“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus,” Charlie Brown confesses to his friend in A Charlie Brown Christmas. “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
“Charlie Brown,” chides Linus, “you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy is right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”
There may be only one Charlie Brown, but many of us can relate to his problem: It’s Christmas, but we don’t feel the way we are supposed to feel.
We’re anxious. Will the children like their presents? Is the family going to get along? If life is extra hard, we feel bitter and resentful of Christmas cheer. Disappointment litters the holiday season. Your son didn’t come home for Christmas. Your party was a flop. Envy rears its ugly head. You were reasonably content until your cousin spent an hour telling you all about her amazing life. We feel stressed about all the work we have to do, and irritable because no one is helping us do it. Grief presses down with oppressive force.
Charlie Brown got one thing right: there is something wrong with us. Sin has corrupted our experiences and corroded our emotions. We feel the devastating effects of sin all around us and to our very core, sometimes—perhaps especially—at Christmas.
But the message of Christmas doesn’t come up short of our emotions. In fact, have you noticed that the angel’s astonishing announcement was aimed straight at the shepherd’s emotions and ours as well?: “Fear not,for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, emphasis mine).
The good news of Christmas is that God sent his Son, born of a virgin, to live a perfect life, to die and take the penalty for our sins and redeem us completely: body, mind, and emotions. Now we can feel the way that we are supposed to feel—not some vague, sentimental happy holiday feeling, but true, Christ-like, emotions of genuine love, deep joy, godly grief, and solid hope. Because of Christmas, we can feel the way we are supposed to feel: we can feel what God wants us to feel.
How are we supposed to feel at Christmastime? Quite simply, we are to have emotions that line up with God’s Word. This may be grief and sadness over sin and suffering, but it will also mean joy and hope in the “good news of great joy” that is the gospel. If our goal is to have God-glorifying emotions, then the good news is that we can feel the way we are supposed to feel at Christmastime. Here are three R’s for our Christmas emotions:
Revise your emotional expectations. So often, we think that holiday emotions should be unusually pleasant, but instead, we feel unusually tempted which throws us into further confusion and despair. But we shouldn’t be surprised by emotional temptation during the holidays. It’s to be expected (1 Cor. 10:13). We are busier than any other time of year, interacting with people we only see once a year (relatives, office parties, etc), and often wrongly invest in more earthly hopes than any other time of year. Is it any wonder we experience more emotional temptation? But temptation doesn’t have the last word. Instead, we need to see the Christmas season as an opportunity to grow in godly emotions. It’s a chance to see the ugly sins in our heart that may have been hiding the other eleven months of the year; but more than that, it’s an opportunity to repent and experience the Holy Spirit’s sweet grace for change.
Read and pray more. It never fails to astonish me how much there is to do at Christmastime. Most years, I’ve punted to a good advent book and shortened quiet times to get me through the season. Not so this year. It might sound cliche, but I’m so busy that I need to read more Scripture and engage in more prayer in December. I’m actually doubling up on my Bible reading so I can finish out my plan by the end of the year (I got a little behind!). And I’m not skipping over my prayer times. Nothing goes to work on our emotions more than God’s Word and his Holy Spirit working through prayer. Consider: what could you read and pray about if you got up only fifteen minutes earlier each day? Maybe you could read through the gospel of Luke or a Psalm a day. If you want to feel like you are supposed to feel this Christmas, there nothing better you can do.
“Run into” your emotions. When I was little, my parents often made me “run into” my fears. They meant that I needed to charge at my fears like a running back “runs into” the hulking linebackers in order to get to the end-zone. My parents knew that by the act of doing something I was afraid to do, my emotions of fear would greatly diminish. So this Christmas, let’s charge at our sinful emotions and push them away. In other words, as I now tell my kids, do the opposite of what you feel like doing. If you feel lonely, get out and serve someone. If you feel annoyed at a relative, take an active interest in them instead. If you feel irritable, smile. If you feel envious, give thanks to God for his good gifts to you. Far from being falsely festive, you may be surprised at how quickly your emotions will change when—instead of giving into them—you run into them, and past them toward the goal.
