Breaking Free From Labels

There was no denying it. The white paint coating the underside of my vehicle was all the evidence needed.  Just a few days prior, I had found myself behind a truck putting down fresh paint on the road. With several cars between me and the truck, it was difficult to see which lines were being repainted, but based on the brightness of the middle, yellow lines, I assumed that’s where the fresh paint was. Apparently, I assumed wrong. As I examined the unexpected, new paint job on my vehicle, the thoughts began to swirl.

 “How in the world did you manage to drive through wet paint?”

“Didn’t you know what that would do to your vehicle?”

“Why didn’t you pay closer attention?”

Then, those thoughts took a different, deeper turn.

“You are such a bad driver.”

“You don’t take good care of your vehicle.”

“You are such a distracted mess.”

A bad driver. Irresponsible. A distracted mess. Those negative thoughts that filled my mind as I examined the damage to my car quickly turned into something that felt more personal, more condemning. Those thoughts . . . turned into labels. 

Labels are defined as words or phrases that identify or describe something or someone. We use labels all the time to help us categorize and identify things within our world. For example, when I go to the store and buy a package that is labeled cereal, cereal is exactly what I anticipate finding when I open it. I don’t take the box home wondering if I have just bought a box of cookies or, heaven forbid, a box of mushrooms. That would be a bad day. No, the label helps me identify the item I am purchasing. This is just one example of how labels can be extremely helpful for us as we try to make sense of this world.

Far too often, others place labels upon us or we place labels upon ourselves that attempt to categorize us in one way or another. These labels are often negative in their connotation and ones that we were never designed to wear. Labels like:

Angry

Yeller

Exploder

Stuffer

Always Late

Just like my mother

Hot mess

People pleaser

Stupid

Insecure 

Unwanted

Unlovable

What labels have been placed upon you? How do those labels make you feel? 

One of the biggest problems with these negative labels is that over time, we begin to accept them as our truth. When something is repeated to us often enough, we begin to believe it don’t we? And once it becomes our truth, we believe that we can never break free from it. In her book, Unglued, Lysa Terkeurst says,

“Some prisons don’t require bars to keep people locked inside. All it takes is their perception that they belong there. A soul who believes she can’t leave . . . doesn’t.”

“All it takes is the perception that they belong there.” Have you ever been there? Have you ever looked at the labels you wear and told yourself that you will never change? Have you ever told yourself that perhaps you deserve that label? Have you ever told yourself that you will forever be defined by that label placed upon you? 

Last time, we talked about how we are in a battle for our minds. We talked about how it is important to take every thought that enters our mind captive and filter it through the truth we find in His Word. This applies to labels as well. Every label that is placed upon us needs to be identified, and then held up and examined against the truth we find in God’s Word. We need to ask ourselves if the labels we carry are based on what God says is true or if they are based on a lie that Satan would have us believe.

Beloved, God’s Word says this about you. 

You are Known

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you.” 

 Jeremiah 1:5  (MSG)

“O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am; You even know the small details like when I take a seat and when I stand up again. Even when I am far away, You know what I’m thinking. You observe my wanderings and my sleeping, my waking and my dreaming, and You know everything I do in more detail than even I know. You know what I’m going to say long before I say it.It is true, Eternal One, that You know everything and everyone. You have surrounded me on every side, behind me and before me, and You have placed Your hand gently on my shoulder. It is the most amazing feeling to know how deeply You know me, inside and out;the realization of it is so great that I cannot comprehend it.” 

Psalm 139:1-6 (VOICE)

You are fully Loved

“I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.’”  

Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)

 “Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children.”

 1 John 3:1 (VOICE)

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV) 

You are His Masterpiece created exactly as He intended

“For we are God’s masterpiece, created in the Messiah Jesus to perform good actions that God prepared long ago to be our way of life.”

Ephesians 2:10 (ISV)

That is the truth of who you are.

The labels you carry . . . they don’t define you. 

The labels you carry . . . they do not speak to the truth of who you are.

A number of years ago, I walked through a very dark season when I placed label upon label upon label on myself. It got to the point that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the woman before me. I didn’t recognize her, and I didn’t know how to break free from her. But, God did. I reached out and asked Him to help me tear off the labels I had hidden behind for so long. Now, I’ll be honest with you. It was terrifying. It was uncomfortable.  It was downright painful at times. I questioned whether others would like the true me. I questioned whether I would like the true me. I questioned whether the process of removing the labels was worth it. Know what I learned? It was. It was worth it. When I invited God in to do His work, to chisel away the parts of me that weren’t true to who He created me to be, He set me free. I no longer felt imprisoned by the labels I had hidden behind for so long.

The same can be true for you. Invite God in. Let Him do the hard work within you. Step into the beautiful, amazing woman He created you to be. 

References: 

Allen, Jennie. Get Out of Your Head. Waterbrook. 2020.

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 2 Nov. 2021.

Terkeurst, Lysa. (2012). Unglued Making Wise Choices In The Midst Of Raw Emotions, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Guard Your Mind

My hands trembled as I typed the words. “I’ve just locked her out of the house.” I set my phone down, and as the tears threatened to fall, I tried to calm my spiraling emotions. How did we get to this place? Where did I go wrong?

It had been a difficult morning. My daughter was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and her behavior that morning was proof of that. Her sharp tongue and disobedience had tried my patience thus far, but her refusal to put on a seatbelt in the car? That one threatened to push me over the edge.  Physically shaking with anger, I pulled the car into the garage, walked into the house and locked the door behind me. I then proceeded to walk through the house, closing and locking each outside door we have, effectively locking my raging preteen outside. Now, before you ask, yes, she was safe, and I only left them locked for about five minutes. But, I needed those five minutes. I needed those five minutes to try and calm my emotions that were spiraling out of control. 

I’ve found that this happens more often than it used to, my emotions spiraling out of control. Perhaps it is the season our family is currently in, the challenges that come with raising preteens/teens, or the negativity that has consumed our world right now? Perhaps it’s a combination of all those things and the fact that life just feels really hard right now? As I walk through my days, I find that even the smallest thing can quickly send me into a spiral. A spiral of emotions, a feeling of complete overwhelm, a desire to lock all of the outside doors and shut the world out for just a few moments.  Can you relate to this at all? 

In her book, “Get Out of Your Head”, Jennie Allen says that our emotions are actually a by-product of the way we think. We average about thirty-thousand thoughts in one day, and according to researchers, 70% of those thoughts are negative. If 70% of the thoughts we have in a day are negative, what impact does that have on us? In the book of Proverbs, it says, 

“Guard your heart (mind) above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” 

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Our thoughts affect the decisions we make each day. Those decisions we make determine how we behave. How we behave affects our relationships with others, and the way in which we view ourselves. Negative thoughts can lead to poor decisions. Poor decisions can lead to poor behavior. Poor behavior can lead to struggles within our relationships. Poor behavior can also lead to struggles in how we view ourselves. When we struggle in our relationships or struggle with our own self-worth, our mind becomes a breeding ground for more negative thoughts. These negative thoughts surface, the cycle begins once again, and we continue to spiral downward. 

