Dealing With Our Emotions

emotionsRecently, I read a really devotion from Every Man Ministries about our emotions.  How do we as men “typically” deal with the hard stuff in life? The following are some ways in which we respond that can be very destructive both to our lives and those around us. I think it gives us a great idea of what to avoid as we pursue sexual purity AND emotional wholeness…

When it comes to dealing with our emotions, men run for the hills – alone.  We are not good at facing our feelings, let alone talking about them.  Most of us have been trained to treat our emotions like smelly socks that need to be washed, dried, and put back in the drawer.  Here’s what we do:

  • We hide and mask anger.
  • We internalize pressure.
  • We bury losses.
  • We deny being wounded.
  • We withdraw in the face of hard truth.
  • We push people away.
  • We change the scenery.
  • We keep secrets.

What Our Anger Is Telling Us

Anger is not good for you, at least not in its typical form.

New studies argue that regular feelings of anger increase the likelihood for heart disease, and that within two hours of an outburst, the chances of a heart attack or stroke skyrocket. Which means all you angry folks better watch out; it’s a dangerous foible.

But wait. Anger is more than a problem for “you angry people.” It is actually a problem for all of us — that includes you and me.

Traditionally, the anger issue has been divided up between those who get angry and those who don’t. Some personalities tend toward red-faced eruptions; others are unflappably relaxed and easy-going. But the truth is, everyone gets angry — it’s just expressed in different ways. Neurophysiologist Nerina Ramlakham says, “Now we separate people differently into those who hold rage in and those who express it out” (“Why Anger Is Bad for You”). The question, then, isn’t who gets angry, but why we all get angry.

And why we get angry has to do with love.

The Love Behind Anger

Anger doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s not an original emotion. In one degree or another, anger is our response to whatever endangers something we love. “In its uncorrupted origin,” says Tim Keller, “anger is actually a form of love” (“The Healing of Anger”). Anger is love in motion to deal with a threat to someone or something we truly care about. And in many ways, it can be right.

It is right that we get angry with the delivery guy who speeds down our street when our kids are playing in the front yard. That makes sense. The delivery guy puts our children in danger. It also would be right that we get angry about Boko Haram’s hideous evil in Nigeria. It is unbelievably horrible.

But if we’re honest, as much as there are right instances for our anger, most of our anger isn’t connected to the incidental dangers surrounding our children or the wicked injustices happening across the world. As much as we love our children and care about innocent victims, our anger typically points to other loves — disordered loves, as Keller calls them.

Those Inordinate Affections

Disordered loves, or “inordinate affections,” as Augustine called them, are part of the age-old problem of taking good things and making them ultimate. It’s the slippery terrain that goes from really loving our children to finding our identity in them, to thinking that our lives are pointless without the prosperity of our posterity. It’s that insidious shift that turns blessings into idols. And when our loves get disordered, our anger goes haywire.

We’ll find ourselves getting annoyed at the simplest, most harmless things — the things that really shouldn’t make us mad. Keller explains,

There’s nothing wrong with being ticked — getting angry to a degree — if somebody slights your reputation, but why are you ten times — a hundred times — more angry about it than some horrible violent injustice being done to people in another part of the world?

Do you know why? . . . Because . . . if what you’re really looking to for your significance and security is people’s approval or a good reputation or status or something like that, then when anything gets between you and the thing you have to have, you become implacably angry. You have to have it. You’re over the top. You can’t shrug it off.
If we find ourselves angry about getting snubbed in social media, or being cut off in traffic, or going unrecognized for work, or having an idea shut down, or feeling under-appreciated by our spouse — the problem might be that we love ourselves too much.

Three Steps Out

So what do we do? If anger is everyone’s problem, and if it often exposes our disordered loves, how do we break free from its claws? Here are three steps out.

1. Analyze the anger.

We must get into the details of anger and understand its source. It means that when we find ourselves getting angry — when those emotions start to rise up — we stop and ask: “What is this big thing that’s so important to me that I get this defensive?” What am I loving so much right now that my heart is moved to feel angry?

“If you ask that question,” says Keller, “if you do this analysis, more often than not you’ll immediately be embarrassed, because many, many times the thing you’re defending is your ego, your pride, your self-esteem.”

