Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions (Part 1)

Emotions are automatic, instinctive reactions within us to circumstances and relationships with others. The television news channel may stir negative feelings within you. Your spouse may inspire positive responses upon your return home. Perhaps you react to the misbehavior of a child, or the warmth of a phone call from a distant friend. Emotions are triggered deep in our limbic system resulting in a wide range of feelings. 

Our brain develops habits and patterns of responding to different situations resulting in our feelings. When they are stuck in a negative state, such as anxiety, depression, shame, or anger, reactions seem to take over, often in an overwhelming manner. We feel like we have no control over the emotions we are experiencing.

Reflect on the emotions of each person in:  Genesis 42:1 – 46:34; I Kings3:16-28; II Peter 2:12-15; Luke 22:39-62 & Matthew 27:1-5

From a Biblical perspective, our emotions are a part of our inner life, or the heart.  Apart from Christ, we seem like simply a “higher order” animal, as evolutionary theory postulates.  In Christ, however, our true identity is discovered, made in the image of God, created for fellowship with Him and with purpose given to us by Him.  Either way, our emotions are part of our normal human experience, with both positive feelings like joy or excitement, and negative feelings such as scared, sad or angry.

The heart knows its own bitterness,
And a stranger does not share its joy.”
Proverbs 14:10

A joyful heart makes a cheerful face,
But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.”
Proverbs 15:13

Reflect on John 14:27; 16:6; Psalm 69:20; 73:21-22; 84:2; II Peter 2:12-15

While each emotion we experience can be managed through more specific strategies, there are general principles which are helpful to understand as you seek self-mastery over negative emotional states.

Non-judgmental self-acceptance.  Tune in to emotions and accept what you feel.  Reacting negatively to your feelings will only lead to more emotional turmoil within you.  Awareness is necessary. Not judging yourself for feeling angry, anxious, or depressed, is a starting point foundational to the change strategies noted in the rest of this article.

 “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:8-10

Reflect on John 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:26-27; Romans 1:7; 3:24

Challenge your thinking.  If you have developed ways of thinking that are judgmental or if you tend to magnify negative events and minimize positive experiences, learn to challenge these unhealthy thought patterns.  The same applies if you are overly critical of yourself or see everything as a threat to you.  Many other negative thought patterns can be identified and thus can be changed.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:1-5

Reflect on II Cor. 10:3-5; I Peter 1:6-9, 13-16

Distract yourself.  When you find yourself ruminating about something upsetting, a distraction technique can help.  You can redirect your mind to something more positive and rewarding. An example might be learning to give thanks or to focus on what you are grateful for in general. 

 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

Reflect on Hebrews 11:32-12:4; II Corinthians 10:3-5; Psalm 19:1

Value love.  Whether friendship or marriage, parent or child, an unselfish love is to be valued highly for the sake of one’s emotional health.  Paradoxically, it is by tuning into others, not ourselves, that our own need for love becomes fulfilled.  Love will motivate the repair of broken relationships and unity with others.  It will also bring emotional balance to your life with the fruit of having other positive emotional experiences.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10

Reflect on I Corinthians 13:1-13; I John 4:7-21, Heb. 10:24-25; Eph.3:14-19, 4:11-16; John 13:34-35

Next week we will continue Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions.

Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, October 2018.

Seeking Balance to Live Life (Part 3)

This is a continuation of last week’s Seeking Balance to Live Life (Part 2).

Accept vulnerability. You are vulnerable to many uncertainties in life, because no one can predict the future.  You are vulnerable to the past through unwanted thoughts and feelings because the past cannot be eliminated. Instead of trying to control them, accept their existence and give them less power by refocusing your mind in a valued direction.

Reflect on Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 10:16-20; Romans 13:1-10; 15:1-7

Manage your thoughts.  Even when you breathe, you can say to yourself “I am breathing in relaxation and acceptance, and (with each exhale) I am experiencing peace and life.”   Learn to challenge the unhealthy thoughts connected to the fight-flight or shut-down response, using healthier, life-giving truths that help you experience life more fully. 

