Connection between What You Think and What You Feel

thinking2Continued from here.

I ended my last blog entry by sharing a secret: that what you are feeling right now is a byproduct of what you are thinking about. Let’s focus on that truth for this blog entry.

The reason we cannot allow our feelings to drive our thoughts is that it’s like allowing the tail to wag the dog. If I think about the many specific ways that God has blessed me in my life, those thoughts will produce feelings of joy, peace, and contentment. My body will react to those positive thoughts. My breathing will slow down and deepen, and my tense muscle will relax as I meditate on the many ways that God has been faithful to me. As my body reacts to my positive thoughts, my feelings will shift to align with those positive thoughts.

Conversely, if I allow my thoughts to gravitate to a problem I am facing that it too big for me to handle on my own, those thoughts will produce feelings of anxiety. My body will prepare itself for battling that huge problem by causing my breathing to grow shallow as my muscles tense up in preparation for either fight or flight. The flood of adrenaline in preparation for battle will draw my feelings toward anxiety as I project myself into the future, imagining all of the ways that I can be hurt by this looming problem.

Now, let’s say I realize what I am doing – that I have gotten myself all worked up about a problem. Once I recognize that I have allowed my feelings of anxiety to drive my thoughts, I can actively choose to change the direction of my thoughts. I can remind myself that my God is bigger than my problem. I can meditate on scripture reminding me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and that God will be with me as I face this problem. I can remind myself of specific instances where I faced problems too big to handle alone and how God was faithful in intervening on my behalf. As I change my thoughts, my body will react to this change, and my feelings will follow.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking with a status bar over her head under the word “Thinking.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Believing God will Work this Pain for Good

amazingContinued from here.

No matter what you are going through in your life … no matter how painful it is … no matter how broken you are … God is BIGGER! I know this because I have seen what He can do. The same God who was able to heal me from the suicidal urges, self-injury, eating disorder, anxiety disorder, insomnia, and nightmares is the same God who is able to heal you. I had a mental health professional tell me that I needed to be realistic about my goals for therapy, and a book written by someone who endured a similar level of child abuse and brokenness advised me to accept my limitations: to become comfortable in an emotional wheelchair. However, God had other plans! God has no limits. If He can heal me from an “incurable” mental health disorder, then He can heal you as well.

While I have my moments (as everyone does), I am generally not an anxious person anymore. I experience much joy and peace in my life. I am no longer anger or bitter toward anyone. I am generally patient with other people. I feel excited, passionate, and even grateful for my life. My history has not changed, but my perspective has. While I would never wish child abuse on anyone, I am grateful for mine – not because the child abuse was good but because God is good. The backdrop of the child abuse has helped me see God’s amazing love and power in ways that most people don’t experience to the degree that I have, simply because few people have been broken to the degree that I was.

If you haven’t been deeply broken, thank God for sparing you the pain. If you have, hear me as someone who has been in a similar place: God is bigger. If God can healed my shattered heart, then He can heal yours. If God can lead me to a place of gratitude where I once felt nothing but bitterness, He can do the same for you. There is NOTHING so big that it overshadows God – He is simply that amazing!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her head and mouth agape under the word, “Amazing!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Greater Dependence upon God

ice_creamContinued from here.

One of the challenges of being human is the deep-seated desire for independence and control. The reality is that we don’t control a thing – even the air that we breathe is provided by God in His goodness. The sooner we learn dependence upon God, the sooner we get to experience the many blessings that come from staying connected to the Vine.

The child abuse warped my brain to such a degree that I am incapable of making a healthy decision apart from God. During the decades I tried making my own decisions and living by what I saw as “right,” I repeatedly walked myself into one emotional pit after another. I used to be so angry about this because I blamed the child abuse for this: “if only I had not been abused, then X would not be happening.”

Once I accepted the reality that I do not have even one emotionally healthy bone in my body, I stopped making decisions based upon what looked “right” to me and, instead, depended upon God to show me the right way. Since I have been doing that, so much in my life has turned around for the better. It has become a habit to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment, even in the little things that shouldn’t be a big deal to do on my own. I have no illusions about my ability to make good decisions. Either I depend fully on God to guide me, or I know I’ll find myself in another emotional pit.

This was a painful lesson to learn, but considering that the goal for every Christian is to learn to connect the Vine and depend upon God to lead us through life, the child abuse has actually been a blessing. If I could get by even half the time on my own strength, I would be much less likely to connect with God and seek His wisdom in making decisions. Because of the child abuse, whether or not to seek God’s wisdom is very “black and white” for me: either I follow God’s leading, or I will find myself in another emotional pit. There’s no gray in this area of life for me, which has empowered me to walk more faithfully with God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace’s head inside a scoop of ice cream that has fallen off the cone. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Greater Empathy for Hurting People

hugsContinued from here.

Another reason I am grateful for the ongoing and severe childhood abuse I suffered is that my experiences taught me empathy for those who are in severe emotional pain. Miserable people are not fun to be around because they are incredibly self-absorbed. I know because I was one. The natural response to pain is to lick your wounds. I was severely wounded, so my focus was on myself for decades, which wasn’t much fun for the people around me. All I saw was my pain while all they saw was my self-absorption. Most people eventually removed themselves from my life, and this only exacerbated the pain. It reinforced my deep-seated belief that I was fundamentally unlovable and that I needed to hide the “real me” because I was so repulsive.

I understand miserable people in a way that most people don’t because I was once one of them. This gives me compassion for them far beyond what most people are willing or able to tolerate because I see past the self-absorption into the pain. I know what it feels like to live in a prison of pain, and my empathy for those who are still there drives me toward them while others are being driven away.

