Tag Archives: Emotion

Humanity in the Toddler Stage

At that time the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.”
Deuteronomy 10:1-2 (NRSV)

For many years now I’ve been mulling over a concept that the story of God’s relationship with humanity is the story of a parent (God) and child (humanity). When humanity began in Genesis and the early chapters of the story, it reminds me of infancy. There was something innocent and naive; there was very little knowledge or understanding of God. Humanity was undeveloped. Life was messy and base.

With the story of Moses and the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy, it feels to me that we’re in the toddler stages of the relationship. God has to do a lot for them. Rules are simple and direct and put in black and white terms. Good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is swiftly punished. Humanity, meanwhile, is strong willed, stubborn, willful, and…well…childish.

I was reminded of this concept again in today’s chapter. Moses, in his unchecked emotional tantrum, threw the stone tablets God made for him on which the ten commandments were inscribed and smashed them in pieces. God’s response? Like a true parent God tells Moses, “Now you’ve done it. You smashed the tablets I made you. Well, you’re going to have to replace them, young man. I’m not making you another set. You’re going to have to learn to take care of the things I give you. Now, make yourself tablets to replace the ones I gave you and I’ll inscribe them for you.” The replicas would be a word picture, a constant reminder to Moses (and the rest of the family) of his tantrum and its consequences.

In our weekly gatherings of Jesus followers we’re doing a series of messages on how we tend to confuse our relationship with our earthly father and our relationship with our heavenly Father. The former quite regularly distorts the latter. I tend to believe that this is part of the DNA of creation and it requires generous doses of wisdom, discernment and grace to untangle the two. At the same time, it also helps me see events like those in today’s chapter with greater clarity.

Shift Focus

 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt….
Deuteronomy 7:17-18 (NRSV)

There is a technical term used in movie making called “shift focus.” It’s when the camera is focused on one object while another object in the shot is blurry, then then camera shifts the focus so that the other object is in focus and the first object blurs out.  Filmmakers use this technique to transition the audience’s attention and to move the story along.

When things in life go wrong and times are tough, it’s easy to get myopically focused on our present circumstances. Our brains zero in on what’s happening in the moment and, as a result, our hearts can drive all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. These emotions can be spiritually crippling and paralyzing.

In today’s chapter, Moses anticipates that his people may find themselves in such circumstances. He instructs them to do a mental and spiritual shift focus as an antidote to their fears: remember.

  • Remember when you were slaves in Egypt and God delivered you.
  • Remember when the plagues hit and you remained safe.
  • Remember when the Egyptian army was chasing you and God miraculously saved you and gave you victory.

He could have gone on:

  • Remember when you thirsty and God provided water from a rock.
  • Remember when you were hungry and God sent bread from heaven.
  • Remember when you wandered and God sent both cloud and fire to lead you.

The shift focus from our present circumstances to past situations reminds us that God has been faithful in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe He will be faithful in my current situation?), that we survived in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe I’ll get through this), and that things eventually worked out (So why shouldn’t I trust that my current situation will work out, too?). The result is that our faith begins to counter our fear and our paralysis gives way to us moving forward.

Today, I’m reminded of the many times God has provided and protected me through the years. Why then, should I fear present troubles?

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Patient Response

Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.
Ezra 5:17 (NIV)

In less than two weeks I’ll finish my decade long tenure as President of our local community theatre. We’re a small organization in a small town so our troubles and travails are of little importance in the grand scheme of life. Still, I find it ironic that in the last few months of my term I have experienced more stress and anxiety than ever.

Our stage home resides in a very old building owned by the community that has served us well, but it is in need of extensive repairs and updating. The city is investigating the facility’s use and exploring all of the options available. This has created anxiety and fear for some people, and there have been strong reactions to the situation.

This came to mind this morning as I read of the Hebrews rebuilding the temple while their enemies and neighbors actively petitioned the king and worked political channels to make them stop. I can only imagine the diverse and passionate reactions they must have had among their people to the situation. It makes me glad that I’m merely dealing with a small community theatre and not a national crisis.

