The Emotional Experience
When I was in high school, someone gave me a pin-on button that said “Moody, but cute.” I liked the cute part. But moody? I was a happy-go-lucky person. Or so I thought. When I started thinking about it, I had to admit…yep, I’m moody, too. In fact, I was more certain of my moodiness than my cuteness! I guess I didn’t notice my moodiness much because it was just the way I experienced life – different emotions for different moments. My emotions made sense to me. In fact, they helped me make sense of the world. Taking a step back, I decided I had a lot to learn because, to be quite honest, my emotions weren’t always appropriate. They often poked out all over the place, spearing the people around me.
I learned early that being emotional was “normal.” I don’t know if it was because I was raised in a family of girls (and I was the youngest), but emotions were expected and accepted. Well, perhaps not always accepted, but the variety of emotions didn’t seem to take anyone by surprise. If the emotion was negative, the offender was often ignored. I remember many pity parties the family refused to join in. Oh, not necessarily my own (although I had my fair share!).
And then there have been my aha emotional moments, particularly when my emotions haven’t matched someone else’s in a situation – whether the intensity or the emotion itself differed. One person was angry while I was joyful. I was frustrated when someone else was peaceful. The differences in and of themselves caused tension at times. Like when my family was on vacation in Florida…
I was around five years old and heard my parents talking about a toll bridge. Except I didn’t hear “toll bridge.” I heard “troll bridge” – and I was scared.
Being scared quickly escalated to petrified when my sisters – on either side of me in the backseat – began sharing troll stories. I was scared enough just thinking of the trolls in Three Billy Goats Gruff, and those were drawings. When my sisters started describing the menacing, vengeful trolls of their twisted imaginations, I couldn’t take it any longer. We had to cross the toll bridge, but I didn’t have to look. I crouched on the floorboard and tried to slide as far under the seat as possible.
The trolls didn’t get me, and my now apparent fear got my mom’s attention. She reprimanded my sisters, but it didn’t do much good. They’d seen the fear in my eyes, and they were going to carry this as far as they could.
Each night in the hotel, two of us would share a bed, Mom and Dad would get a bed, and the other girl slept on a rollaway bed. I loved the rollaway bed, so I looked forward to my nights. As we approached the hotel later in the toll bridge day, whichever sister had the rollaway assignment for the night asked if I wanted to trade nights. Of course, I did! At least something was going right in my day.
I should have known. My sister didn’t offer to exchange nights out of the goodness of her heart. It was a conspiracy to torment me. You see, the rollaway would be placed in the open space by the balcony overlooking the ocean. A beautiful view – until my sisters started sharing stories of how the trolls trudged out of the ocean every evening looking for little girls to eat and how trolls ate the first girl they saw, which would obviously be the one closest to the ocean. I think they also told me something twisted like the only way the troll wouldn’t get me is if I was really still and didn’t say anything about being scared. A slick way to get me not to tell Mom and Dad I was terrified!
I remember what that room looked like in the light and in the dark, what the crashing waves sounded like, and what my sisters’ occasional muffled giggles sounded like. I didn’t know if I would survive the night, but of course, I did. I don’t know if Mom or Dad put a stop to the torment or not, but I don’t remember any more nights of terror. The next day wasn’t as scary in the daylight, and I enjoyed beach time.
A half dozen years later, I opened a gift from my sisters. It was an ugly troll. Very funny. What did I learn about emotions? First, they can be stirred up even when imagination doesn’t match reality. Second, my emotions don’t always match someone else’s in the same situation. Third, our emotional responses can make us vulnerable.
What about you? What’s one experience you recall that taught you something about emotions?
I’m going to assume we have something in common. Do you, like me, want God to work through you? I so often cry out with that desire. But I have to constantly remind myself that in order for God to work through me, I have to be willing to allow him to work in me. He’s changing me from the inside out. And it’s not easy for me to allow him to change me.
Which do you typically choose – the hard or the easy? I want to assure you that right doesn’t always mean easy. I’m not suggesting you choose the hard way just to take the hard way. You need to seek and choose God’s way, but if you assume God’s way is going to be easy, you’re in for a surprise. I have good news for you, though. God can ordain the hard of life, too. I encourage you not to assume that you can discern based on your personal experiences of difficulty, struggle, peace or ease.
We often ask ourselves and others “What do I feel?”
I’ve asked this question many times, and while I don’t think the question in and of itself is bad – I’ve learned a lot about myself and others by answering it. We can get caught up in the emotion itself without moving beyond the emotion. The emotion becomes the end result instead of a hint of what’s going on or what should happen next. So, let’s go one step forward and regularly ask ourselves another question:
“Where am I and where am I headed? Is it where God wants me to go?”
Sometimes, you might feel paralyzed, as if you have no idea where you’re headed or if it’s where God wants you to go. Revisit the emotion and measure it against who you know God to be. Rest on the truth of his words and his character. Let that determine if the direction that emotion usually leads you (or perhaps the place it causes you to camp) is a direction or place God would want you to go.
As you consider “Where am I and where am I headed? Is it where God wants me to go?”, I encourage you to read Psalm 139. Here’s a sample of verses:
“You know when I sit down and when I get up. You know my thoughts before I think them. Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run from you? If I rise with the sun in the east and settle in the west beyond the sea, even there you would guide me. With your right hand you would hold me. I could say, ‘The darkness will hide me. Let the light around me turn into night.’ But even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as light as the day; darkness and light are the same to you.” (verses 2,7,9-12)
So…what will you put your whole heart into today for God?
Today’s blog is adapted from the Pure Emotion women’s Bible study.Susan Lawrence is passionate about equipping and encouraging women through writing and speaking. She’s the author of two Bible studies, Pure Purpose and Pure Emotion. She loves dark chocolate and long walks, especially when her toes are in sand! Check out Susan’s words of encouragement and send her a note at http://www.purepurposebook.wordpress.com./. You can also connect on at www.facebook.com/PurePurpose or www.twitter/susanhlawrence.