Another reason many people avoid those who are hurting is that they simply don’t know what to say to them. People seem to think they are responsible for saying the “right” thing, and since they don’t know what that is, they avoid being around those who are hurting the most. Because I have been the hurting person, I know that there are no “magic words” that are going to take the pain away. What hurting people need is for someone to listen, not to talk, and to reassure them that they are loved, which is communicated better by presence than by words. We must resist the urge to try to “fix” people and, instead, gently lead them to God, who is the only one with the power to heal their brokenness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding out her arms and asking, “Hugs?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Greater Experience of God’s Healing Power

epicContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, I am grateful for the ongoing and severe childhood abuse I suffered for many years. No, I am not a masochist. Nothing that has happened to me in my life affected me more profoundly than the child abuse except for one – experiencing God’s healing power! God turned out to be bigger – so much bigger – than my child abuse. Because my child abuse was soooo bad and soooo big, I have a much greater appreciation of the size of our God than most people do because of the child abuse.

People talk about having a broken heart, and you can see how, in time, God might be able to knit the two parts back together. However, my heart was not broken – it was shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. I saw no possible way that anyone – even God – could knit that mess back together because there wasn’t much left to work with. I don’t know how God did it, but He gave me a new heart. It took a lot of time and a lot of tears, but He somehow took the shattered pieces and made something beautiful out of it as only He can do.

That leads me to my first reason for being thankful for the child abuse: only someone who has been as broken as I have gets to experience this degree of God’s healing power. Someone who breaks a bone can marvel over the restoration of the restored bone. Someone else who shatters a bone with multiple fractures is even more grateful and awed by complete restoration of that bone. My bone was run through a wood chipper with nothing but slivers of bone fragments scattered all over the yard, and yet I stand before you showing you my restored bone. That’s nothing short of a miracle.

Because my bone was run through a wood chipper, I have a perspective that is different from most people. I know that I know that I know that there is N-O-T-H-I-N-G that God cannot restore because I have experienced the height, depth, width, and breadth of that healing power in an area that mental health professionals said was beyond repair. I learned firsthand that God is bigger than A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G that you, I, or anyone else will ever face. Learning this came at a heavy price (ongoing and severe child abuse), but it was worth the price to develop this kind of faith and trust in God that I can now share with others who are hurting and fear they are beyond God’s healing power.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking wide-eyed under the word, “Epic.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being a Horizontal Christian by Loving Other People

lovedI finished reading Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader last week and feel like I now have a much better understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology. One notable difference from Protestantism that I have pondering is the heavy emphasis of the role of the universal Church as THE Body of Christ. While I know that Christians collectively make up the Body of Christ, I have been guilty of viewing Christianity as my relationship with God (vertical relationship) without much emphasis on my relationship with others (horizontal relationship). Tony Evans wrote an excellent book on the horizontal relationship of Christians with other people entitled Horizontal Jesus: How Our Relationships with Others Affect Our Experience with God, which taught me a lot about the “one anothers.”

Until the last few years, I believed I could live as an effective Christian alone in a cabin off the beaten path – just God and me. However, I have grown to realize that I cannot be an effective Christian if I am not interacting with other people. After all, the cross is both vertical AND horizontal. If all that mattered was God’s relationship with each individual with no connectivity among one another, then Jesus could have stayed in heaven and not have bothered to come to earth. After all, his relationship with God was just fine. He inconvenienced himself (to put it mildly) to connect horizontally with people, and Christians are supposed to follow his example, so Christianity involves interacting with other people … and that’s a big part of what makes the faith so challenging!

I have heard Joyce Meyer share the same story multiple times, and it never fails to elicit a chuckle out of me because I so deeply relate. She shared that she would be doing such a great job at being a Christian when she woke up – loving, thankful, etc. – until she had her first interaction with another person. Then, it all went downhill. The people are the hard part!

In this blog series, I will be focusing on some of the lessons I have learned – and continue to learn – about applying the Christian faith as we interact with the flawed people around us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with a heart on her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Leadership Challenge: Bearing the Pain of Others

cryContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared six reasons why people shy away from Christian leadership, as identified in my Global Missions textbook, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission). The final point was bearing the pain of others. This is the one that God has been teaching me about over the last several months, so I’d like to devote an entire blog entry to this topic.

The textbook includes the following quote:

You can exercise and sustain personal leadership only to the extent of our capacity to bear pain.”

What exactly does this mean? When you chose to lead (or influence) someone toward a relationship with God, you yoke together with that person, which connects you with that person’s pain. For example, let’s say you choose to yoke together with someone with an addiction. Addiction does not happen in a vacuum – it’s a way to manage and avoid pain. The addiction itself is the symptom: the root of the problem is the pain that only God can fully heal. Leading an addict to Christ involves yoking together with that person and being willing to walk into that pain with him. As you do, you bring the power of God with you, which is the only solution to the problem of the pain.

Many people don’t want to walk in the pain, so they resist becoming a leader of someone in deep emotional pain. However, that’s not how Jesus lived. He was willing to walk in the pain with the Samaritan woman at the well. As a result, not only did he walk the power of God into her pain, but the power of God extended to the entire city!

While some people might be reached through evangelistic efforts that don’t involve yoking together in the pain, many will not. The “noise” of their pain is so loud that it drowns out the evangelistic message shouted from a distance. For those in deep emotional pain to “hear” the gospel, they need a leader to yoke together with them and walk into their pain with God so they can walk out of the pain together and into freedom.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying and kneeling in the tears of a large crying emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]