Is this the way that we want to live our lives day after day? Is it possible to interrupt the spiral of emotions we may find ourselves in and shift our thinking?  Jennie Allen says it is. She says,

“We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds.”

“The battle for our minds . . . “  In Corinthians 10, Paul writes, 

“ For though we walk in the world, we do not fight according to this world’s rules of warfare. The weapons of the war we’re fighting are not of this world but are powered by God and effective at tearing down the strongholds erected against His truth. We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One.” 

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (VOICE)

As believers, we’ve been given the authority and power from God to take every thought that enters our mind captive and filter it through the truth we find in His Word. You and I have been equipped to destroy the lies that try to dominate our thought patterns. Yet, though we’ve been given the power and authority, we still have to make the choice to use it. We have to choose to shift our thinking.

So, how do we do this? How do we shift our thinking? First, we need to identify the thoughts that we have allowed to settle comfortably in our brains. What is an emotion that you have felt recently? For me, it’s “overwhelm”. Maybe you’ve have also been feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you’ve felt fearful, or angry. Maybe life is running very smoothly right now, and you can honestly say that you are feeling peaceful. What have you been feeling recently?

Now, think about what may be contributing to you feeling that emotion. What factors do you think are potentially causing that feeling or emotion? For me, there are several areas that are contributing to my feelings of overwhelm. Kids, work, my husband’s job, and COVID-19 are on my list. What about you? Maybe for you it’s the laundry that keeps growing by the day, some health issues you’re dealing with, or a work deadline that you’re facing. What factors are contributing to your feelings?

Lastly, think about why these factors are causing you to feel that particular emotion. For example, right now, my kids are causing me to feel overwhelmed. Why? I’ve never raised teenagers before. Many days, I feel ill-equipped to handle the challenges that come with this season. I want to parent wisely, but how do you handle mood swings, sibling fights, and struggles with peers? The desire to raise my kids well and the feeling that I’m messing it up so badly day after day leaves me feeling overwhelmed. What about you? Why are these particular factors causing you to feel a certain way?

Do you see any patterns and common themes in your thinking? What negative thoughts have you allowed to settle into your mind? Are you worrying about things or circumstances that you have no control over? Are you angry about something that has happened to you or someone you love? Do you find your thoughts fixated on things that you know aren’t healthy for you? Are you allowing shame of your past to continue to weigh heavily upon you? What thoughts have you allowed to settle into your mind?

Now that we’ve identified the thoughts that have settled in our minds, it’s time to take those thoughts captive and hold them up against the truth we find in God’s Word. Ask yourself if this thought you have is based on what God says is true or if it’s based on a lie that Satan would have you believe. For example, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the thought that I am not equipped to parent my kids well in this season. Some days, I feel weary. Some days, I spend way too much time worrying about things out of my control. Some days, I feel like I make so many mistakes, and I wonder if I have the wisdom to do this parenting thing well. Maybe I’m not equipped to do this? And that is exactly what Satan would have me believe. What does God’s Word tell me, however? .

“The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.” 

Isaiah 40:29 (CEV)

 “Don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Matthew 6:33 (MSG)

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

 Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

“If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking.”

James 1:5 (VOICE)

Those thoughts that have settled in your mind . . . are they based on lies that Satan would have you believe or are they based on what God’s Word tells you is true? Side note here: You may not know what God has to say about the thoughts with which your struggling. Two great resources for you. #1 – Google. Go to the search bar and type in, “What does the Bible say about ______?”  A list of verses that go along with the topic will pop up for you. #2 – www.gotquestions.org – I love this resource. It has well researched answers for many of the questions we have about faith.

Jennie says,

“If we want to stop our patterns of toxic thinking, we must notice what’s happening and take action . . . Taking every thought captive is . . . choosing to believe that God is with us, is for us, and loves us even when all hell comes against us.”

Taking every thought captive is choosing to take those negative thought patterns within our minds and rewriting them. It’s taking our negative emotions and the reasons behind them and choosing to view them through God’s truth.

For example, instead of focusing on how overwhelmed I feel in the midst of this season with my kids, I can choose to rewrite my thought pattern. Instead of: I am overwhelmed and I don’t feel equipped to parent well in this season, I would rewrite it to say: I am overwhelmed, and I don’t feel equipped to parent well in this season, so I will choose to remember that God will give me wisdom and strength and He will walk with me through every battle I face. This promise is found in Isaiah. It says,

“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 41:10 (ESV)

Do you see the difference there? I acknowledged the emotion and the reason behind it, but I also chose to filter it through something I know to be true. If you were to rewrite your thought pattern, what would it say?

Lastly, Jennie reminds us that,

“We need to walk by the Spirit, not be jerked around by our swirling chaotic thoughts.”

To walk by the Spirit is to spend time in His presence. Psalm 46:10 tells us to, 

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Psalm 46:10 (NLT)

The NASB translation says to, “Cease striving . . .” The Street Bible says to, “Shut up . . . Shut off . . . Shut out . . . and in the silence . . . sense God: connect!” To spend time in His presence is to be still, turn our focus completely on Him, and listen. It is in His presence that we shift our thinking. It is in His presence  that our minds turn towards those things described in Philippians as good and true. 

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].”

Philippians 4:8 (AMP)

It is in His presence that our minds can be transformed. Romans tells us,  

“Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to Him.” 

Romans 12:2 (CEV)

It is also in His presence that we can experience the peace described in the book of Philippians.

“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.  And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].” 

Philippians 4:6-7 (AMP)

Jennie says,

“Shifting our minds from flesh to spirit is an ongoing work of the spiritual life . . . it’s not a one time decision, but a day by day moment by moment choice to move from chaos and confusion toward the peace of Christ in various areas of our thought lives.”

How would your life change, if you invited God to transform those negative thoughts you think 70% of the time into positive ones that are rooted in His truth? How would your life change if you made the choice to move from the chaos and confusion this world offers towards the peace Jesus promises? You have the choice. What will you choose today? 

References: 

Allen, Jennie. Get Out of Your Head. Waterbrook. 2020.

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 19 Oct. 2021.

Lessons From a Pickle

My youngest loves pickles. So earlier this year, I thought it would be fun to buy some seeds and try my hand at raising cucumbers. Now, I must be honest and tell you that though I love having a garden, I’m one of those gardeners who loses enthusiasm as the season drags on. In early March, I’m outside digging in the still semi-frozen dirt, anxious to get my peas and lettuce in the ground. I spend April, May, and most of June dutifully weeding and watering my young plants. Then July hits. And it gets hot. And the weeds keep returning. And the deer eat my strawberry plants. And the green beans are ready to harvest . . . and there are always so many of them. My enthusiasm wanes and the garden begins to look like a pile of ancient ruins behind my back deck. And, if I’m honest, I don’t care. 

