meeting ended the same–in increased anger and bitterness as each of us fueled one another’s furry. Normally one mom would start us off, launching into the latest injustice performed by her spouse. Before long, everyone joined in the vent-fest, matching one another story-for-story. Only problem, by the time we were done, everyone felt worse, not better. No resolutions had been reached and the venting that was supposed to “get things off our chest” only added kindling to the smoldering fire.

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

According to this verse, there’s no room for venting…to one another. But we can and should vent to God.

This is the behavior I see demonstrated by David again and again. When you read through 1 Samuel, you’ll notice he didn’t spend his time bashing Saul. He could have, and likely would have found a sympathetic audience. Instead, David spoke well of Saul! Now that’s a tough one to swallow. If it had been me, sadly, I would have thrown a few pity parties, inviting everyone to come! But David didn’t do that. Instead, he turned to the only One who could truly help–God. Then, he held absolutely nothing back. He poured his heart out to God with raw, unhindered, unmasked honesty, openly acknowledging the depths of his pain, asking God to help him, hold him, carry him and strengthen him.

I believe a false notion has crept into Christianity. We believe faith is the absence of fear and praise is the absence of pain.

According to John C. Hutchison, author of Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong, rejoicing in sufferings isn’t celebrating the trial or pain, but instead, celebrating the God who carries you through it: “The biblical teaching of joy or rejoicing has more to do with a confidence in one’s convictions than it does with emotion…When we rejoice in suffering, it is an expression of faith, a conviction that God is in control and that He is doing something constructive and good through this experience. Our en-joy-ment as Christians is in the belief that God is at work in our midst.” (pg 60)

Throughout the psalms, this is what David did. He didn’t celebrate the pain or injustice. His praise centered on who God was, what He’d done in the past, and what David believed He would do in the future. There appears to be an oft repeated pattern to David’s prayers.

1. He openly and honestly vented to God:

Psalm 142:1-4 (NIV)

I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
2 I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.

3 When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.

Psalm 102:3-11

For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

Psalm 109:1-5

My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
2 for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
4 In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
5 They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

Notice, these are not words of celebration. They are words of deep anguish and depression.

2. Next, David changes his focus, off the problem and placed it on God. This is when his pain turns to praise, not for the situation, but instead, for God’s steadfast, all-powerful, loving character:

Psalm 142:5

I cry to you, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

God is His refuge.

Psalm 102: 12-17

12 But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

God is powerful, glorious and sovereign and listens to the prayers of His children.

3. Then he asks God for help. The psalms provide numerous examples of this, but in order to spare you another 1,000 or so words, I’ll let you look them up yourself. Read through the psalms and notice if you don’t see a similar pattern. God recorded David’s prayers for a reason. I believe they serve as models to us.

To recap, when David experienced deep emotional pain he:

1. Refused to vent to others

2. He shared his feelings openly and honestly with God

3. He focused on God’s character (who God is)

4. He asked God for help

I believe these steps allowed him to deal effectively with his emotions, enabling him to heal completely. I believe the same is possible for us, although I don’t think forgiveness is  always, nor a one-time event. I often use the term, “fighting to forgiveness” to describe this continual process. Come back Tuesday to learn the meaning of this phrase, why forgiveness often resembles a determined fight, and how we can stay in the ring until the victory bell chimes.