“Jerry, I do not know how you do it,” is a phrase I hear frequently these days. People seem to be surprised that I try to carry on with life and faith in a time of great personal loss and sadness. Some appear to think that I somehow live without deep sorrow, that I exist in some kind of bubble that protects me from negative emotions. The truth is that I ache, I cry, and I wonder where this will lead. But, I refuse to be a victim of my circumstances. I am no hero, nor am I a Lone Ranger. There are many who pray for us and there is great strength found in Divine Comfort. There are many who come alongside of us to offer practical help. Our adult children, our church family, are treasures to us.
And there is this – I refuse to allow how I ‘feel’ to rule my life! Many days my emotions scream for relief. Yes, part of me wants relief or escape and temptations to spend too much, eat junk, watch too much TV for a diversion are always with me. But, I also know that I am not a slave to my feelings. Some mornings when sorrow closes in on me and tries to throw darkness over me like a heavy blanket, I have to work to change my thoughts. I speak to myself and direct my thoughts. “Jerry, it is time to change the story, to choose a different perspective!” That is not denial. I know the facts. I choose to believe the Truth of God.
Jeremiah, the ‘weeping prophet,’ wrote about this very choice. “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24, NIV) He did not pretend that things were great. He felt the weight of his emotions calling his experience one of ‘affliction,’ that were like ashes in his mouth. But, Jeremiah also chose to trust the Lord.
God made us spirit, mind, and body. What part of you directs your daily actions in life? For many, the body, with all of its desires, is allowed to be ‘in charge.’ Some people mistakenly believe that every appetite must be fed, every feeling acknowledged and served. “If I practice self-denial, I’ll just die,” they say. No, that is simply not true. The mind that God gave us can be trained to overrule those desires. Ask any highly trained athlete! He learns to push his body past the cry for comfort. Paul speaks to this choice in his own life. “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NIV) Do not misunderstand his words. He is not talking about hurting himself. He is speaking to the discipline that governs his impulses. He brings them into line with the Truth!
This is not just a rigid self-discipline. It is a matter of the transformed heart. Because God, the Holy Spirit lives in us who belong to Christ Jesus, our spirits (The God-breathed part of every person) can and should take charge, responding first to God, the Holy Spirit, then directing our mind to order our physical existence in the body! Here is how the Scripture teaches that principle: “The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death.” (Romans 8:2, CEV) How does that look in everyday life? Read on. “People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6, CEV) Does this happen without effort? No. We have a daily choice to make. “If we follow our desires, we cannot please God. You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God’s Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:8-9, CEV) The result of choosing to respond to God’s spirit is life and more life.
What I love about the life of the Spirit is that He allows us to fully experience our emotions without being ruled by them. We can be and must be completely authentic. We do not fake it. We weep, we laugh, we stagger, we dance, we crawl, and we run. We know what we feel and are enriched by the gift of our emotions but we are not slaves to them. When tempted by their seductions, we look higher, take the strength, know the Truth – and do His will.
Here is a word from the Word. Receive it and live it – for the honor and praise of Christ who gives you life and strength. “What happens when we live God’s way?
He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—
things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity.
We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart,
and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
… Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” (Galatians 5:21-25, The Message)