What are feelings anyway?

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On the way to church recently my 7 year old daughter asked, “Momma, what are feelings?”

I started to say, “They’re how you feel.  I mean they are what you feel…I mean…ahhh!!!”

I couldn’t figure out how to define it without using the word “feel.”  I thought if I used the word emotion it would open up another definition discussion which I was ill-prepared to have.

Feelings.

(Just saying that word makes me think of that song…”Feelings, nothing more than feelings…”  Great. Now it’s stuck in my head.  And I apologize because now it’s probably stuck in your head too.)

I ended up saying, “Sweetie, feelings are the way you feel – like happy, sad, scared, excited…”  I think she understood.

I wish I understood feelings…those dreaded emotions.

Lately emotions have come up a lot.  I don’t even know if I should use the word lately in this sentence…I have emotions and they come up a lot (sometimes that’s an unfortunate thing).

I’ve been studying Philippians for the past couple of months.  This past week I was in the 4th chapter – Paul says, “rejoice in the Lord always.”

I had to ask, “What does rejoicing in the Lord always look like in my life?”

I think, for me, right now it is trusting despite my circumstances and my feelings and emotions.

I can really struggle with my emotions based on my circumstances.  Lately I seem to have tears in my eyes at odd times throughout any given day.

Yesterday my youngest daughter had a really bad day.  She was angry all day – slamming things and saying words like, “I wish you weren’t my mommy.”  She is a very difficult little person sometimes…there aren’t many things I can do to convince her to choose to be good.

She needs love and affirmation a lot.  Sometimes it’s exactly what she needs and exactly what I don’t believe she deserves and it isn’t what I really want to do either…I want the time out to end all time outs! (for her and me)

But my little girl was a ragged mess yesterday and I decided to love on her instead of endless timeouts and taking-tos.  She wasn’t perfect afterwards, said but she was oh so much better.  We were both better.

Instead of being crushed by her behavior and my fears about parenting her, I focused on the good in my daughter.  And there is a lot of good under the feisty little girl she so often shows me.

But without any warning, while I was holding her, I felt overcome by the massive amount of things in my life that are stealing my joy.

Can something steal my joy?

I think something can definitely try to mess with my joy – but my joy isn’t about my circumstances or the people in my lives…or even my feelings.  Ultimately, my joy is about Christ.

Right before Paul says to rejoice in the Lord, he addresses an issue between two women in the church.  I believe maybe Paul’s point it to remind them that Jesus is more important than any issues they have in their lives, or difficult people they have to deal with daily.

So if God commands we rejoice, we have to be able to do it right?  God doesn’t call us to do anything that He will not enable us to do.

But when tears spring to my eyes and I feel completely overcome by all the unknowns, the struggles and the fears, I’m not close to rejoicing…I’m close to crumbling. It’s such a struggle to rejoice.  I don’t feel like rejoicing…I feel like crying, wallowing, complaining, moaning, and woe-is-me-ing.  I feel afraid, concerned, frustrated and anxious.

It’s those fears and anxieties that keep me up at night.  I’m in a season of sleeplessness – which I have to say has arrived at an incredibly inconvenient time.  I have a lot to do.

Last night was particularly difficult. I was feeling completely undone.  Thousands of thoughts, fears and feelings tumbled through my head and heart.  Sleep was elusive.  I got up at 3 am and did school work…I wish instead that I had put my face in the Word.  Had I done that I’m sure I’d have had a better chance of resting.

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Instead I read about assessing student achievement – 10 pages on how to construct a multiple-choice test…seriously how was I NOT asleep after that!?!  And when I finally decided to try the sleep thing again my 6 year old was ready to start her day…with me.

While she colored, I did more homework. Until I received a text from a dear friend which reminded me that God wants me in the Word.  Duh.

So I opened up my Bible study and let me share the verses God gave me.

Psalm 55:22 Cast all your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Isaiah 26:3-4 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 41:10   fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 43:1-2 Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Hebrews 13:5-6 …be content with what I have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  So we can confidently say, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

It was a soothing balm to my weary heart.  I couldn’t help but be amazed at God’s love for me.  He asks me to do these things that are all wonderful things – do you know what I mean?  It’s like a parent saying, “Hey, your bag looks heavy, sweetheart.  May I carry it for you?  Let me have that and you just follow me.  Don’t be afraid.  Let me lead you. I love you and I will take care of you.”

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And not only does He say all those things, He promises these:

He will sustain me…strengthen, provide for, prepare, direct and establish me.

He will not permit me to be moved.

He will keep me in perfect peace.

He will be with me.

He will be my God.

