By: Scott Armstrong
We may have experienced a mini breakthrough in parenting recently. We have been working with our son and daughter on not allowing one bad thing to ruin an entire day, let alone week (or beyond). It’s hard to do! We almost naturally spiral into anger or melancholy when a terrible interaction with the boss or a cutting remark from a family member blindsides us in the morning. Our human tendency is to focus on the negative instead of the dozens of amazing and even life-giving things that occur to us and around us.
What was the breakthrough? Our girl got a discouragingly low grade in math on her recent report card; however, Sydney texted us and said that, although that was frustrating, she also had gotten good grades in every other subject, and she was having a lot of fun with her friends during her classes and recess. That did more for us as parents than a higher grade in math would have!
A key truth: We tend to listen to ourselves instead of telling ourselves. The equation may look something like this:
A is what happens to you. This is an objective nondebatable occurrence.
B is what you say happened to you (or your perception of what happens to you).
C is how you feel about what happened, in other words, your emotional “state.”
Rev. Jeff Spangler of Christ Community Church in Pittsburg, KS, USA uses a different illustration. Our emotions essentially have to do with how we handle expectations.
_________________ This is the line of what you expect.
_________________ This is the line of reality, what actually happens.
The space between these lines is usually your emotional state. If there is a gulf between a positive, hopeful expectation of what’s to come and then the devastating reality that follows, our feelings will obviously be affected!
King David is an interesting case study. We can imagine that, as a follower of the Almighty God, he expects to never feel alone and to win every battle. But in Psalm 43:1-2, it’s clear that David is being persecuted by enemies and feels like the Lord himself has rejected him. Yet, instead of letting those emotions dictate his spiritual and existential mood, he decides to verbally put them in place. The spiritual exerts authority over the emotional. Faith wins out over feelings. Witness the king’s reaction in verses 4-5:
I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
David still acknowledges he is discouraged and overwhelmed; it wouldn’t be healthy to try to hide those feelings anyway. However, he offers us a few clues for how to keep our emotional state from controlling us.
- He chooses praise in the midst of suffering. The best way to fill in the gap between what you expect and what happens is to be thankful in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Remember the story of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:16-34? They had been beaten unfairly and put in chains in a filthy dungeon. They could have been in an outrage about how they were treated and God’s allowing it to happen. But they sing praises! An earthquake shakes their chains off and the prison doors are opened. They share Jesus with the jailer, and he believes, because who would sing like that in that place and that condition?!
- He speaks a different reality to his soul. This requires us to think drastically different from our surrounding culture. Instead of lamenting physical or emotional discomfort, we “do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). It’s this kind of focus on the “unseen” that allows David to refer to the same God he feels has abandoned him as his “joy” and “delight.”
A week after receiving that encouraging text from our daughter, she was ready to celebrate her birthday by enjoying one of her favorite hobbies: baking. Her best friend slept over, all the ingredients had been purchased and were ready in the kitchen. The only problem? The oven decided that was the very day it would break.
The whole weekend was planned around baking desserts! I was discouraged. But Sydney was not! She adapted her plans and forged ahead. There was lots of laughter in our house anyway. And a week later when we finally got the oven repaired, we put a candle in the apple pie she had finally baked and sang a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.