Tag Archives: Emotions

Surrounded and Slandered

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You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
    you, God, are my fortress,
    my God on whom I can rely.

Psalm 59:17 (NIV)

Today’s chapter, Psalm 59, is fascinating in that the liner notes reference something we don’t have a record of anywhere else in the Great Story. In earlier podcasts, like two days ago, when David finds himself with the opportunity to kill his antagonist and father-in-law, King Saul, in a cave, the whole story is well documented. The story referenced by David in today’s song is nowhere to be found.

According to the brief superscription, King Saul sends his goons to hang out around David’s house and keep an eye on him. I have to assume that this happened early in David’s life when Saul is growing jealous and suspicious of David’s success. Perhaps David is married to Saul’s daughter at his point so Saul uses the pretense of keeping an eye on his daughter. I can’t help but think of The Godfather. It would be like Don Corleone sending Clemenza’s men to watch Carlo and Connie’s place.

David, however, is no Carlo. He’s feeling insulted and dishonored that the King and his men are so disrespectful and treating him unfairly. What’s interesting about this song in contrast to yesterday’s imprecatory psalm calling for the gruesome death of his enemies, David is dealing with his own people, his own fellow citizens, and people whom he will rule if and when he ascends the throne. This isn’t people from another nation seeking to kill him, but people of his own nation targeting him with insults, slander, and spiteful words intended to publicly belittle him.

Does that sound familiar? And people say the Great Story isn’t relevant today.

David specifically writes in his lyrics that he doesn’t want God to kill them, but rather he asks God to make sure that their pride, their lies, and their slander will be revealed for what it is. David wants them to live, so that people will see and remember when the circumstances are reversed and David is the king and these goons no longer have any power over him.

In the quiet this morning, I am once again amazed at how the more things change the more they stay the same. The lyrics of David’s songs stand as testimony to the personal, spiritual playbook he used his entire life and career from being a young man and newlywed son-in-law within Saul’s court, like today, to when he was an old man facing a coup by his own adult son, like Psalm 55. He took his plea to God. Whenever he was powerless, he went to God. He expressed his emotions. He consciously and willfully trusted God to be his shield, his defender, his advocate, his avenger, and his judge. His lyrics are a permanent record of his faith.

Just last night as we lay in bed I expressed to Wendy that all it takes is for me to glance at any social media app right now and feel misunderstood, slandered, belittled, and dishonored. I have to believe I’m not alone in that. I found David’s song to be a timely spiritual antidote. I needed the reminder and the attitude adjustment:

But I will sing of your strength,
    in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
    my refuge in times of trouble.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Hitting the Wall; Pressing On

photo by Josiah Mackenzie via Flickr

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hang out with some old friends from high school. They all ran together on the cross country team back in the day. Running was never my sport. I  tried it one year, but it wasn’t my thing. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from hanging out with runners. Once in a while, the guys would attempt a marathon. When they would talk about their experience with the marathon they would talk about “hitting the wall.” It’s the point at which they would fatigue mentally and physically to the point of wanting to give up. If they could gut it out and continue on they would get a surge of energy and  a dose of “runner’s high” to carry them on, but they often would hit the wall and bail out.

I’ll be honest. This morning as I read the words “Let us not become weary” my heart said, “Too late.” I am feeling weary. I am hitting the wall. Don’t worry; I am not weary to the point of giving up as Paul admonished, but I have come to realize along the way that there are certain stretches of the faith journey in which weariness sets in. It is inevitable. In a marathon, everyone hits the wall at some point.

It was in worship yesterday morning that I truly realized it. The tears started and wouldn’t stop. It was a good thing. It’s one of the things that worship is meant to accomplish. We need moments to pour it all out so that God has room to re-fill us. For me it is not one major thing burdening me but a host of little things that, en masse, have worn on me. It is what it is. I’ve been here before. I will be here again. When you run a marathon you’re going to hit the wall at different points along the way. You push through.

Today, as I start a new week, I am hitting the wall and pressing on.

Dramatic, Peaceful Reason

Gamaliel“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NRSV)

Being a playwright, I love a good dramatic moment, and I have always loved the moment described in today’s chapter. Going back to Jesus’ triumphant entry, there there had been so much emotional reaction to everything:

  • The crowds are stirred up in passionate support of Jesus, proclaiming Him their next king
  • Religious leaders reacted to Jesus’ teaching and popularity by plotting to kill Him
  • The crowds are stirred up in violent opposition to Jesus, calling for His death
  • Jesus’ followers first react in fear and run for their lives
  • Jesus’ followers then react in wonder as they encounter the risen Christ
  • Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem in confidence, proclaim the resurrection, and lead a massive revival in which thousands choose to follow
  • The public reacts by thronging from all over the region to Jesus’ followers seeking healing
  • The high priest and religious leaders react by throwing the disciples in prison

I can only imagine what complete chaos it must have felt like to have been swept up in the events of that time and place. I have experienced a few moments when events stirred massive reactions in the public socially and politically. 9/11 is perhaps the most intense, but I even think about the extreme reactions on all sides of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent months. There are times when everything and everyone seem out of control.