He will strengthen me.

He will help me.

He will uphold me with his righteous right hand.

He has redeemed me.

He has called me by name.

He has made me his own.

He will be with me.

He is my helper.

He will never leave me

He will never forsake me.

He will exalt me.

He cares for me.

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So which one of those stood out to you?  I’m hard pressed to pick one. Throughout any day I need to remind myself of at least one of these promises of God.

In the middle of the night when I can’t sleep or in the middle of the day when I feel on the verge of tears or a nervous breakdown (or both), I get so frustrated that I’m struggling with fear or anxious thoughts.  I know better.  I know the Truth. Why do I struggle so?

Lord, why?  I know you.  I’m in your Word.  I’m seeking godly counsel.  I’m trusting you for the day…or am I?

How do I live in the reality of what those verses tell me…those things that I believe but can’t seem to live?

I don’t know yet.  Although I will say that right now there is just so much and I find myself feeling similarly to days following my ex-husband’s abandonment.  That beautifully awful place where I feel such sorrow and fear but I see God meeting me at every turn.

I know Him better in these moments.

I’m at a place where I understand the living today idea.  I can only live today – I can’t live tomorrow or a month or a year or 10 down the road.  Just today.  That is all God asks me to do.

So I’m trying to live faithfully in today.  It’s challenging, but there’s a relief in it.

I’m trying to figure out how to put it into words.  It’s definitely a way of thinking for me.  I’m purposefully keeping my head in today…just trying to work on the massive amount of stuff that today has for me.  Honestly there is plenty there to keep me occupied…mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

So how in the world did I get from the feelings question in the car to this?  Feelings…they do take us to interesting and unexpected places. J

I think this is a topic we will all be coming back to a lot.  How to really trust God.

I think He has given us the answer already —

  • cast my burden on Him,
  • keep my mind fixed on him,
  • trust him,
  • be unafraid,
  • don’t be dismayed, discouraged, distressed, or troubled
  • be content, and
  • say confidently, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

“I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous…”  Joshua 1:5-6

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Lord, I don’t presume to have the answers to life’s struggles, but I do have You.  And I know that that is always enough.  Father, my feelings cause me such angst sometimes and I don’t know how to handle them or all that You have allowed in my life.  I want to cast my burdens and cares on you.  I want to throw them at your feet and leave them there.  I have such a hard time leaving them there Lord.  Maybe if I could just keep my eyes on You and not look down at them again, they would stay put at your feet.  Lord, like the father begging Jesus for healing for his child, I’m crying out to you, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9: 14-24)  I trust You Father.  I want to face my future unafraid and untroubled.  Please Lord, help me be strong and bold and courageous.  You are my helper!  I will not fear!  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Middle of the Night Thinking

night-skySleeping has become a bit problematic for me lately.  In fact I’d say that sleeplessness has become the defining feature of my nights, so much so that I almost dread putting my head down on my pillows…almost.  I’m so dang tired that I gotta at least try to sleep.

Falling asleep.  Not a problem.  Staying asleep.  Feels impossible.

I find myself tossing and turning and thinking. Sometimes that thinking turns into panicking.  Overwhelming fear.  Heart palpitations.  Heavy chest. Shallow breathing.  Fear that makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

And if I weren’t so tired I’d just get up and do something…anything to take my mind off of my fear…off of my thoughts.  But I’m tired…bone-weary, aching joints tired.  And in some weird way I don’t think I want to go downstairs and watch TV and pretend that I’m not afraid.

I feel like I might have to feel this to deal with this to overcome this.  Something can’t be fixed if I don’t acknowledge it, right?

This past month these episodes of over-fearful-thinking have happened a fair amount.  It isn’t even about one thing.  Most of the time, in the morning everything feels a little less daunting.  Still concerns, but not terrors. Am I going crazy?  I’m not saying that to be silly, I’m truly sharing a fear…another fear.

I feel like there is just so much to do and think about and I feel like I can’t do it all…all the thinking.  All the little things and all the big things.

Thinking about my children.  Each one with unique needs, concerns, hopes, dreams, struggles, decisions, issues.

Thinking about the house.  Repairs. Cracks. Drips. Wobbles. Clutter.

Thinking about work.  Lesson plans, class management, expectations, assessments, communication, and time management

Thinking about finances.  How?  How do I get in a better place?  How do I deal with the guilt of decisions I thought were good, but haven’t had the desired effect?  How do I fix the mess?

Thinking about relationships.  How do I love well?  Trust again?  How do I let go of fear when sometimes it’s so physically overwhelming I can barely breathe?  How do I let myself be loved?  How do I make friends when I barely have time for my children?  How do I mourn the changes that have happened with friendships I thought would never change?