Reflect on Philippians 4:8; II Corinthians 10:3-5

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

For as he thinks within himself, so he is. Proverbs 23:7a

Choose Love.  Open up to giving and receiving love.  It is the highest value, and through it we all can experience freedom from the ravages of the fight-flight or fright response.  Forgiveness for ourselves and others is found under the umbrella of love, as is hope for the future.  As philosophers and spiritually minded people have indicated for millennia, love is a resource which will never run out.

Reflect on John 17:23; I Corinthians 13; I John 3:16-18; I John 4:7-21

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2019.

Seeking Balance to Live Life (Part 2)

This is a continuation of last week’s post on Seeking Balance to Live Life.

Assess the threat.  Is the threat realistic or more in our own minds?  Mark Twain said “I’ve lived a long and horrible life, and most of it never happened.”  Our minds are often the true battlefield wherein we struggle.  We magnify perceived threats, demand impossible perfection from ourselves for fear of rejection, minimize our own strengths, and so on.

Reflect on Proverbs 28:1-2; Ephesians 6:10-12
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” II Timothy 1:7

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” I Thessalonians 5:21-22

Resolve memories.  When we do get attacked and injured, the memory of it is often where people become stuck.  We can relive the experience over and over, even in nightmares.  Instead, face those memories, grieve what needs grieving, confront what needs confronting, and seek resolution so that you may live in the present.  Let go of labels about yourself that hold you back.

Reflect on Exodus 1:14; Ruth 1:20
The heart knows its own bitterness,
And a stranger does not share its joy. Proverbs 14:10

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32

Breathe.  Focusing and taking charge of your breathing connects the deep limbic system with the conscious, thinking part of the brain.  You can slow your breaths to six breaths a minute, five seconds in and five seconds out, for example.  We can also consider how God breathed life into us and has given us this gift of life.

Reflect on  Proverbs 14:30; Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 3:21; Psalm 150:6

“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22

Choose your valued direction.  There are many roads from which to choose, so consider your values and beliefs, and choose wisely.  Move in that direction, allowing it to energize you.  It is a continuing process.  Remember, you are living life, contributing to the world.  Commit yourself to ongoing action, knowing life is not a destination, but a journey.

Reflect on: Elisha in II Kings 2:9; Titus 2:14

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. “ Ephesians 2:10;

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” I Corinthians 12:4-7

Next week we will finish up Seeking Balance to Live Life.

Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2019.

Seeking Balance to Live Life (Part 1)

Life throws us curve balls, or sometimes fast balls that really hurt when we are hit.  We find  ourselves battling various threats to our well-being, like a swordsman parrying the attack of an enemy.  At a visceral level, we feel the fight-flight or fright response taking place in our central nervous system. 

This automatic response to threats may lead us to anxiety and panic.  We find ourselves running in flight mode, seeking to avoid the danger that feels like a cougar on our back with its claws and teeth taking the life out of us.  Or, we turn and fight, becoming more vicious ourselves like a pit-bull fighting for its life.  Sometimes we give up and play possum, with our system in total shut-down mode.   

Reflect on Elijah in I Kings 18:16-19:4

How do we manage these situations so we may pursue a meaningful and productive life? 

Here are a few tips which may help.   

Notice your avoidance pattern.  What feelings and experiences are you seeking to avoid?  Evaluate your own fight-flight or fright pattern in your thoughts and actions. Learn to become an observer of your own responses to perceived threats.  Addictions and various emotional and psychological problems can grow out of this pattern.

Reflect on Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 42 –Genesis 44

Learn acceptance.  Rather than fighting your emotional reactions, befriend them.  These physical and emotional responses are automatic, signaling you that some threat is present.  The real enemy is your learned patterns of avoidance.  You are seeking increased flexibility and freedom in your life.   For example, you may gain freedom by saying a loving “No,” when necessary, if you are prone to say “Yes,” against your will to avoid the discomfort of offending someone.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7

Reflect on James 4:6-10

Open up to life.   Refocus yourself to the world around you.  Learn to appreciate the art that is all around you.  Enjoy the varied types of music.  Appreciate the seasons and the beauty of nature, which has been called “the greatest show on earth.”  Dogs, cats, birds, horses, and creatures from the animal kingdom all have something to offer as you open up to life in the direction of your choice. The Lord has made all things for you to enjoy in His presence.

Reflect on Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1-6

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17

Next week we will continue Seeking Balance to Live Life.

Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2019.