That’s where I was at this past July. My son wanted pickles, I had planted the pickling cucumbers, I hadn’t looked at them in weeks, and honestly, I didn’t care. My dad came over the one day, and as he walked through my garden, I asked him if my cucumbers were ready yet. He gave me a knowing smile and suggested that perhaps my cucumbers were a tad overripe. Now, when he said tad, I  thought maybe they could still be saved. However, reality hit when I went outside the following day to pick them. They were beyond being a tad overripe.  Instead of looking like a normal cucumber you would use for pickling, mine looked more like this.

They were beyond saving. 

Before I had a chance to share the disappointing news with my son, I got a sweet text from my dad. He had a peck of pickles if I could use them. (My dad always saves the day.)  So, just a couple of days later, I found myself with a peck of pickles ready to be pickled. And, because I’m a good mom, I enlisted the help of my children in preparing the cucumbers for the canning jars. I showed each one how to slice the fruit and pack the jars and busied myself getting the pickling liquid ready. As I began filling the jars, I made an interesting observation, however. Though each child received the same instructions, no jar of pickles looked the same. 

Here is a jar belonging to my oldest. My firstborn, my rule follower. Aside from the seeds, he basically did what I showed him to do. He cut the pickles into long spears and packed them vertically in the jars.  

My daughter, the middle born, and the only girl cut her’s differently. She cut hers in circles because they look prettier that way. 

And then there was my youngest, the one who requested the pickles in the first place. He cut his in a manner that took the absolute least amount of effort and time.

When questioned, he told me that it didn’t matter what they looked like. They would taste just the same. Sometimes I can’t fault his logic.  

Three kids. Three very different and unique ways of approaching the task at hand. But, when it came down to it, it honestly didn’t matter how the cucumbers were cut. They might not win the blue ribbon at the fair, but they would all still taste like pickles. 

That got me thinking. As moms, we’re a lot like those pickles. We’re different. We don’t all look the same. We come in all different shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We don’t all mother the same. We differ in our bedtime routines, the manner in which we discipline, and the experiences we choose to give our kids. Even the story of how each of us became is mom is different and unique. Just like those pickles didn’t look the same, neither do we as moms. 

I recently read a post by Pastor Dennis Lee that talked about our uniqueness. Here’s a portion of that post:

“You really don’t have to travel far to discover just how much God loves diversity and variety. Think about it: God made over 300,000 species of beetles. Now some might call that creative overkill. But God loves variety. 

Did you know that in one cubic foot of snow there are 18 million individual snowflakes and not one of them alike? And while we can’t tell the difference, it’s just snow to us, God notices and created each one of them.

God likes variety in people too. If you ever had to wait for an airplane or stand in line at Wal-Mart, you’ll see all sorts of unique and peculiar people. God made every one of them individually, and when we look in the mirror we see just how great and peculiar we are.”

How often do you look in the mirror and see just how great and peculiar you are? I’ll be honest, the peculiar part is a little easier for me to identify than the great part. But, we’re reminded in the book of Psalm that there is indeed a great part. 

We were uniquely and carefully crafted by our Creator. We weren’t part of a massive heavenly production line or just thrown together at the last minute. No, there was a thoughtful and purposeful shaping and a knitting together of everything that makes you, you. There is no one in this entire world who is exactly like you, and that is a wonderful thing. 

In what ways are you unique? Do you ever struggle with those qualities you have that make you different from others? Do you ever look at the qualities found in others and find yourself a bit envious? Me too. In fact, I realized that I spend a lot of time comparing myself to others, and I usually come up with one of two conclusions. Either I am severely lacking in multiple areas of life, or I take on the attitude that I am doing this thing called life way better than someone else. Neither of those conclusions are healthy and if we’re being honest, neither of them are accurate either. Somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten it in our heads that we have to be everything and we have to do everything. We’ve set this unrealistic expectation before us of what it looks like to be a good woman, wife, and mom. But, the reality is that we weren’t created to be everything and we weren’t created to do everything. We were created uniquely with different gifts and different strengths. Mama, we need to get to the point where we can celebrate that. We need to get to the point where we can celebrate the giftings and strengths of others instead of beating ourselves up over the fact that we are not like them. But, how do we do that?

We need to realize that comparison can actually be gift. A gift that helps us see the reality of who we are and the woman we were created to be. Author, Abigail Dodds said the following: 

“Comparison is a fundamental part of being human, because it’s how we  acquaint ourselves with reality.” 

Think about that statement for a moment. Comparison is how we acquaint ourselves with reality. What is reality? Reality is I’m not good at everything. Reality is I mess up as a mom a lot. Realty is I’m not perfect. And I hate to break this to you, but the same realities ring true for you. You are not perfect and you never will be. God didn’t create you to be perfect. Only He can be perfect. There will always be someone who is better than you at something. Instead of using comparison to beat ourselves up, what if we simply used comparison to accept the truth of how God created us?

Comparison can also be a tool to help us grow. Often, we use comparison as a measuring stick. We use it to identify all of the many ways we fall short compared to others. But, what if instead of using comparison as a measuring stick, we used it more like a set of pruners? Pruners are used to cut out unhealthy or unneeded parts of a plant to encourage new growth. Instead of comparing the many ways we don’t measure up to others, what if we used comparison as a means of identifying areas in which we could grow?

Abigail Dodds said, 

“Noticing (the differences among us)  isn’t a sin, but a gift, and it need not lead to the evaporation of our joy, but can be the water for its growth. Holy imitation isn’t about cramming ourselves into another’s mold. It’s about recognizing the Christlike principles another has applied to their life and figuring out how to apply them to ours.”

Think about an area in which you would love to grow? Do you have someone in your circle that you’ve observed might be strong in this area? What lessons can you take from watching her life? 

Abigail also said,

“What if, rather than pretending not to notice that our friend is excelling in homemaking and parenting (while we’re scraping by), we honored her by giving thanks to God for her obedience, her diligence, and her example of Christ that we can follow? What if we started observing her more closely, making more comparisons rather than less, so that we could tease out the principles of godliness present in her life and do likewise? What if, rather than smugly disdaining the mom who can’t get her act together, we offered her a better way? What if we actually said with Paul, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,’ not because we think we’re better than she is, but because God has really done something profound in us and we’re confident he can do it in her, too? Leading our comparisons in the right direction — away from envy, pride, covetousness, and self-pity, and toward Christlike imitation and the fear of God — will turn us into better parents, mentors, and friends.”

How differently might this mothering journey look like if we recognized and celebrated the gifts and strengths we see in others? How differently might this mothering journey look like if instead of using comparison to measure our faults, we used it to help us grow? How differently might this mothering journey look like if made the choice to use our gifts and strengths to pour into others and to encourage them in their own journey? Celebrate one another’s gifts and strengths. Lift one another up in their weaknesses. Support, encourage, and love those in your tribe. 