Into the maelstrom of events in Jerusalem the the wise, aged Gamaliel stepped. Drama is created with conflict and/or extreme contrasts, and in this case we find Gamaliel providing a sudden and stark contrast to all of the chaos. Amidst the screaming he speaks softly. Amidst the unbridled emotions he is peaceful. Amidst the extreme editorializing he provides reason. He talks the religious leaders off the ledge. Chill. Let it go. Let this play out.

Today, I’m realizing my age. I don’t have the emotional energy to get stirred up with a young man’s passion as I once did. Like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, I find increasing peace in accepting the things I am powerless to change including public reactions and socio-political emotions. At the same time, I accept my responsibility to act reasonably and fulfill my civic duties. In doing so, I hope that I can model Gamaliel when necessary to bring quiet peace and reason amidst unreasonable reactions.

Weathering the Extremities of Emotional Storms

source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr
source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr

Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
Job 7:7 (NIV)

I despise my life; I would not live forever.
    Let me alone; my days have no meaning.
Job 7:16 (NIV)

I have never experienced suffering like Job, and I hope that I never do. I have not met anyone who has suffered the level of tragedy that Job suffered. I have, however, heard many people lament the suffering they are experiencing with Job-esque intensity. I have even been been to wail out the blues on occasion myself.

As I read through Job’s diatribe this morning I noticed a common thread that I often discover in my own wailing and in the wailing of others: extremes. Intense emotions tend to produce extreme thinking. Job proclaims that his eyes will never see happiness again. His days have no meaning whatsoever. I empathize with Job’s plight, and I fully understand the extremity of emotions he’s experiencing and expressing. Nevertheless, neither statement is true.

Job does not, at this point, know the end of his story. He does not see the days that lie ahead for him, and he has no crystal ball do divine whether he will ever be happy or not. Not only does Job’s days and suffering have meaning, they will become the source of meaning, understanding, and inspiration for billions of people across the breadth of time.

“Never.”
“Always.”
“Forever.”
“Constantly.”
“Continually.”
“At all.”
“Not once.”

These are words and phrases that I hear in conversation which set off my “extremity” alarm. When the alarm goes off it tells me that whoever is saying it (and, it might very well be me) may be feeling an intensity of emotion that is leading to the experiencing of irrational thought. It’s not necessarily wrong, bad, or sinful. It may very well be part of a healthy progression and expression of feelings that will lead to good things and a healthier place. The pinnacle of the emotional storm might be a very good time to try and empathize with that person, but it may not be the best moment to try and reason with him or her.

Today, I’m thinking about my own penchant for thinking in extremes, and thinking about some extreme proclamations I’ve heard out of people’s mouths in recent days. As I learn to discern these intense conversations in the moment I am able to respond to the extremity alarm with grace, patience, kindness, and empathy rather than anger, frustration, or vengeance. Wisdom is found in knowing when to speak and when to be silent. I’m finding that present, loving silence is often the best response to storms of extreme emotion, and rational words are better left for the calm that eventually comes after the storm.

 

Steering Out of Unhealthy Ruts in Life’s Road

The Road to Home
Familiar ruts (Photo credit: Universal Pops)

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

There is an ebb and flow to life. Things cycle. Relationships repeat familiar refrains. We often wander thoughtlessly from day to day, then wake from a daydream to realize that we are in the same place we’ve been before. If you’ve noticed, our life journeys follow patterns of our own unconscious making. Like tires that slip easily into the well worn ruts of a dirt road, we slip into well worn patterns of thought and behavior.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in an emotional valley. I recognize this place. I’ve been here many times before. I’ve come to know that the depth of winter is a difficult seasonal stretch of the journey for me. Short, gray days give way to long, dark nights. The holiday hoopla is over and with it comes a certain physical, emotional and relational hangover. My subconscious links familiar sensory stimuli to painful memories of seasons past. With my guard down, anticipation for the year ahead is lined with an uncertainty that easily lends itself to anxiety and fear. Ugh. Back in the rut.

I ran into the above verse this morning and I heard in it the whisper of the Spirit calling gently to my soul. Return to the rest God has for me in healthy paths and patterns. I have learned from experience that the first step in progressing out of unprofitable emotional or behavioral ruts is to recognize that I’m in it. Once aware of the situation, it takes a conscious resolve to steer out of the rut, which may require an initial jolt of personal effort and energy:

  • Replace: Combat negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
  • Replenish: Do one tangible thing each day to show care for myself.
  • Refresh: Do something loving and unexpected for someone else.
  • Relate: Make time with friends and family who will encourage and fill my life and love tank.
  • Return: to familiar, healthy patterns and paths that have led to good places in the past.
  • Remind: myself daily. Without conscious attention, I easily slip back into mindless, unhealthy ruts.
  • Repeat: There are cycles and patterns to life. Healthy, positive ruts will not made by doing things once, but many times over and over and over again.

