Reframing High Emotions
“This. Is. The butt day!!!”
That was young Bruno’s emotional assessment of his day as he stomped up the stairs to his room. After a day full of rebukes for his misdeeds, he was now being sent to his room rather than joining his family for movie time. It was more than the little guy could bear.
When his mama shared this story with our group of mom friends, we couldn’t help but chuckle. I think Bruno speaks for all of us on those days when, whether by our fault or not, the day is completely going down the tubes.
Honestly, more often than I’d like to admit, I have days where my attitude is in the gutter and I’m brooding over a seemingly unsalvageable day. I’m an emotional person, which can be a strength of mine—but it’s also one of my biggest weaknesses, especially when it comes to discouragement or anger. I’ve repeatedly asked God to make me a more temperate (rather than temperamental) woman. And yet, despite my resolve to master my emotions, I soon find myself sobbing hopelessly over frustrated plans…or losing my marbles at bedtime as my three-year-old says through hot, angry tears, “Get away you, you Dinosaur Lady!” (*Sigh*…ugh.)
Below the Surface
I’ve often heard it said that our emotions reflect our underlying beliefs. Though it’s not always pleasant, we can learn a lot from our responses to frustrations and unfulfilled expectations. They can clue us in to something that’s happening below the surface, in our hearts. That’s why I love this refrain from the 42nd and 43rd Psalms so much:
“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 43:5)
This verse reframes my struggle with emotions. Rather than trying to change my emotions, change my bad habits, change my circumstances, change my kids, or whatever the source of my ire is, I instead switch my focus. I evaluate and ask myself, what’s the real reason I’m discouraged or angry? Where have I placed my expectations? Where is my hope? Am I banking on things which I know are faulty, or am I standing firm on the one true source of hope, Jesus and his gospel of grace?
Flipping the Script
Sometimes something small and seemingly insignificant causes my turmoil. Other times, it’s because of something grave and devastating. Either way, the truth of the gospel speaks to it.
For example, when I’m descending into a frazzled rage over my incessantly bickering kids, I’m being frustrated by their sin natures and my own. I need a reminder that, though we are sinners, Jesus takes our punishment and offers us reconciliation to God by his death on the cross. He also renews our hearts through our faith in him (2 Cor. 5:17-19, Phil 1:6).
If I’m heartsick because a precious one is suffering a serious illness or a shattered marriage, I’m grieved by the brokenness and corruption of this world. And yet, I recall that Jesus has defeated the old order of things. Just as he was resurrected from the dead, so will those who trust in him be raised. In fact, all of creation will be made new and whole again, without suffering, hostility, or death (Romans 8:19-21, Revelation 21:3-5).
Stability for the Unstable
This doesn’t mean we who trust in Jesus are forever wearing glassy-eyed grins. There are proper times to mourn deeply and even to be good and angry. But the good news of Christ’s victory over sin and death on the cross gives me something solid and true to stand on when my character, my circumstances, or others around me let me down.
And it goes further than that. Jesus’ steadfastness isn’t just a refreshing contrast to our broken fallibility; through it he’s provided the remedy for it. Jesus has taken the punishment our sin warrants and shares with us the reward he earned by his righteousness (1 Peter 3:18, Rom. 5:6-10). And when I recognize that, I am moved to praise my Savior and God for his steadfastness and faithfulness.
If you yearn for heart change in this area, know that God transforms us through our beliefs, not our behavior, and then our behavior follows those beliefs. Whether you’re dealing with a real crisis or just find yourself in a funk over a crummy day, you can ask the Holy Spirit to reframe your emotions in light of the gospel, drastically loosening the vice grip they can have. When this happens, you’ll be led to a place of deeper love and worship for God, the One worthy of your trust.