In today’s chapter, I read how the political process continued to work itself out. Accusations were met with investigation and the investigation is unearthing the truth of the situation. It takes time, but the Hebrews did well to remain faithful in the task and to trust God to work things out through the process. It’s a great lesson.

Looking back, I see how my passionate reactions to situations in life, motivated by fear and anxiety, have led to unwarranted overreactions. I’ve come to believe that life situations are best handled through patient and thoughtful response. Remaining prayerfully engaged and letting the process play out is rarely a foolish choice.


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featured photo:  janicskovsky
via Flickr

Managing Life’s Little Storms

All your fortresses are like fig trees 
with their first ripe fruit; 
when they are shaken, 
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
Nahum 3:12 (NIV)
Wendy and I got to the lake late Tuesday. A storm blew in and the worst of it came right over us. Lightning, thunder, heavy rain and straight line winds that wreaked havoc in the area. This included a blackout that had Wendy and me scrambling in the dark for candles as well as where we put the flashlights. An equally blustery storm of circumstance followed me yesterday as I attempted to fly to Texas for work and ended up stranded all day in Minneapolis. I had to scuttle my trip and pray myself on a flight back to KC so I could get back to the lake.
Life sometimes shakes us. Storms rage, whether it is of the natural or metaphorical variety. The real question is how we build our faith and lives to handle the maelstrom. In today’s chapter, the prophet Nahum describes the Assyrian’s preparedness as metaphorical fig trees. When shaken, they lose all their fruit.
Today, I am still admittedly tired from the storms of the past couple of days. I need another good night’s sleep and the travel stress has me still feeling a bit frazzled on the emotional end. But, I’m no worse for wear. Shaken, but feeling no less fruitful in the larger sense. In the grand scheme of things, these little life storms are blips on the radar that will come and go. A healthy perspective with an eye to the larger story, and a wee bit of faith are strong walls against life’s little tempests.

Robbery, and the Chain Reaction of Praise

San Antonio Robbery“Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
    and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
    How long must this go on?’
Habakkuk 2:6 (NIV)

How ironic that this verse should appear on the page this morning.

Two nights ago, while on a business trip in San Antonio, someone broke into my hotel room while I was away having dinner with my brother. I was staying a Courtyard Inn and had a first floor room on the interior courtyard. The thief or thieves broke the plate glass of the patio door, snatched my backpack, all my electronic gear, and all the training materials I needed for a week of customer service training and coaching. The thieves got away without the hotel’s security cameras seeing them. It appears that they knew exactly what they were doing to avoid being seen.

I’ll be honest with you. The first thing that popped into my mind when I realized I’d been robbed was a not-so-nice exclamatory word. The second thing that popped into my mind was “chain reaction of praise.”

For the past several months my local gathering of fellow Jesus followers have been focusing on incorporating a simple formula in our lives:

Praise God in all circumstances (especially the bad ones)

which activates your faith…

to pray powerful prayers…

and overcome evil…

preparing us to live and reign with Christ

So, there I stood in my hotel room with a nervous hotel assistant general manager and an apathetic police officer who seemed more interested in getting to the donut shop than investigating the break in. I began going through the litany of things missing. It was a lot. Personal laptop, work laptop, iPad, folio with all my work files, two irreplaceable pens (I’m a collector),  external hard drive with ALL my photos, etc. and etc. I was shocked and sad and frustrated and violated and confused and really, really pissed.

And through my mind, over and over again, went the chain reaction of praise. And, Jesus’ words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”

I continue to cycle through all sorts of emotions, and most of them are not positive. It’s part of the process. In the midst of them I’m continuing to choose into silently, in my spirit, whispering praise for all that I have which can never be taken away. I’m choosing to pray for those who have stolen from me, and hoping that they get their lives straightened out. Neither of these choices are coming very naturally to me, but I learned a long time ago that faith is often about choosing the path that feels the least natural. Leap, and the net will appear.

Today, I will spend my day assembling the list of things missing, finding serial numbers, going through files looking for receipts, and trying to piece my personal and work life back together from back up drives and the cloud. I will talk to insurance agents and be told all of the things they will not cover and the high deductible I will pay out-of-pocket for the things they will. If you run across me you may find me grumbling not-so-nice exclamations under my breath, or you may find me praising God and whispering a prayer for the thieves. It will depend on the moment. I’m still in process.