 

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Real Men Weep

from destinme via Flickr
from destinme via Flickr

Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. Genesis 43:30 (NLT)

“Big boys don’t cry,” many of us were told when we were young. Boys are supposed to be strong and fearless. We’re supposed to hold our emotions in check. At least, I know that has been the generalized sentiment I’ve both experienced and witnessed. I’m not even sure that it’s a conscious and overt message for many. It’s just the message our culture has sent and believed. I can still remember seeing my dad cry for the first time. It made such an impression on me I can recall almost every detail of the moment.

I find it interesting that Joseph hurried from the room each time he became emotional. Of course, he did not want to tip his hand and reveal himself to his brothers before he had a chance to work his plan. Nevertheless, I would tend to believe that the culture of Egypt was not that much different than our own in that regard. It would likely be seen as a sign of weakness.

The further I get on life’s road and the the deeper I grow in my relationship with Jesus, the more I feel, identify and express my emotions. When I was younger I would brood and act out in all sorts of ways, completely unaware of the emotions that were seeping to the surface in my words and actions. I can recall going through a period of time in my thirties when I literally experienced Ezekiel 36:26:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

God took me through a stretch of the journey in which there was an uncorking of emotions that I’d been stuffing my whole life. I learned to feel, identify and express things like anger, disappointment, fear, joy, contentment, and satisfaction in meaningful and healthy ways. In the midst of it, I learned to weep and to experience the healing of spirit, soul and body that comes when you can feel strong emotion and let the tears roll.

I’ve come to embrace the truth of Ecclesiastes 3, that there is a time for everything. I believe for all men there is a time and place for utilizing our God given bent towards controlling emotions in order to accomplish a difficult task and persevere through certain circumstances. But this does not mean that it’s necessary or particularly healthy to dam up our emotions all of the time. There is time for controlling emotion, and there is a time for expressing them. Maturity comes with the wisdom to know the difference.

Do a keyword search for the word “wept” in God’s Message and you’ll find a long list of manly men throughout antiquity who wept openly as Joseph did in today’s chapter. Jesus Himself is among them. I’ve come to learn in this life: Real men weep.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 17

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Image via Wikipedia

This is so the Israelites will bring to God the sacrifices that they’re in the habit of sacrificing out in the open fields. Leviticus 17:5a (MSG)

We are creatures of habit. In fact, we’re selfish creatures of habit. We want things the way we want them, and in a largely consumer-driven economy, we’re used to getting what we want, when we want it, how we want it served. I found out recently that our local body of Jesus followers is eliminating the worship service which Wendy and I have faithfully attended the past several years. It’s become our worship home and an integral part of this leg of our faith journey. We’ve built community there. We’ve connected to God and others there. We’ve grown spiritually and matured there. We’ve served God and others there.  Now, our service is being eliminated and two services will be offered at two different times in its place.

The news creates a heady mixture of emotions in me. Frustration and anger are easily identified emotions on the surface, but as I trace the emotions to their roots I find grief and the pain that comes from feeling slighted. I don’t think that this is a bad decision. In fact, I can see that it’s likely to be a good decision long-term for our church as a whole. Nevertheless, like a child I tend to react negatively when decisions are made inconsiderate of how it affects me or makes me feel. We are selfish creatures of habit in a consumer driven society. I’m used to having my feelings and expectations considered in surveys, discussed in focus groups, and catered to in products and services. When something is taken away from us irregardless of our feelings, we tend to get annoyed. Just last night Wendy complained to me about her facial scrub which was recently removed from the market by the people at Neutrogena and replaced with something she doesn’t like. We like what we like and we don’t want someone taking it away.

Even as I process these feelings I am fully aware that a change of course, whether freely chosen or forced upon me, leads to a change in scenery, a new perspective of the landscape, and new vistas which open up on the horizon. I will grieve what I leave behind, but am grateful for the rich seeds of faith this stretch of the journey has planted in me. Those seeds will continue to germinate and bear fruit in the months and years to come. A new course creates new opportunities, new challenges, and offers new promise. That’s exciting.

I think about these things this morning as I imagine the people of Israel who’ve lived their entire lives with no religious structure but those they developed on their own. Their lives in Egypt offered them an open market of gods and idols, sacrifices and practices to choose from. They had gotten used to worshipping whichever god they chose to worship in their tents, in their fields, or among their flocks. They were used to worshipping whichever god they wanted whenever and however they wanted. Now, Moses had forcefully delivered God’s religious rule book and it demanded that they only offer sacrifices to the one true God, whose name was so holy it could not be uttered, at one specified place in the prescribed fashion. I’m sure there was a large and angry outcry from among the people. We are, after all, selfish creatures of habit.

Today, I am at once grieving the loss that change brings and excited for the opportunity which it promises.

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