Charlie Brown may be the Charlie Browniest, but Christians should be the happiest. We can feel the way we are supposed to feel at Christmastime—and anytime—because the good news of great joy has come to us.
Pardon me while I gush a little. It is with extreme joy that I get to announce the release of my mom and sister’s latest book: True Feelings: God’s Gracious and Glorious Purpose for our Emotions.This book is a result of years of biblical study, hundreds of 4 a.m. wake-ups, gallons of coffee, and one fierce desire to serve women in the body of Christ. I am bursting with excitement for you to get your hands on this book.
Having had the privilege to read the manuscript many times over the past couple of years, I have already experienced the fruit of their labor in my own walk with the Lord. As with their previous books, Mom and Nicole make you feel as if you are sitting at one of their kitchen tables. (I would know, as I sit there a lot!) True Feelings provides life-giving clarity on a topic which has been widely misunderstood; it’s a book you will want to read to the end, and then read all over again. I join Mom and Nicole in their prayer for this book:
“Our hope is to encourage women that they don’t have to live at the mercy of their confusing and conflicting emotions. In True Feelings, we attempt to clear away common misconceptions and mixed messages about our feelings and offer a biblical perspective on emotions- helping readers understand how emotions work, why we feel, and how to develop good emotional habits. We hope women will see that they don’t have to ignore, excuse, or follow their feelings, but can instead learn to honor God with their emotions as an integral part of who he made them to be.”
The other day, one of my sons asked if I liked a certain music artist he had heard about from a friend. “I like a few of his songs,” I told him. “A couple of them are beautiful, but some of his songs are not God-glorifying.” This spun off into a conversation with my two boys about music.
How do we help our teens discern whether or not a song is godly? As I told my boys, there are many helpful questions we can ask (thank you, Bob Kauflin!), but one way we can determine if a song is God-honoring is to ask: “How does this song make me feel?” I know, I know, it sounds like I’m throwing open the doors to whatever music we “feel” like listening to. But hang with me for a moment.
God gave us feelings to motivate us. Emotions move us to action. We feel happy and so we laugh, we feel righteous anger and we defend, we feel compassion and we help. And music? Music stirs up the feelings that move us to action. This is the ultimate purpose for the gift of music: to stir up emotions that move us to God and godliness. We sing praises and play instruments, in order to excite feelings that move us toward God.
So if this is God’s purpose for music, then it is vitally important that we ask: “How does this song make me feel about God? How does this song make me feel about godliness? And how does this song make me feel about sin? Or, more broadly, think about the kind of music you like to listen to. Does the music on your playlist leave you more angry at others, or grateful for God’s goodness? Discontent with your life or desirous of doing good? Hating sin or loving righteousness?
How does your playlist make you feel? Better yet, does the music you listen to make you feel the way that God wants you to feel?
As I told my boys, a song may not contain any “bad words” but still be bad if it stirs up emotions that warm your heart toward sin. A song’s meaning may even be vague or the words enigmatic, but if it stirs up arrogant, selfish, or lustful desires, then it is ungodly. On the flip side, a song may not mention God or his Word, but the words and music together generate feelings of awe at his beauty and majesty in creation, shame for sin, or selfless love for others. This is a good song.
Like medicine through an IV, the music that flows through our children’s earbuds affects every part of them—including their emotions. And their feelings, in turn, influence how they act and think. If we are to be wise parents, we must not simply tell our children not to listen to ungodly music (although we must tell them that!). But along with biblical boundaries, we must also help them curate a music playlist that stirs up and promotes godly emotions.
Asking “How does this song make me feel?” doesn’t lower the standard, allowing a flood of ungodly music into our teens’ libraries. Rather, it raises the standard higher—for them and for us. Music that is pleasing to God is music that generates godly emotions.
It’s February in Louisville, and we haven’t seen the sun for more than ten minutes all winter. The air is wet and cold, the kids are sniffly, and it’s the time of year when you just feel blah. So what do you do with these feelings? How do you escape the blanket of depression that settles over many of us this time of year? Wait until spring? Binge on Netflix? Go shopping?