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+139%3A13-16&version=VOICE. Accessed 14 Sept. 2021. 

Dodds, Abigail. “Comparison Is Not the Thief of Joy.” DesiringGod, 16 Mar. 2018. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/comparison-is-not-the-thief-of-joy. Accessed 14 Sept. 2021. 

Lee, Dennis. “God Made You Unique.” The Spectrum. https://www.thespectrum.com/story/life/features/mesquite/2016/09/16/god-made-you-unique/90364360/. Accessed 14 Sept. 2021. 

A Gift

This past weekend, as our family gathered to soak in the last days of summer, I found my kids working on their Christmas lists. Yes, you read that correctly. It is September, and my kids are already planning ahead for one of their favorite times of the year. What struck me as I listened to them, however, was not the fact that they were making their lists. No, what struck me, was the fact that my kids were not only making a list of those items they’d love to receive, but also those items they would love to give others. You see, as much as my kids love receiving presents at Christmas, they get almost as excited in finding the perfect gift to give each person in our family. My kids love to give gifts to others. 

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded that giving gifts to others doesn’t have to be a seasonal thing. Every day, we have opportunities to give others gifts. Sometimes these gifts take on physical forms, but, other times, the most precious gifts we can give others look more like the gift our time, the gift of our patience, or the gift of our willingness to listen. We can give the gift of understanding, forgiveness, or encouragement. 

Ephesians 4:29 reminds us that our words can also be a gift. 

“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.”

Ephesians 4:29 (MSG) 

Every day, we have an opportunity to use our words as a gift. We can use them to support, encourage, and build others up, or we can use them to hurt, discourage, and tear others down. Our words can bring peace. Our words can also stir up fear.

As you walk through your day today, I would encourage you to remember that your words can be a gift. Use them wisely; use them well. 

Why God?

She turned towards me and I could see the questioning in her dark eyes. “Why does God make bad things happen?” Her question broke my heart, but I understood where she was coming from. How many times have I asked that same question? How many times have I asked myself just in the past week why?  Why me? Why her?  Why him? Why God? Because this doesn’t seem quite fair.

When she arrived at school that day, six kids were absent from her class. Before noon, seven more were sent home for possible COVID exposure. Of the seven kids left in the class, my girl was the only girl left. For the remainder of this week, it will be her and a bunch of boys. She is not thrilled at the prospect.

But, getting back to her question. Why does God make bad things happen? I was honest and told her I don’t always understand, but there are a couple of things I am certain of. First, God is good and He is faithful – always. Scripture tells us:

“For the LORD is good; His mercy and lovingkindness are everlasting, His faithfulness [endures] to all generations.” 

Psalm 100:5 (AMP)

LORD in all caps is translated as Yahweh or Jehovah in Hebrew. It is God’s proper name. It’s who He is. It means He is holy, the giver of life, righteous, and just. God is always good and He is always faithful because that’s who He is. 

Secondly, God is always working for the good of those who love Him. Romans tells us:

“And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”

 Romans 8:28 (AMP)

We may not see His hand moving physically, but the evidence is all around us. We have to open our eyes and see it though. God is always working for what is good and what is best.

Thirdly, what I deem is good and best is not what God always deems as good and best.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” 

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB) 

God has the ability to see the bigger picture. I do not. I’m very much like my kids in some ways. I have moments when I believe eating a peanut butter cup is the absolute best thing for me. But, when I look at the bigger picture, what happens when I eat peanut butter cups every single time I think it’s the best thing for me? It’s not going to be healthy for me in the long run. God’s perspective is so much clearer than my own. I need to remember that. 

Lastly, God does allow for us to walk through difficult seasons, but He promises He will never leave us. Romans says:

“. . . Do not fear, for I have redeemed you [from captivity]; 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 will not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . you are precious in My sight, you are honored and I love you.”

Isaiah 43:1-4 (AMP)

We will walk through difficult seasons. But, we take comfort in the fact that God will always be there walking alongside us. Something else to remember is that it’s often in our darkest seasons that we grow the most. I’ve learned so much through the dark seasons I’ve walked through.  Were they comfortable? Absolutely not. But, if they were comfortable would I have leaned into God so heavily?

Everything that happens in this life can draw us closer to God or pull us away from Him. When you find yourself on a path that is hard, ask yourself several things.

  1. Am I going to invite God to walk alongside me during this season or try to do it on my own?
  2. What good can I see in front of me?
  3. What might God have for me to learn through this?

There is always a purpose in everything God does. Always

I shared these thoughts with my daughter, and do you want to know what she said? She said, “God probably picked me to be the only girl left in the class this week because He knows I can handle it. I mean, I live with mostly boys.” What a great perspective and a lesson for us all!When things aren’t going as planned or this season feels really hard, look for the good and try to see things through God’s perspective. Reflect on what you are learning. Reflect on how God’s growing you.

“Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought it would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.” – Rachel Marie Martin

Choosing Forgiveness

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”

– C.S. Lewis

There is truth to those words, isn’t there? When we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone’s hurtful words or actions, forgiveness can seem impossibly hard. And if we’re honest, it is often the very last thing that we want to do. Yet, if we look in the Scriptures, we find that forgiveness is exactly what we are called to do. Paul tells us in both Colossians and Ephesians, 

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” 

Colossians 3:13 (NLT) 

“Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:32 (AMP)

There are several things in these verses that I think are important to point out. First, in Colossians, Paul doesn’t say to reserve forgiveness for only your kids, or your spouse, or your best friend. No, we are to forgive anyone (and everyone) who offends us. That kid who is picking on your child at school. Forgive him. That person that said hurtful things about you without even truly understanding you or your circumstances.  Forgive him. That person who caused your accident or hurt someone you love dearly. Forgive him. God calls us to forgive anyone who hurts us. 

Secondly, we are told to forgive readily and freely. Readily means without hesitation and freely means willingly on one’s own accord. This reminds me of my kids. There isn’t a day that goes by when one of them is not in conflict with another. Just the other morning, hateful and hurtful words were spewed over a dirty thermos. In these moments, when emotions run hot, my kids are not going to readily and freely offer forgiveness to the one who has hurt them; they need guided and encouraged to do so. How often do we need the very same? How often have our emotions run hot, and the idea of readily and freely offering forgiveness to someone isn’t our first response? How often has God’s Spirit needed to convict us to forgive the one who has hurt us? More often than we likely care to admit. Forgiving someone who has hurt us does not came naturally or easily. But with God’s help, we can make an intentional choice to extend grace even when it isn’t deserved. 

1 Peter reminds us,

“This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.”

1 Peter 2:21 (MSG)

We are called to forgive just as God forgive us. We are to extend grace to others just as God extends grace to us. This is the life we have been called to live.

But, it’s hard sometimes isn’t it? Sometimes it is hard to forgive. In her book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, Lysa Terkeurst shares several reasons why we may be hesitant to offer forgiveness.