Thinking about church.  Thinking about family situations.  Thinking about how to take care of my mom.  Thinking about groceries, toilet paper, toothpaste, and Band-Aids. Thinking about oil changes, car batteries, tire rotations, and brake pads.

It all makes my head spin.

And in the middle of the night, it makes my body toss and turn and my head hurt and my chest ache and my heart pound.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t have a spiritually astute solution.  I pray hard.  I beg for rest.  I let things slide.  I reduce caffeine.  I make lists.  I tear up lists.  I pray harder.

But things don’t get better.  And not sleeping has so many repercussions…mentally, emotionally, physically, vocationally, and spiritually.

And then I wonder, is it all spiritual?  Is it because I’ve lost my focus on Jesus?  Because I’ve let the cares of this world overwhelm me? Because the weight of my own failures feels too great to carry.  Because I can’t seem to figure out how to walk this path gracefully, without stumbling.  Falling on my knees…not how I want to fall…in prayer.  I fall in fear, in failure, in fatigue.

And I think, wasn’t it just last week?  What did I even write about?  What did God lay on my broken sometimes healing heart?  What did He reveal to me about Himself that brought me such hope? I don’t have the faintest idea.  Am I truly that tired that I don’t remember the hope?

I had to reread my own words.  How pathetic.  I remember now.

All things are possible with Him.  This life.  This is possible with Him.

Why does sleep, rest and peace still feel impossible?

Sorry, I’m fixated on the sleep thing – it just seems so important, vital, life-giving.  I’m afraid of what will happen if this continues.  I’m afraid of being ill.

I’m trying to trust.  Trying to trust that this season of sleeplessness is part of the plan.  What plan could this be, God?  Why?  What purpose when life is already so challenging?

Tomorrow I go back to work – I was hoping that I’d be well-rested.  Unless there is a miracle tonight, I’ll go back as exhausted as I left.

Bummer.

Ugh.  I sound like such a complainer.  I’m sorry.  I’m wondering though is anyone else struggling to understand why things are the way they are?

I mean I get the whole “in this world you will have trouble” thing, I guess I’m not getting the “fear not for I have overcome the world” thing.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

What does that mean for this place?  This place of sleeplessness and fear and anxious thoughts and overwhelming demands?  Those are the troubles…for me.  What is the overcoming?

Overcoming.

“To get the better of in a struggle or conflict; conquer; defeat; to overcome the enemy.” (Dictionary.com)

To get the better of.

What an interesting phrase.  This struggle has definitely gotten the better of me.

A new day.  A new month.  A new year.  Seems like a good time to turn the table.  But how?

Especially because my table is upside down.  It needs to get flipped completely before it can even be turned.  But maybe that’s the point?

Maybe all my thinking needs to be flipped.

I’m so focused on the struggle (again) – I can’t see any good.

When I was in the process of editing my book, the editor commented on a section where I shared about getting up early and staying up late to study the Bible and pray.  She said that it wasn’t realistic.  Nobody would believe that that was what I was actually doing.  But it was what I was actually doing.  It was the only way I survived that season – God upheld me.

Maybe He is asking me to do that again?  Maybe, in the middle of those sleepless nights, He is whispering in my ear, “Dearest, trust me.”

Trust me with your fears.  Trust me with your anxious thoughts.  Trust me with your mistakes and failures and hopelessness.  Trust me with your anger, frustrations, and irritations.  Trust me with you children, your relationship, your home, your work, your finances, your time.  Trust me with your love.

I think I do, but then I toss and turn and tear up and I don’t understand why it all has to be so hard.

I want to, but I don’t understand what it looks like when things seem so daunting and hopeless, particularly in the middle of the night.

I don’t know how to stop the ache.  I don’t know how to not feel.

There has to be something that can be done…something that can make a difference.  Because, honestly, in those moments I really feel like I’d do anything to get away from all those feelings and thoughts that beat me down.

They are relentless in their assault.

And I’m tired of just lying there taking it.

Time to turn or flip the table…or turn and flip myself and my thinking.

My thinking needs to change.

I’ve learned this before.  Said this before.  Written this before.

I KNOW THIS.

Thankfulness.  Gratitude. Gratefulness.

I know this thankfulness thing.  I know it is the answer.

In those moments when I despair, pray thankfulness.

In those moments of fear, focus on blessings.

Simple. Profound. Powerful.

I can rest in that.  I can redeem the time from tossing and turning to thankfulness and trust.

I can do this.

All things are possible with God.

I can do this…with Him.