Getting rid of the winter doldrums is the subject of a lot of conversation this time of year. Some suggest you can buy a happy lamp or maybe exercise more. You may have seen the buzz about what the Danish call “hygee”—their secret to happiness despite almost year round winter. But as Christians, we have a secret of our own. We don’t just have a better way to handle the winter blues; we don’t just apply a more “spiritual” solution to the problem. We know why God gave us feelings in the first place. And because we know why we have emotions, we know what do with them.
Emotions are from God. That much is clear. He is the one who created us with the capacity to feel happy and sad, fearful and hopeful. God gave us emotions so that we might know him more fully. And so that we might experience and respond to the world that he created. Now sin got in and created a mess of things. It damaged the world we live in and our emotional response to everything that happens around us. Thus, on the minor end of things, we have the winter blues.
In this past year of studying emotions and feelings, we’ve learned one thing for sure: emotions are complicated. You can’t always figure out where your feelings come from or why they shift all of a sudden, or why they won’t leave at all. Maybe it is the winter weather. Or it could be my hormones. Or am I’m finally going crazy over here? Tracing the varied sources of every emotion is a fruitless endeavor. We may never know. But we can always know where emotions are supposed to take us. Our feelings should always move us back to God.
So what do we do when winter weather seems to drag our feelings down? James says it as clear as anyone: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (5:13). In other words, whatever you feel, move to God. If you feel sad, pray to God. If you feel happy, sing to God. Don’t hesitate, don’t put it off, don’t wallow in your yucky feelings. Move to God! Feelings—high and low—should drive and propel us to God’s Word, to prayer, and to church. Our confusing, unpleasant emotions should cause us to cry out to God for grace.
And so, a blue winter mood can actually be a glorious opportunity. A chance to turn to God. You see, our depressed feelings reflect the reality that this world cannot satisfy our restless hearts. The winter doldrumsremind us that we were created for something more. Our joyless days reveal that we may have been seeking our joy in something other than God. Often, it’s not until we feel the coldness of our hearts that we become aware of our need for the warmth of God’s grace.
But if we move to God, the winter blues can be transformed into a season of grace. Our frigid hearts can blaze brightly with the fire of love for Christ, once again. When we cry out to God, he revives our feelings of love for Christ which have grown cold. We must not let a depressed mood drive us deeper into listless self-pity and self-absorption. We shouldn’t let the winter blues pull us into an online coma or a tv show binge. Rather, our depressed emotions should be a marvelous motivator. A catalyst to drive us to God.
Winter won’t last forever. One day soon the hot summer sun will shine and we’ll probably (to our shame!) be complaining about the infernal heat. But even more certain is what will happen to the emotions of those who believe in Jesus Christ. One day, all of our feelings will coalesce and culminate in pure joy and love for God. We will know ecstatic raptures of his presence. And we don’t have to wait. We can warm our hearts in the glow of the gospel of Jesus Christ today. As the old hymn puts it, “I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of his face.”
How do you feel? There are, no doubt, as many shades and shadows of emotions, as there are women reading these words. But no matter what you are feeling, you can know one thing for certain: your feelings are intended to move you to God. Look to him in your restless despair. Praise him in your happiness. Thank God that through Jesus Christ you can come to him, no matter what you feel today. You can have a foretaste of the joy of heaven, even in “bleak midwinter.”
How does a mature Christian handle her emotions? “Keep a tight lid on them” is the answer many of us might offer. But this intuitive reaction is not God’s prescription. He made us in his image, and he gave us emotions. Suppressing our feelings goes against his good design. That’s why it doesn’t work so well. Instead, God gives us a better way to handle our emotions. We are to pray. Rather than suppressing our emotions we are to express them to God. Instead of denying or ignoring our feelings, we are to bring them to the throne of grace.
The Psalms—indeed all of Scripture—is full of countless examples, but let’s consider one today: the story of Hannah. As you know, Hannah was barren and unkindly treated by her husband’s second wife, Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:5-6). She was overwhelmed by wave upon wave of tempestuous emotions. She was so upset she could not eat (1:7).