  1. We fear the offense will be repeated.
  2. Hanging on to a grudge gives us a sense of control in a situation that’s felt so unfair.
  3. The pain we experienced altered our life, and yet no one has ever validated that what we went through was wrong.
  4. Forgiveness feels like it trivializes, minimizes, or worse yet, makes what happened no big deal.
  5. We can’t possibly forgive when we still feel so hostile toward the one who hurt us.
  6. We’re not ready to forgive.
  7. We still feel hurt.
  8. They haven’t apologized or even acknowledged that what they did was wrong.
  9. Being back in relationship with this person isn’t possible or safe. Furthermore, it’s not even reasonable for us to have a conversation with the person who has hurt us.
  10. We’re still in the middle of a long, hard situation with no resolution yet.
  11. We’re afraid forgiveness will give them false hope that we want to reestablish the relationship, but we don’t.
  12. It’s easier to ignore this person altogether than to try and figure out boundaries so they don’t keep hurting us.
  13. What they did is unchangeable, therefore, forgiveness won’t help anything.
  14. The person who hurt us is no longer here. We can’t forgive someone we can’t talk to.
  15. We don’t think any good will come from forgiveness now. 

Can you relate to any of those? I sure can. There have been times when I felt that forgiveness either wasn’t deserved, it wasn’t worth my effort, or it simply wasn’t possible. But, what happens when we hang on to unforgiveness?

As we hold onto unforgiveness, we are making the choice to hold onto our pain. The longer we hold onto our pain, the more it intensifies and begins to consume us. It fills our thoughts, triggers negative emotions within us, and is revealed through our words and interactions with others. When I explode on my kids, it always stems from hurt or pain that I am struggling with.  When I lash out at my husband, it always stems from hurt or pain that I am struggling with. Lysa says,

“If healing hasn’t been worked out and forgiveness hasn’t been walked out, chaos is what will continue to play out.”

She’s right. As we hold onto unforgiveness, we are holding on to pain that God wants to bring to the surface and heal. 

Secondly, as we hold onto unforgiveness, we are allowing our heart to become fertile ground for resentment and bitterness to grow. Resentment is always directed towards a specific person for a specific action they have taken. When we choose unforgiveness, our resentment towards that person builds. As our resentment builds, so does bitterness. Lysa says,

“Bitterness is like liquid acid seeping into every part of us and corrupting all it touches. It not only reaches unhealed places, but it also eats away at all that is healed and healthy in us. Bitterness leaves nothing unaffected. Bitterness over one thing will locate bitterness hiding inside of us over other things. It will always intensify our reactions, skew our perspective, and take us further and further away from peace.”

When we choose unforgiveness, we open ourselves up to being filled with resentment and bitterness. We also open ourselves up to the enemy.  He will take every opportunity presented to try and turn us away from God and the beautiful life He has for us. He will use our unwillingness to forgive to hold us captive. Our unwillingness to forgive will always lead us down a path full of more pain, more hurt, and more destruction.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, leads us down a path of healing, peace, and freedom. But, how do we forgive? How do we forgive when we’ve been hurt so deeply?

First, we have to acknowledge the pain and the feelings that result from that pain when others hurt us. Now, the pain I experience is going to be different from the pain you experience. We both may receive the same hurt, but how we perceive that hurt and respond to it is based upon the experiences we’ve had over our lifetime. The foundation of our beliefs about ourselves, other people, and God was built when we were young. As a mama, you are building that foundation now for your kids. As we grow older, the experiences we walk through directly affect how we perceive our pain and respond to it. Begin by acknowledging the pain and the feelings that result from that pain. 

Secondly, remember you have a choice in how you respond to the pain you are feeling. Far too often we allow the choices of others to dictate our feelings and how we respond. Part of forgiveness is remembering that others cannot hold that type of power over us. We can feel angry, but not react out of the anger. We can feel afraid, but choose to trust in the truth we find in God’s Word and not react out of fear. Others cannot dictate how we respond when we have been hurt. That power is not theirs to wield. We cannot control what we experience in this life, but we can control our responses to those experiences. 

Thirdly, it’s important to understand that forgiveness is both a decision and a process. We have to make the intentional choice to extend forgiveness. It is not something that comes easily or naturally to us. It’s a conscious and intentional choice that we have to make. And, we have to remember that even when we make the choice to forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that the hard feelings disappear, that we receive instant healing, or that the relationship will be immediately restored. Healing takes time. Lysa says, 

“The decision to forgive acknowledges the facts of what happened. But the much longer journey of forgiveness is around all the many ways these facts affected you- the impact they created.”

Pain has a way of weaving itself through the fibers of our lives. It takes time for that to heal. Forgiveness is both a decision we have to make and a process that we have to walk through. 

It’s also important to remember that forgiving someone does not mean that we believe their actions are excusable or that the pain they caused is somewhat justified. When we forgive someone, we are making the decision to turn then over to God, and we are trusting that God will execute justice. The act of forgiveness releases us from need to seek revenge and from further pain. Don’t carry the burden of revenge. It’s not yours to carry. It belongs to God.

Lastly, when it comes to forgiveness, we have to remember that Jesus will always be there to fill in the gaps. Forgiving someone who has hurt you on the deepest level is hard. I know because I have been there. I walked through a very difficult season with a friend, and though time has passed, I still have moments when the incredible pain and hurt I felt walking through that season rises up and threatens to overwhelm me. But, when that happens, I’m reminded that even though I still struggling with my feelings towards this person, I can trust that that Jesus is stepping into those areas where my human flesh fails. All God asks of us is our willingness . . . our willingness to obey Him, to forgive as He has asked us to, and to trust Him with the rest. When we decide to rise up, to choose forgiveness, His grace will cover the rest. His grace will bring healing. His grace will bring peace. 

But, we have to take those first steps. We have to make the choice to extend forgiveness and move towards peace. We have to make the choice that love will speak loudest in our life. 

“It is a rare and beautiful thing when we choose to offer love in situations when most people would choose to scorn or ignore.” 

– Lysa Terkeurst

Do the rare and beautiful. Forgive. Extend grace. Love well. 

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

Instagram.https://www.instagram.com/p/BzcF-4qlHlb/?utm_source=ig_web_button_native_share. Accessed 20 Apr. 2021.

Terkeurst, Lysa. Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, Discover How to Move on, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again. Nashville. Nelson. 2020.

Lessons From a Cone

The text went out as I felt irritation rise within me.  “I want to knock that guy in the head with the cone.”

