Some of our most common questions are about emotions. As we share in small groups or one-to-one, on some of the daily struggles we face as we live “in the Spirit” or attempt to “walk in the Spirit,” we often struggle with feeling up or down or sideways! We start our days well, but a word or a glance or smirk can turn us around or throw us into chaos and essentially, “ruin my day.” What is that? Why does that happen? I’m not a psychologist or professional counselor. And I’m not pretending to be here. I do know that we often, in the words of the title of Dr. John Townsend’s book: “Hiding From Love – How to change the withdrawal patterns that isolate and imprison you”, cover up what we are feeling and how we are responding to the people and situations in our domains or life settings. Instead of engaging, we often withdraw and in so doing we ignore or repress things that are true about ourselves and how God made us. And we cover up some of the ways sin and fallenness have broken and short-circuited us.
This has come up in a couple of conversations that I’ve had recently and it’s been on my mind. So, I was struck this morning when I read this from my friend, priest and psychologist Henri Nouwen (this is from “Bread for the Journey” from Henri Nouwen Society):
The Dynamics of the Spiritual Life
“Our emotional lives and our spiritual lives have different dynamics. The ups and downs of our emotional life depend a great deal on our past or present surroundings. We are happy, sad, angry, bored, excited, depressed, loving, caring, hateful, or vengeful because of what happened long ago or what is happening now.
The ups and downs of our spiritual lives depend on our obedience – that is, our attentive listening – to the movements of the Spirit of God within us. Without this listening our spiritual life eventually becomes subject to the windswept waves of our emotions.”
Of course, this is not the complete answer to my question above, but it does give us a key. We can not expect to be be stable and balanced (in our brokenness; while still on earth) if we are not “listening” to the Spirit’s voice. A.W. Tozer says that we must go to scripture as a story, not as an encyclopedia. And to God as a person not as an abstract entity. That all becomes a part of our listening.
Hiding from Separateness
Both Nouwen and Townsend talk a lot about how we look to others to be something that is impossible –> being God for us. This shows up in a number of ways. Townsend wrote, “Our second major developmental need is to become a person with will, boundaries, and an accurate sense of responsibility. This is our need for separateness. Our need for separateness can be damaged by relational experiences where either we say no to taking biblical responsibility for ourselves or we say yes to taking unbiblical responsibility for another person.” Townsend goes on to say that the fear we have in separateness deficits is that being separate will cause abandonment and isolation. The prospect of setting boundaries strikes terror that we will be forever alone. And it is that fear that Jesus wants us to bring to him. He can and will be God for us. He can be our home and protection.
In the title track of her latest album “Desire Like Dynamite”, Sandra McCracken sings: “Sweeping it all inside with dynamite…” Our desires, our emotions are very powerful. They can control us. As we understand and take ownership of the person God is making us into, we learn to live in community with our identities from the creative hand and voice of God. We receive the voices of those with whom we journey as what they are: fellow travelers. No more and no less. Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Yet, there is one voice that we listen for above all the rest. It is the voice of the Spirit who stirs within us a life of freedom and joy in the midst of whatever challenge life might bring us.
So, I remind us to cultivate a listening ear and a listening heart that receives God’s words that he has “crowned us with honor and glory.” He is the only one who can give us all that we need.