Did Hannah bottle up all of those bad feelings and put on a good front? Did she deny the bitterness and pain in her heart? No, Hannah’s painful feelings compelled her to pray.
”[Hannah] was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (1:10)
Hannah prayed to the Lord. Her misery drew her to God.
Here we have a vivid illustration of the usefulness of unpleasant feelings. Bad emotions can have a beneficial role in our lives when they compel us to pray.
Charles Spurgeon highlights this point:
“Observe, that through her sorrowful spirit, Hannah had learned to pray. I will not say but what she prayed before this great sorrow struck her, but this I know, she prayed with more intensity than before when she heard her rival talk so exceedingly proudly, and saw herself to be utterly despised….Thus bitterness of spirit may be an index of our need for prayer and an incentive to that holy exercise.”
Hannah’s sorrow was the incentive to pour out her soul before God. Hannah rightly handled her miserable feelings. She didn’t allow her miserable feelings to drive her away from God; instead, they were the impetus to turn to God for help. So too our miserable feelings: they should drive us to God, they should compel us to pray.
Prayer is absolutely essential if we are to rightly handle emotions. If we expect to keep our emotions from wreaking havoc on our lives, then we must pray!
Dr. R.C. Sproul makes this assertion about prayer: “Prayer does change things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us… Prayer changes us profoundly.”
Prayer changed Hannah profoundly. God changed her heart through prayer and subsequently her feelings changed. And as we know, Hannah’s emotions changed rather dramatically. She went from being “deeply distressed” at the outset of her prayer to being “no longer sad” by the end (1:18).
Pour Out Your Soul
Hannah’s prayer wasn’t some lifeless, dutiful, half-hearted prayer. It was an honest, fervent, “meet God where you are” kind of prayer. There were tears with this prayer. Lots of tears.
As the tears spilled out, Hannah spilled out her soul to the Lord. So emotional was Hannah’s prayer that Eli, the high priest, mistook them for drunken mutterings and wrongly accused Hannah of being intoxicated (1:13-14).
Hannah assured Eli that she was not under the influence of alcohol, but in a state of prayer: “I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord” she told him.
Did God condemn Hannah for her emotional prayer? Quite the opposite! He put her in Scripture as an example of a woman we should follow. It was Eli—the one who looked down his nose at Hannah’s emotional prayers—with whom God was displeased.
Hannah unburdened her soul before the Lord. She did, as Charles Spurgeon put it: “Turn[ed] the vessel of [her] soul upside down in [God’s] secret presence, and let [her] inmost thoughts, desires, sorrows, and sins be poured out like water.”
She poured out everything to God.
We can only imagine the lightness of soul Hannah must have felt after she poured out all the grief and resentment that had been pent-up in her soul for so long!
When we suppress our emotions, it weighs us down. It’s as if we are lugging around a heavy bag with us wherever we go. We all know what happens if we have to carry that bag for an extended period of time: The longer we carry it, the heavier it feels.
So it is with an overwhelmed soul. The longer we bear it, the heavier it feels.
The longer we ignore our sin and suppress our sorrow, the more weighed down we become. The bitter emotions only grow stronger. The depressing feelings only get more intense.
That’s why we should pray. There is no simpler, better way to find help for our overwhelmed souls than to pray. There is no other means whereby we experience relief from our sorrows and forgiveness for our sins than to pray.
That is why James instructed the believers to whom he was writing with these words: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (5:13)
Let me turn James’ question on us: Is there anyone here suffering? Is there anyone here whose soul is weighed down? Maybe you are burdened by a severe trial you are walking through. Possibly you are distressed about a particular sin you can’t seem to overcome. Or maybe you feel depressed and you are not even sure why.
If so, may I encourage you to pray?
Let’s pour out our souls before God. No matter how we are feeling, God wants to hear from us. He wants us to tell Him everything that’s on our hearts—to hold nothing back.