2. Feel sorrow for our sin.

We may feel embarrassed after asking these questions, or worse. Nothing is more ugly than opening the lid of our hearts to find this kind of corruption. But as rancid as it might be, we can face the fright with a bold sorrow. We are bold because the corruption, present though it is, cannot condemn us, or defeat us. Jesus has paid the price for that disordered love. He bore the wrath we deserved, freeing us from sin’s guilt. He rose from the dead, empowering us over sin’s dominion.

And then there is sorrow. We are rightfully sad for how slow our souls are in receiving God’s grace. We are sad that we find ourselves more perturbed by our wounded ego than we are by the abortions that take place downtown, that we shake our fists at rude media more than we lift our hands to heal the broken, that we inwardly mock those who disagree with us more than we publicly defend the rights of the voiceless. We are sad about that in our depths with a kind of serious sadness that isn’t content to leave it there. We are grieved into repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9–10). We turn, we say, No more, Lord. Please, no more.

3. Remember the love of Jesus.

The obvious solution to disordered love is ordered love. But we can’t flip a switch for that. We can’t just stop loving one object wrongly to start loving the most lovable object rightly — that is, unless we’re strengthened by the Spirit to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14–19).

When our eyes are opened to see and savor Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6), when we’re overcome by his grace (2 Corinthians 8:8–9), then we’re led to love him more than anything — and so increasingly care about the things that matter, and grow in not becoming angry when we shouldn’t be.

Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

The Life of Freedom

right-way-wrong-wayIt’s amazing how the Word of God so accurately describes what living with freedom really looks like. Whether you’re in sexual recovery or still very much addicted, the following verses describe 2 realities: The Spirit led life and the “Self” led life.

“My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.”  – Galatians 2:16-21 (MSG)

Dealing with Grief & Pain

(Originally written May 14, 2011 – Taken from my journal)

Last night, Tracey & I watched a movie called “Rabbit Hole” starring Nicole Kidman & Aaron Eckhart along with some other pretty well known stars. Essentially, the story is about a husband & wife who must cope with dealing with the loss of their young son. It chronicles an honest & emotional journey of how two people deal with grief & pain. I was especially impressed with the movie because I felt like it was just plain real. Grief is not sugar coated & there are no easy, quick answers given to the couple in the movie as to why this tragic thing happened to them in life. Definitely a movie you should check out.

I suppose I wrote this not necessarily as a movie review, but as I was thinking about this idea of how different people deal with grief, I think one of the greatest things that I gained from the movie is that healing looks different for every single individual. If you watch the movie, you’ll find this couple deals with grief in some very different ways — but they are ways in which bring them together as a couple and not apart. After watching a movie like this, you’ll probably be asking yourself the same thing I’m asking myself: “How do I deal with great pain?” “Who or where do I find healing from when I’m hurt?” These are serious questions — especially in the light of the fact that we all go through trials & hard times in life. Someone once told me that you’re never truly in the clear. You’re either about to walk into a trial, about to walk through a trial, or about to walk out of a trial. Which one is it for you?

– Frank

Is My Life Pleasing to God?

Is my life pleasing to God? This question has been passing through my mind more & more lately. I’m trying to determine what is at the source of this question. Is it a guilt-based question or one based out of simply a desire to please God?

As a believer & as a former porn addict, I sometimes feel a tension in my life between where I am & perhaps where I should be. I know that recovery is a process. And I know that as a Christian, I’m still on a journey of sanctification that will most likely take the rest of my life.

If you’re still reading this post, then you can probably tell I am a deep thinker. Perhaps I think a little too deeply. But I know that is how I was created by God. What am I trying to say in this post? I think 2 things that come to mind that is important to remember:

1. The degree that I (we) spend time (even moment by moment throughout the day) with our Creator determines the course & the momentum of our healing.
2. Sanctification & healing is a process that takes place over the course of a life time.

Perhaps these aren’t necessarily profound things to read, but as a believer, I needed to write them today. To remember them & to reflect on them. The truth is that God loves me & wants to be the One who fulfills my life. I believe with each wise choice & action we take, God smiles upon us. And with each unwise, foolish choice we make, God’s faithful love continues to stir us back on track to where we need to be.