Monday, April 19, 2010

I'll cry if I want to ...?

I know that when it comes to emotions/feelings, I am an enigma to my husband. And even though I realize he’ll probably never “get” where I’m coming from, I am still compelled to dump all my feelings on him. After all, as a friend recently pointed out, he has “perfectly shaped ears,” designed, I’m sure, just for listening to me.

So year after year I make him listen to my tales fraught with mean people and difficult situations and just how hard life can be. And a common reply on his part is often, “That’s good for you! It will toughen you up.”

So year after year I’ve been telling myself that I need to toughen up and not be so sensitive – until I rejected that notion and said, “Wait a minute! Why do I have to be tough? God made me a sensitive person, and I’ll cry if I want to.”

Hmmm, maybe a reality check is in order.

God-given emotions are good. We have plenty of biblical examples of people expressing strong emotions – agonizing and weeping over the lost, for example.

God’s will is for us to be molded into the image and likeness of Christ. As we grow up in Christ, our emotions will reflect that growth. No longer slaves to bouts of depression, fits of anger, or spells of self-pity, our Spirit-filled lives will reflect His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control – and the wonderful emotions that accompany this fruit.

If you are a highly emotional person who feels things deeply and cries easily, rejoice in the knowledge that you are created in the image of an emotional God! At the same time, be willing to surrender any emotions that are not from Him; they will lead only to despair and destruction.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1–3).

One way, Jesus

In desperation I tried to tell someone important to me about God’s love for her. When she replied, “I’m very spiritual. I try to be a good person, and I hope I’ll go to heaven when I die,” I agreed that she was a good person.

“But,” I asked her, “don’t you want to know that you’ll go to heaven instead of only hoping? The Lord Jesus paid a huge price so you could know that you’re saved.”

“Well,” she replied, “I believe there are many ways to heaven, and Jesus may or may not be one of those ways.”

Now, I knew this woman was raised in the church, so I asked her, “So you don’t think it matters if you believe in Jesus and trust Him as your savior?”

She said no.

To this I sadly responded, “If it doesn’t matter what you believe, if just being a good person is enough to save you, then why did Jesus have to die? You’re saying He wasted His time and gave His life for nothing, because we can get to heaven by our own efforts.”

As disheartening as this conversation was, it’s a sentiment that appears to be more and more prevalent all the time.

With myriad voices telling us so many different things to believe in, it’s easy to lose our way and start thinking, “It all sounds good!” But Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).

We don’t want to appear shallow or narrow minded, and we’ve all been taught the importance of “tolerance,” but Jesus said, “I am the way and truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Having just celebrated Resurrection Sunday, let’s continue to walk in the knowledge that we serve THE living God who redeems us and saves us. … And let’s declare this truth to all those who have gotten confused and lost along the way.

What to wear

In the television show What Not to Wear, participants allow fashion experts to go through their closets, ridiculing their wardrobes and ultimately throwing away their clothes, all in exchange for the promise of a new wardrobe that will improve their lives by advancing their careers with “the right look.”

Participants sometimes cry when forced to surrender certain items of clothing: “But it’s so comfortable!” they wail. Or, “I love that because I’ve had it for so long,” they moan. Or, “That outfit is a reflection of my personality!” they exclaim.

These participants can’t see what’s obvious to the fashion experts – these clothes are hideous and are hindering their chances of getting ahead in life.

I laugh to think of the fashion experts going through my closet. Would anything in my sorry wardrobe survive their scrutiny? I doubt it.

God’s Word tells us, “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” These attributes of God are compared to garments that we may – or may not – choose to wear, but it is an act of our will. Each day we must choose what to put on.

I realized recently that when I go against THE “fashion expert’s” advice and instead put on indifference, hatred, pride, hard-heartedness and rudeness, I make myself UGLY. Who wants to see me dressed like that? Somebody should just tell me, “Girl, you look awful. Go home and change your clothes!”

Thankfully, my heavenly Father wants to take me on a shopping trip and buy me an entire new wardrobe. I imagine Him saying to me, “My child, I love to see you in compassion,” and “You look beautiful when you wear kindness,” and “Humility is your best color,” and “Gentleness goes so well with everything,” and “Do you know how THIN you look in patience?”

While I still despair each day over my wardrobe when I enter my closet, I’m thankful that God gives me things to wear with lasting beauty and eternal benefits.

Victory ahead

Feeling discouragement beyond anything I’d ever experienced, I couldn’t find the motivation to move beyond the setbacks and disappointments of life – until one day my husband looked sincerely into my eyes and tentatively offered, “It takes no effort at all to lose a football game.”

And then he flinched because he figured I wouldn’t appreciate his sports analogy.

We don’t always speak the same language.

But I didn’t bop him upside the head or even roll my eyes at him. He wasn’t quoting Scripture or telling me, “God doesn’t want you to give up!” but surely God gave him just the right thing to say, because that short and simple statement reached me and helped me get back up and resume the battle that is sometimes life.

With a husband and three sons who are all football fanatics, I’ve watched enough games over the years to genuinely wonder how guys can go out there, get beaten up and utterly exhausted, and keep on playing hard for the entire game even when they’re behind on the scoreboard. What can I learn from these dedicated athletes?

Athletes must have a broader vision, a higher goal, than merely the game at hand. Every battle on the football field is an opportunity to learn and to improve for future games.

We can look only at our current situation and decide it’s too hard, it’s hopeless; or we can look at the bigger picture and say, like Paul, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Athletes recognize that they do not play for themselves alone. They are accountable to others and won’t give up for love of their teammates.

We’re not alone in this game of life. Sometime other people need us, and sometimes we need them; but if we give up, we’re no good to anyone.

My husband’s football analogy was especially apt. The qualities required to persevere on the gridiron are the same qualities needed elsewhere in life: farsightedness, accountability, perseverance and love.

As Christians, we will face setbacks and disappointments in life, but it’s so important to leave them behind and “... run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …" (Hebrews 12: 1–2).