My kids had just returned to full-time, in-person instruction. I drive them to and from school every day instead of sending them on the bus. A number of parents chose to do that as well this year, so a designated safety zone was created to protect students and parents as they walked through the school parking lot. Though this safety zone created a safe walking space, it also created a problem. It took away a significant number of parking spaces in the lot itself. Significant enough that I arrived over twenty minutes early that day just to ensure I got a space. And it was in that twenty minutes, as I sat waiting for dismissal, that I witnessed something that irritated me to my core. A gentleman pulled into the lot and pulled into a parking space. But, it wasn’t just any parking space. It was a parking space within the safety zone . . . a parking space blocked by a cone. As I watched him drive over the cone, hit the cone with his door as he got out, and then trip over the cone as he walked away from his car, I felt so annoyed. What was he doing? Did he not see the cone? He obviously knows it is there since he just tripped over it. I vented my frustration to my friend who also witnessed the event, but, as I got to thinking about it later, God convicted me of a few things. 

First, why in the world did a man driving over a cone stir such strong emotion within me? It shouldn’t have. No one, outside of a cone, was hurt in the situation. Obviously, there was something going on in my heart that I needed to sort out. 

Secondly, did my “venting” or “vomiting” of my frustrations to my friend help the situation at all? It may have made me feel better momentarily, but when it came down to it, it showed the true condition of my heart which is one that God obviously needs to continue working on. I mean, I cannot imagine that Jesus would have expressed his frustration to his disciples if someone parked their donkey in the “wrong” spot at the local market. My habit of venting to others needs addressed.

And lastly, were my actions those of a woman who strives to be at peace with everyone? Even though this man knew nothing of my thoughts or conversation, God saw every bit. Was my behavior in the parking lot that day the type of behavior God desires from me when I am hurt or perceive that I have been hurt by another person? How does God want me to handle those types of conflicts? How do I move from a place of frustration, hurt, or disappointment to a place where kindness, compassion and forgiveness are even possible? It all starts with Jesus. 

Author, Tim Keller says, “All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, our view of the world.” Once we make the decision to follow Jesus, He begins a transformative work in our hearts. As we deepen our relationship with Him, our thoughts, our desires, and our actions begin to look more like His. 

“‘I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.”

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (MSG) 

When we’ve made the decision to follow Jesus, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It’s because of Him that we can extend kindness and compassion. It’s because of Him that we can extend forgiveness. Anytime that we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone’s hurtful words or actions, it is because of Jesus that we can make wise, God-honoring decisions that will move us towards peace. What wise, God-honoring decisions can move us towards peace when we are in the midst of conflict?

First, we need to decide if the offense is one we can overlook. Scripture tells us:

“A person with discretion (good sense) is not easily angered; he gains respect by overlooking an offense.”

Proverbs 19:11 (VOICE)

“Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].

1 Peter 4:8 (AMP) 

When someone has hurt you, ask yourself these questions: Is this the first time this person has hurt me in this way or is this becoming a pattern? Is how I have been hurt serious or not such a big deal? Am I able to overlook this offense?

Overlooking an offense does not mean that we stuff it inside and start building retaliation rocks to use later. Overlooking an offense means that you make the choice to let it go. You don’t stew over the hurt, you don’t replaying it over and over in your mind. You make the choice to fully forgive the person who has hurt you and move on. If the offense is not serious and one that you can quickly forgive, do so.

However, there are times when we are in conflict, and it is not wise to overlook the wrong that has been done. If the conflict is damaging your relationship with someone and you are finding it very difficult to forgive her, then it needs to be gently addressed. If the conflict brings harm to you or others, it needs to be gently addressed.  If the conflict is hurting the offender, whether it is self-inflicted harm or affecting their relationship with others or with God, it needs to be gently addressed. And lastly, if your conflict is with a believer and their actions go directly against what we are taught in Scripture, it needs to be gently addressed. Note I said “believer” there. As fellow believers, we need to be holding one another accountable for our actions. When in conflict with an unbeliever, however, though we can direct them towards Scripture, we have to remember that they may not have an understanding of why their actions are wrong. They don’t have the Holy Spirit within them to convict them of their wrongdoing. Still gently address the issue at hand and plants seeds of God’s truth, but realize that the conflict may not be reconciled at this point in time. 

Some conflicts cannot be overlooked and should be addressed. How do we do this in a way that honors God?

We start by checking our motives. Is your motive in addressing this conflict to prove you are right and the other person is wrong or is your motive to restore that person? Ask yourself if your motives for addressing this conflict stem from the love you have for this person or if it stems from a desire to get even or prove a point? Carefully consider your motives before you address a conflict. If it does not come from a place of love, you need to spend more time in prayer over this conflict. 

If you find your motives are pure, it’s time to address the conflict. In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives us specific instructions on how to do this. 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

What does Jesus tell us to do? First, go directly and privately to the person who has hurt you and explain how you were hurt. From my experience, the times I have done this, the conflict has been resolved rather quickly. Is it hard to confront someone when they’ve hurt you? Absolutely! But, it’s where Jesus tells us to start.

Now, let me ask you something. Who do we typically go to when someone has hurt us or when someone irritates us by driving over a cone? Other people. Friends. Family. Social media. Everyone, but the very person Jesus tells us we should be going to. You know what we often call this when we do this? We call it “venting”. We say that we just need to get something off of our chest, or just need to take a moment and “vomit” out all of the frustrations we’ve been holding onto inside. And, as I’ve thought about this these past few weeks, God has convicted me of a few things. 

First, venting can be healthy. Venting can be a harmless way to process events or conversation and can be a healthy outlet for built up anger or frustration. Venting can help us calm down when we feel our emotions starting to spiral. The Scriptures tell us that even King David vented to God about his circumstances. Psalms 142 says, 

“I call out loudly to the Eternal One; I lift my voice to the Eternal begging for His favor. I let everything that’s going wrong spill out of my mouth; I spell out all my troubles to Him.”

Psalm 142:1-2 (VOICE) 

But, venting can quickly spiral in an unhealthy direction, and that’s where we need to be cautious. When our venting takes on foul language, hateful words, or actions that bring harm to others that’s when it becomes unhealthy and dishonoring to God. 

No, God’s issue isn’t venting itself. His issue is who we vent to and how we do it. When we vent to others, we are doing a number of things. First, to put it simply, we are grumbling, complaining, and whining about our circumstances. In the book of Philippians, Paul encourages believers to, 

“Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other, so you will be found innocent and blameless; you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation. Shine like stars across the land.”

Philippians 2:14-15 (VOICE) 

Author, Jennifer Sum, writes, “Believers vent when we lose sight of the bigger picture; that God is in control and has a higher plan. We focus on the things of this world instead of things that are above. When we vent, we seldom exemplify Jesus to others.”

When I vented about the man hitting the cone, what kind of example was I giving? True, I was venting to another believer, but what if she wasn’t or what if my text ended up being read by an unbeliever? Think about the impression I would have given as to what a Jesus follower looks like. When we’re venting, we are grumbling about our circumstances and taking our eyes off of the big picture.

Secondly, when we are venting, we are unkindly judging others without knowledge of or taking into consideration their circumstances. The man with the cone . . . maybe he was a grandparent and this was his first time picking his grandchild up at school? Maybe he was running late? Maybe he was already embarrassed to have driven over the cone and didn’t want to face further embarrassment by searching for another spot? We are so quick to judge others without having full understanding of their situation or their circumstances. And when we vent this judgement to others, it can be very easy for them to take on that judgement of that person as well. If I tell you someone is stupid and why I think they are stupid, even without meeting that person, you are also likely to think they are stupid. And how in the world does that honor God? 

