Emotions are like kids on a car trip—you can’t let them drive, and you can’t put them in the trunk. Most of us fall into one of these categories. Maybe you bury yours in Netflix, distractions, a drink, or a nap (AKA the trunk). Or maybe you notice your emotions explode unpredictably in anger, overwhelm, anxiety, or sadness (AKA letting them drive), I have good news. There’s another option.
I’m someone who usually prefers emotions in the trunk, but a recent quarantine-low made me want to let them drive. As I was listening to “reopening” plans—which should have been good news—a wave of emotion hit me like a ton of bricks: schools were staying closed. As a mom of four school-age kids who is trying to finish a master’s program and work from home, this was very bad news. I’m not “a crier,” but the overwhelming rush of emotion was hard to control. This meant so many things for me. I barely knew what to feel first.
When strong emotions overwhelm me, I want to throw them in the trunk. I don’t love wallowing in them. I tend to try and talk myself down from the ledge and carry on. Honestly, many times emotions do pass in a wave, and it can be OK to just feel them and keep moving, but that wasn’t going to cut it here. I asked my husband to go for a walk with me, and not 500 yards from the house, the tears started to fall. And then, the yelling:
“I just expected something different! I wanted more! I’ve been looking forward to some things all year. This sucks!” These emotions were not just going to be politely tucked away. And they also weren’t going to go away just by reminding myself of the positive emotions I also feel.
Positive emotions don’t just cancel out the negative ones.
As we walked and talked (OK, as my husband listened to me yell), I let the emotions out of the trunk. It would have been reeeeaaallllly easy to allow them to hop right into the driver’s seat. They were strong and definitely wanted to drive. I felt all the things. I was sad, angry, disappointed, overwhelmed. I felt cheated. I had mental lists of the things I’d planned to do with the few weeks after my graduation before the kids were out of school: take a week off work, celebrate my seminary degree, celebrate my birthday with friends and my anniversary with my husband, take some time for myself or maybe just a few minutes of silence. As a mom trying to balance work, a master’s program, four kids at home doing school days (with all the extra labor that means for me and in our home), I just wanted a reprieve and a couple of weeks before full-on summer. Underneath it all, I was afraid I wouldn’t get an hour to myself from March (when all these lockdowns) started until September. I was afraid I didn’t have the mental and emotional capacity to handle it all with no certainty and no endpoint.
It was only when I started to speak these things out loud that I realized this was ultimately about hope. I listened to my own words, and it hit me: I had pinned my hope on the wrong thing.
Over the next 24 hours, I talked to God, both out loud in prayer and written in a journal. I filled my mind and heart with everything the Bible says about hope and where it belongs. One of my favorites comes from Psalm 25:4-6:
“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
My hope is in God. The truth was clear: scripture says God Himself is better than all the things I’d hoped for. When I stopped and filled myself up with Truth it was the very thing that helped me deal with the landslide of emotion. It set them back in their proper spot: riding along with me. I wasn’t denying them. I wasn’t allowing them to run me. Putting the truth of the Bible in the driver’s seat instead of my own emotions immediately began to steady me.
What I was reminded is that my hope isn’t in having time to myself. My hope isn’t in the rewards I can give myself. My hope has a name, and it’s Jesus. The truth is, He is better than all that other stuff. I also read in Psalm 23 that “The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.” To be honest, my emotions tell me something different right now. So this is a great example of a place I’m going to keep going back to because I believe the Truth has the power to change my perspective. I want to put my emotions underneath the Truth and not allow them to drive.
Emotions are good and part of how God made us: they just aren’t capable of steering me out of a potential crash. Only the Truth is trustworthy enough for that. We also don’t have to throw them away. Instead, let’s figure out how to let our emotions ride along with us while the Truth drives. Join us for “Mindset” at crossroads.net/mindset for three weekends of teaching on God’s wisdom for handling emotions in a healthy way. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...
What strikes you most about this article? Why?
How do you normally respond to your emotions (driver’s seat or trunk?) How’s that working for you?
Take a few minutes to write down (or share with friends) the primary feelings you’re having lately. Write as many as you can and then pick the biggest one.
Whether you’ve ever “listened to God” before or not, take a minute to pray. Ask God, what does truth look like for me in my situation. How can I let Your truth drive instead of this emotion?
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