Many of us have the impression that emotions are bad. Some were raised in families where people didn’t express much emotion. No one ever said it was wrong to cry or to get too excited about something. But then again, no one ever did.
Quite a few people are raised in a culture where “too much emotion” is frowned upon. Like one woman from the UK who says she is speaking very generally, but “I’m British so we have a stiff upper lip that is part of our DNA. Anything else would seem false or forced to us.”
Maybe you were made fun for crying on the playground, or mocked for your exuberance or your laugh. Whatever the situation, we all know what its like to get the message from other people: your emotions aren’t welcome here.
Even if you grew up with a more positive view of emotions from your parents and culture, you may still have gotten the idea from some Christian books or sermons that feelings were a sign of immaturity.
No matter what our background, most of us don’t realize that negative views of emotion have an ancient history. Aristotle and the Stoics believed that “if you feel good about something you have nullified the virtue of it.” These ideas have profoundly influenced the history of emotional thought.
While more recently, freedom of expression is celebrated in popular American culture, it is also seen as a hindrance to success. In particular for women, whose emotions are particularly unwelcome in the workplace. And it is often frowned upon in the church where a legitimate fear of excessive emotionalism leads many to avoid emotion all together.
“You almost get the feeling,” writes Matthew Elliot of philosophers, “that emotions should be kept in cages, like lions at the zoo—nice to walk past and look at, but better left locked up.”
Lock ‘em up is what many of us do. We press them down, stifle our feelings, suppress any emotional expression. We tell our friends to do the same. Keep calm and carry on. Chill. Relax. Keep a stiff upper lip. Put on your game face. Try to be cool.
We suppress our feelings because it feels like the safe thing to do. It provides protection from the ridicule and rejection of others. It makes us feel a little bit like we are in control of our confusing emotions, which frankly, can be a little frightening at times. It feels like the mature or godly thing to do. Telling us we shouldn’t suppress our feelings is like opening up the cages and letting all the wild animals escape. How can that be a good thing?
“The response of some Christians” writes theologian D.G. Benner “has been to suppress emotional expression. However, such emotional suppression is not only the cause of many psychological problems, it should probably also be seen as a sinful response to emotion in that it violates God’s intentions.”
Emotions aren’t bad. Suppressingemotions is bad because it “violates God’s intentions.” You see, God, is an emotional Being who created us to be like him, to reflect his image (Gen. 1:27). He is not glorified when we suppress or stifle our emotions. He is not pleased when we view feelings as inherently bad or defective.
Stifling emotions is not only wrong, it is dangerous. It is the cause, as Benner points out, of “many psychological problems.” AW Tozer agrees:
“Be sure that human feelings can never be completely stifled. If they are forbidden their normal course, like a river they will cut another channel through the life and flow out to curse and ruin and destroy.”
Because emotional suppression runs contrary to God’s design, it wreaks havoc in our lives. Feelings that are suppressed do not disappear; they burst their bonds and rush forth to ruin and destroy.
We all know the mess a burst emotional pipe can make. Ulcers and migraines. Family feuds. “She finally snapped,” we say. Emotions that are stifled and suppressed—contrary to God’s design—are the source of significant trouble in our lives. Sometimes, after years of stuffing their emotions way down inside, people either “lose it” altogether or instead lose the ability to feel much at all.
Be comforted that God has not left us at the mercy of our emotions. He didn’t give us a gift that is wild and uncontrollable and then tell us we’re wrong to try and tame it. No, he has given us all the wisdom and instruction we need in his Word to help us deal with our emotions in a manner that glorifies him.
So often, and especially with our emotions, we choose a course of action based on past experience instead of God’s Word. We have bad experiences with emotions and so we decide that feelings must be bad. We get rejected because of our emotions and so we conclude that feelings are best kept under wraps. But God wants us to set aside our experiences and return to his Word to learn how to deal with our emotions.
For those of you who have found some degree of safety in suppressing your emotions, God wants you to know that he has a better way. He wants to put faith and courage in your heart. He is the one who gave us emotions and he has told us how to handle them, in a way that results in freedom and in joy.