Thirdly, when we are venting, it is often because we are afraid of lovingly and wisely confronting those we have issues with. Jennifer Sum says, “Instead, we talk and gossip about them behind their backs. This is a reaction driven by fear and insecurity, qualities that do not honor God.”

How many times have we had a conflict with someone and discussed it with everyone, but the very person it needs to be discussed with? We are so fearful of confrontation that we would rather gossip about others behind their backs. This must break God’s heart so much. 

And, lastly, when we are venting, we are making the choice to give in to our emotions, to allow them to control our reactions, and move us away from this soul integrity we are after. Proverbs tells us, 

A fool does not think before he unleashes his temper, but a wise man holds back and remains quiet.”

Proverbs 29:11 (VOICE)

We are acting like fools, when we make the choice to give into the emotions we are feeling in the moment. We are acting like fools when make the choice to react rather than respond in a way that honors God. There is a better way.

When we feel the need to vent, we need to vent directly to God. There are several reasons why.  First, when we take it to God, He can reveal to us why we are feeling so hurt or frustrated by the issue at hand. Maybe it is triggering an unresolved hurt within you? Maybe it reminds you of a time when you were rejected, misunderstood, or overlooked in the past? Maybe this is a repetitive hurt that you haven’t been able to forgive yet? God has the ability to search our hearts and get to the root of the pain. We have to bring it to Him first, though. 

Secondly, when we bring our frustrations directly to Him, God takes on those burdens we were never meant to carry. Jesus says, 

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light.” 

Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)

This life can leave us feeling so very weary, and we carry loads that aren’t ours to bear. Take your burdens to the One whose shoulders can carry it all. Release all of the hurt, the pain, the frustrations you have into His hands. He is bigger than anything you may face. 

Thirdly, Scripture tells us that we are to choose the words we use with others carefully. If we take our frustrations to God first, it gives Him an opportunity to convict us of those words that should never be spoken aloud. Ephesians tells us, 

“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.”

 Ephesians 4:29-30 (MSG)

His presence within us, that guides and corrects us, is a gift. Be mindful of that and vent your frustrations to Him first. Jennifer Sum says, “Even though God knows everything about us and every word before we even say it, He desires an authentic, intimate, and no-holds-barred relationship with us, where we feel secure and safe enough to tell Him everything that is on our minds and troubling our hearts. He doesn’t want us to burden other human beings with our problems. He is vast enough to take on the complaints and grievances of the entire human race. He will never reject us when we go to Him with ours.”

Take your frustrations to Him first. 

Now, there may be times when it is appropriate to seek prayer and wise council from another. Sometimes we need the help of a counselor, a pastor, or a trusted friend to help us see our circumstances objectively. If seeking wise council, look for someone who is knowledgable in the Scriptures and applies God’s Word to her life. Choose someone who lives a life of integrity and who will lovingly speak truth into you even when it’s hard to hear.

Now, going back to Matthew 18. When we find ourselves in conflict with another, we are to go directly to that person privately and explain how they have hurt us through their words or actions. Have this conversation in person if at all possible. There is so much that can be wrongly assumed through an email, a text, or even over the phone. 

Prayerfully consider beforehand how you can clearly and gently express your thoughts. As you start your conversation, begin the conversation by affirming the relationship and clearly defining the problem. State specifically what the person does that hurts you and how it makes you feel. For example: “When you discuss our conflicts with other people before discussing them with me, I feel as though I cannot trust you.”

After you share your feelings, then close your mouth and listen.  Listen to the other person’s perspective and validate that you understand what they are saying. Don’t sit there and prepare your next response in your head. Truly listen to what is being said. 

Once you both have shared your thoughts, propose a solution that will work for both parties. Philippians tells us, 

“Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus the Anointed. Live with His attitude in your hearts.” 

Philippians 2:4-5 (VOICE) 

Keep in mind that the relationship is more important than the issue. Be willing to compromise unless what is being asked of you goes against Scripture. 

What if meeting privately does not solve the issue? Jesus tells us to meet again, but this time to ask a trusted, mature, unbiased individual to join you. The goal is not to gang up on the person with whom you have the conflict. The goal is to move towards peace and sometimes we need someone else there to mediate and ensure that the conversation moves forward in a healthy manner.

If the conflict still remains unsolved, Jesus instructs us to then bring it the matter to a pastor within the church or if your conflict is with an unbeliever to take the matter to an outside resource such as a professional mediator. Even with this last step, our goal should be to reconcile the relationship.

There will be times, you will find, when peace isn’t possible. There will be times when moving towards peace will only be possible if you compromise the truth we find in God’s Word. In those circumstances, breaking away from the relationship is the best thing to do. Remember, God calls us to live in peace with others, as far as it depends on us. If you have followed Jesus’s instructions for resolving conflict and still have not reached a resolution, it is time to step back and step away. 

In Acts 5, the disciples are in Jerusalem teaching others about Jesus. Many are coming to Christ. The authorities are outraged and have the disciples arrested. At night, an angel of the Lord releases them and send them back out to continue sharing the news of Jesus. The men are rounded up by the authorities again and brought before the High Priests. The High Priests say, 

“Didn’t we give you strict orders to stop teaching in this name? But here you are, spreading your teaching throughout Jerusalem.” 

Acts 5:28 (VOICE) 

Peter and the disciples reply, 

“If we have to choose between obedience to God and obedience to any human authority, then we must obey God.”

Acts 5:29 (VOICE) 

Conflict with others is hard, and it is uncomfortable. But, in the end, it is God who we answer to. I would challenge you to, 

“ . . . Hold strong to the confession of (your) hope, never wavering, since the One who promised it to (you) is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:23 (VOICE)

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021.

McDowell, Crystal. “How to See Wise Council . . . Who Should I Talk to?” What Christians Want to Know. https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-to-seek-wise-counselwho-should-i-talk-to/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

Sande, Ken, and Johnson, Kevin. Resolving Everyday Conflict. Baker Books, 2015.

Sum, Jennifer. “Please Vent to God Not People.” Practical Christianity. https://teachinghumblehearts.com/en/please-vent-to-god/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021. 

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.

Warren, Rick. “Fellowship. 7 Steps to Restoring Broken Relationships. FaithGateway. 22 Feb. 2016.https://www.faithgateway.com/restoring-broken-fellowship/#.YGMy-S1h0_U. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

“What Does the Bible Say About Venting?” GotQuestions. https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-venting.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

“What Does the Bible Teach About Conflict Resolution?” Compelling Truth. https://www.compellingtruth.org/conflict-resolution.html. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

It Starts With Me

“Parking lot. After school. You . . . and me.” I laughed off her words, but I couldn’t stop myself from trembling. How did we get to this point? How had I let our conflict go this far?