To Tell the Truth

source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr
source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr

“as long as I have life within me,
    the breath of God in my nostrils,
my lips will not say anything wicked,
    and my tongue will not utter lies.”
Job 27:3-4 (NIV)

I am what is known in general and colloquial psychological terms as a pleaser. It’s always been my nature to desire relational peace with others and to want others to “be pleased” with me. Like all personality bents, being a pleaser has both its strengths and corollary struggles. On the plus side, I tend to be amiable and easy to get along with. I’m not usually given to strong public reaction, rather holding my emotions in check until I can process and thoughtfully respond. I’m generally diplomatic and tend to be sensitive to all sides in a conflict. The downside is that I will sometimes stuff my emotions until they begin eating away at my soul like corrosive acid. I respond to others in the way that will make them happy rather than responding in a way that is true in expressing what I really think, feel, and believe. Throughout my life journey I have been guilty of suppressing and submitting my own thoughts, will, and emotions to the thoughts, will, and emotions of others in order to please and placate. For the record, that that never turns out well¹.

Interestingly enough, I am married to a woman who lies at the opposite end of the personality spectrum. “Holding emotions in check” and “suppressing strong reactions” are not apt descriptors for Wendy, but “emotionally expressive” and “forthright honesty” definitely hit the mark. This, of course, makes for some really interesting conversational choreography when it comes to conflict in our house, but we’ve learned a few steps from one another which has ultimately made us better relational dance partners.

So it is that I really appreciated reading Job’s honesty in today’s chapter. Job reveals the same qualities that I admire and appreciate in Wendy. He will not suppress, submit his thoughts and emotions to please or placate his wife or three friends. He is compelled to be honest and true in expressing his thought and emotion, realizing that it would actually be wicked of him to be dishonest about his anger and frustration with God. It would be a lie to plead guilty to some heinous sin that precipitated his suffering. It would be untrue to say that he’s okay with his lot when he honestly feels that his suffering and circumstances are utterly unjust.

This morning I’m realizing that, if I were in Job’s sandals, I would be tempted just to say to my friends, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for setting me straight, guys.” I admire Job’s honesty. It challenges me. I appreciate his willingness to tell the truth about what he really thinks and feels, even though it’s not what the others want to hear. That’s a trait that this pleaser has been striving to develop over time.

I think I’ve made progress. I’ve got a good coach! :-)


¹See exhibit A: the divorce decree.

The Mediator

source: eulothg via Flickr
source: eulothg via Flickr

If only there were someone to mediate between us,
someone to bring us together,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Job 9:33-34 (NIV)

There is a line that exists somewhere between despair and self-pity, between honest expression of negative emotion and the self-centric surrender to it. The former is a sincere processing of the emotions in an effort to progress through to a place of understanding. The latter is stagnation and wallowing in the emotions as a means towards self-gratifying pity of self and others.

In today’s chapter, Job is sinking deeper into despair. Job feels condemned and judged by God, but I find that he himself has already tried, judged, and condemned God in his own mind:

  • God is so great as to be inconsiderate.
  • God is so lofty as to be unconcerned.
  • God is so aloof to the point of injustice.
  • God has already tried, judged, executed perverted justice on Job.

Job feels shunned, alienated, and condemned by a distant and impersonal Creator. In his despair he laments that he has no mediator to stand in the gap, to bring he and God together, and to remove God’s rod of wrath and condemnation. In this cosmic plea Job ushers us all to the universal human point: we someone to reconcile us to God. Job’s cry now lifts us out of the momentary circumstances of human suffering into the eternal theme of God’s story. Job speaks out of the depths of recorded human history for all of us who have despaired and felt alienated, shunned, and condemned by the one we perceive to be a distant, uncaring God.

If we are willing to progress through our pain and despair to a place of understanding, we discover God’s answer born in a manger, subjected to unjust suffering, condemned to an unjust death, executed on a cross, and raised to Life. The one who bridges the distance and stands in the gap to bring us and God together.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.