Others of you may worry that we are opening up all the cages to wild and uncontrolled emotions. Are you really advocating that everyone just express how they feel whenever they feel it? Of course not! If you’ve been reading our blog for any length of time you know us better than that. Rather, we want to encourage everyone to take a fresh look at what Scripture says about our emotions. In the next couple posts we’ll consider one way God helps us to properly handle our emotions.
It wasn’t until after dinner on December 1 that I finally went out to the garage in search of our large, wooden, Advent calendar. All I found was an old, used, cardboard calendar. My search for the traditional Advent candles was equally fruitless, so I grabbed a small, misshapen candle from my bedroom dresser. Let the Advent season begin.
As if the holidays aren’t crazy enough, this year my husband and I are fixing up an old farmhouse and moving in (God-willing) by the middle of December. Right now, we are living in between two houses, making packing lists, carpenter checklists, and Christmas lists all at the same time. Which is why I can’t find my Advent stuff, or anything else for that matter.
You don’t have to be moving to feel like the pressure of the holidays is putting the squeeze on your emotions. We all want to experience the peace and joy of this time of year, but things are so busy. And the busier we get, the more anxious and stressed we feel.
“Your life is so intense right now” my mom sympathized “and that’s just reality. The work isn’t going away. You are, as Paul describes the married woman in 1 Corinthians 7, ‘anxious about worldly things’ (v. 37).”
Then she asked me this question:
“How can you simplify your day so that you can carve out a couple of minutes to contemplate the incarnation?”
Each day, as you make your to-do list, ask yourself this question. What is one task you can eliminate or one tradition you can simplify? How can you turn that extra five minutes or half an hour into time well-spent, focusing on the truth of Immanuel, God with us.
“This is what will make you happy,” Mom reminded me, “contemplating the good news of the gospel.”
She followed her advice with this thought from Martin Luther:
“We must both read and meditate upon the nativity….There is such richness and goodness in this nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy.”
The other night, after I had collected our rather pathetic Advent supplies, we gathered our children around the table, turned off the lights (hiding all the dirt and boxes), and lit our solitary candle. Everyone was quiet as my husband helped our youngest, Sophie, read from Luke 2:11:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
One simple verse, packed with richness and goodness. One tired mom, dissolved in perpetual joy.
The small town in Kentucky where we live grew up about 150 years ago around a train station. Trains still rumble through all day, to the delight of my children who try to count the cars and guess what’s inside.
The other night, though, we came upon an ugly scene. The train had collided with a huge white semi, which lay twisted on the track, illuminated by the glow of emergency vehicles. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was a dramatic sight.
For some of us, this is where our emotions are headed this Thanksgiving. We are a train wreck waiting to happen.
Maybe we sense a crash ahead. Things haven’t been great with the family lately and a holiday conflict is in the offing. Or we are tense and irritable, unhappy about a lot of things in our life: we’re speeding into the holiday with no emotional brakes.
But maybe we’re totally unaware a semi is ahead on the tracks. We’re happy because the Thanksgiving table will be full this year. We’re energized by all the dinner preparations.
All of us, the excited and the anxious, must consider the source of our emotions this Thanksgiving. Can our happiness be taken away if things suddenly go wrong this Thursday? Is a peaceful holiday or some change of circumstances the only thing that will make us happy?
Tim Keller has a few words of wisdom for the holiday:
Most contemporary people base their inner life on their outward circumstances. Their inner peace is based on other people’s valuation of them, and on their social status, prosperity, and performance. Christians do this as much as anyone. Paul is teaching that (in Eph. 1:15-19 and especially verse 17), for believers, it should be the other way around. Otherwise we will be whiplashed by how things are going in the world.
If our holiday happiness is dependent on what the people we spend Thanksgiving with think about us, or how our children behave, or whether the gravy thickens, we’re headed for an emotional crash. We’ll get whiplashed by how things go.
But Paul wrote in Philippians (4:10-13), that he had learned to avoid such collisions. He had learned the secret to being content (happy!) whatever the circumstances. The strength of his joy was in his Savior.
If we set our joy in God at the beginning of this week, our happiness will be unassailable. It won’t be ruffled by a family member’s put-down or burnt with the rolls.
You know what? We do not need the approval of our family or success in our job or a feeling of significance. We don’t even need to have a conflict-free holiday in order to be happy. Our happiness can really be, as we’ve quoted often here at girltalk, “out of the reach” of all these things. That’s because for those of us who are Christians, our joy is safely and securely in Jesus Christ.
When you can honestly say, “My worst fears about this holiday may come true, or it may be the best holiday ever, but either way, I know I will be happy this Thanksgiving” you know you’ve discovered Paul’s secret. Here’s praying we all will find it.
Today the girltalkers are sitting down over lunch (maybe leftover chicken and orzo or a couple of roast beef sandwiches from Arby’s—Janelle’s still deciding on the menu) to plan Thanksgiving. Yes, we’re a little early on the Christmas music and late on the Thanksgiving planning this year, but we’ll pull it together.
Holiday planning is essential. We plan menus and seating arrangements, we make lists of gifts to get and to give. But there’s one holiday event we often fail to plan for, and that is our feelings.
The holidays stir up feelings we thought were ancient history, feelings that only seem to surface this time of year and if we aren’t prepared, our emotions can end up running (even ruining) the holidays.
Anxiety spikes over the holidays. Will the children like their presents? Will the turkey be moist and will the gravy thicken? Is the family going to get along?
When life is hard and we are down, we feel bitter and resentful of holiday cheer. Maybe Scrooge had a point.
Disappointments litter the holiday season. Your daughter couldn’t come for Christmas. The party wasn’t a huge success. Your husband wasn’t as excited about his present as you’d hoped.
Envy and jealousy rear their ugly heads this time of year. You were reasonably content until you had to spend an evening listening to your cousin talk about her new house and her amazing church and her wonderful kids.
We feel stressed about all the work and irritable because no one is helping us do it.
Feelings of judgment and anger (you thought you’d repented from) are rekindled along with the yuletide fire. Guilt is served up like a side dish.
Many of us feel happy and excited over the holidays, only to get hit with a bad case of post-holiday blues.
For some, the holidays bring a sharp stab of pain and sadness from the loss of a loved one.
How do we deal with our holiday feelings? There’s a ton of advice out there, but as Christian women, we have a higher goal. We want to glorify God with our holiday feelings. We want to rejoice in our Savior’s birth. We want to have hearts full of gratitude for the gift of salvation.
We have a higher goal, and we also have a greater hope. Our hope is in our Savior, who has rescued us from the wrath of God and forgiven us from our sins. Our hope is in the Holy Spirit who is active in our hearts this holiday season to help us rejoice in Jesus Christ.
How can we experience God-glorifying emotions this holiday? Let’s receive wisdom from God’s Word to make a plan.
“[T]ake the…sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:17-18).
To fight fear we are to “pray at all times.” But we have another weapon in our arsenal: the promises of God. We are to wield the Word against the onslaught of mothering fears.
We are to ”take” the Word of God and use it. To do this, we need to have it nearby. This means we need to be daily reading the Word and consistently meditating on it.
And we need to pull out the promises and put them into action. We have to pick up the sword and fight. A sword must be swung in order to deliver a blow.
We have a legacy of faithful, fear-fighting, women to follow: “And you are [Sarah’s] children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6).
John Piper writes: “[T]he daughters of Sarah fight the anxiety that rises in their hearts. They wage war on fear, and they defeat it with the promises of God.”
Let’s be daughters of Sarah and fight our mothering fears with the promises of God.
To conclude: Our two, fear-fighting, strategies are:
Prayer: “...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
Promises: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
Saints throughout the centuries have leaned on God’s promises and called out to Him in prayer. And each and every time, they have found Him to be faithful. “I sought the Lord,” David tells us, “and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4).
So, let’s follow the example of David and that great cloud of witnesses. Let’s seek God through constant prayer, and in the space of His promises, let’s park our souls.