It was my junior year of high school, and I had been accused of flirting with another girl’s boyfriend. As I reflect back on that time, I must admit two things. First, there was some truth to her claims, and secondly, I didn’t handle the conflict between us well. Instead of admitting that I was in the wrong, seeking forgiveness, and working towards reconciling that relationship, I denied any wrong doing, played into the drama, and soon found myself bracing for a brawl in the student parking lot. 

Not all of the conflicts we find ourselves in will lead to a brawl in the parking lot, but it’s important to understand how God instructs us to handle ourselves when we’ve been wronged or when we have done wrong to others. In the book of Romans, Paul encourages us, 

“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” 

Romans 12:18 (AMP) 

This verse shares two things that are worth noting. First, God’s desire is for us to live at peace with everyone. Secondly, it says “as far as it depends on you.” That tells me that to live at peace with everyone is going to take some action on my part. Am I going to find myself in conflict with others? Yes. But, the struggles within that relationship should never start with me. In all of our relationships, whenever possible, we need to be taking active steps towards peace.

As we begin to look at how God instructs us to do this, there are a couple of things we need to remember. First, God calls us to be set apart. 1 Peter reminds us to, 

“Be holy in every aspect of your life, just as the one who called you is holy. For it is written, ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”

1 Peter 1:15-16 (ISV) 

As believers, God calls us to be holy, to be set apart, and to live our lives in a way that His presence within us cannot be denied. And, as believers, the ways in which God calls us to handle conflict are vastly different from the way the world does.  The book of Romans says, 

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” 

Romans 12:2 (MSG) 

Most people look to the entertainment industry or social media as a guide for handling conflict. We, however, are to look to God’s Word as our guide. His Word teaches us how to handle the conflicts we will find ourselves in and the steps we need to take to move towards peace. 

So, where to we start? We’re going to start by taking a hard look at ourselves and what leads us into conflict with others. The word “conflict” actually comes from the Latin word “conflictus” which means “to strike together”. It conveys a sense of struggle, a battle, a clashing of opposing principles. Conflict occurs when we find our own thoughts or actions are in direction opposition of the thoughts or actions of another. This realization tends to stir ugly emotions within us, and reveals something important . . . the condition of our heart. James asks,

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

James 4:1-3 (NLT)

We often find ourselves in conflict because if we’re honest, our motives are usually not pure. Deep down, we’re selfish; we want things to always go our way. We’re prideful; our perspective is the only one that matters. We’re impatient; we rush ahead without thinking and without taking the time to consider if our way is the best way. We allow anger and bitterness to settle into our hearts and becomethe lens through which we choose to view our circumstances. To put it bluntly, conflict reveals our true selves. And at least for me, it’s not pretty. Scripture tells us, 

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10 (MSG) 

There is nothing that we can hide from God. He examines our hearts and sees the truth behind every thought we have and every action we take. He knows the ways in which we struggle, and He knew we would find ourselves in conflict with others. He knew that we would need His guidance to navigate our relationships in this world. And, that brings us to our first step. 

The first thing we need to do to move towards peace is to identify if we are the offended or the offender. Has someone wronged us or have we been the one to wrong another? When conflict rises, our first instinct is to jump on the defensive and deny any wrongdoing on our part. But, it’s really important to pause and ask yourself what part of this conflict is yours to own. Is this conflict a result of your words or actions? Jesus said, 

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Oh, brother, let me help you take that little speck out of your eye,’ when you don’t even see the big log in your own eye? What a hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you’ll be able to see clearly enough to help your brother with the speck in his eye.”

 Luke 6:42 (VOICE)

Before we go on the defensive and place the blame solely on another, we need to be asking ourselves for what part we are responsible. If we are the one who has wronged another, God’s Word is very clear on what we are to do. In Matthew, we find these words:

“Therefore, if you are bringing an offering to God and you remember that your brother is angry at you or holds a grudge against you, then leave your gift before the altar, go to your brother, repent and forgive one another, be reconciled, and then return to the altar to offer your gift to God.”

Matthew 5:23-24 (VOICE)

If you are responsible for your conflict with another, go to her, admit you were in the wrong, seek forgiveness, and try to make things right. Far too often, our pride keeps us from admitting we’re wrong. We get so consumed in our thoughts about ourselves and what makes us feel comfortable that we neglect to remember how God has called us to live. 

“In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.”

Psalm 10:4 (NIV) 

And, isn’t that the truth? When we are focused inward, we are unable to see the hurt or pain our actions may have caused. When we are focused inward, we are unable to see where God may be leading us. If we are unable to see where He is leading, how can we follow? If you have done something wrong to another, swallow your pride, and go and make things right. 

But, what if you are the one who has been offended? What if someone has done wrong to you? That’s harder to swallow isn’t it? If someone has done wrong to you, the first thing God asks of you is to pray. Matthew tells us:

“You have heard people say, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemies. But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that?”

Matthew 5:43-47 (CEV)  

When someone has hurt us, praying for them is the very last thing we feel like doing. But, it’s the most important thing we can be doing. When we bring someone in prayer before God, it’s not in an effort to change that person or to call down judgement on her. That’s God’s job. No, when we take someone to prayer, it ends up being for our benefit. We are the ones changed. God can soften our heart towards that person, allow us to see that person through His eyes, and help us move towards forgiveness. Now, you might be thinking, “Whoa! Do you see what she did to me? Do you see the pain she has caused? She does not deserve my forgiveness.” Actually, she does. Ephesians tells us to, 

“Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:32 (AMP)

We are to forgive because we are forgiven. We did not deserve God’s forgiveness, but He gave it freely because of His loves for us. And just as He daily showers us with love and compassion, He calls us to do the same with those who rise against us. Be kind. Show compassion.

Lysa Terkeurst says that each of us has an underbelly, a place deep within us where we store all of our hurts and disappointments. When we find ourselves on the receiving end of an offense, we can easily forget that we are not the only ones with an underbelly. The offender has one as well. She has deep hurts and disappointments. Her harsh words, her prickly exterior, her hurtful actions . . . what if their only reason for existence is to hide and protect the areas where she feels so very vulnerable? The world will tell you that she deserves your hatred, but what she truly needs is your compassion. She needs your forgiveness. 

“God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.”

Colossians 3:12-13 (CEV) 

Forgiveness is not always easy, but something God has called us to do. Who has God placed on your heart to forgive? What steps do you need to take to move towards peace?

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

Dictionary.com.. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/conflict?s=t Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.

“Examples of Biblical Conflict Resolution Activities.” Grace In My Space, Living and Designing in Grace.21 Oct. 2019. https://graceinmyspace.com/examples-of-biblical-conflict-resolution-activities/. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021. 

Online Etymology Dictionary. https://www.etymonline.com/word/conflict. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.

Stratton, Carol. “What Does It Mean to Pray for Your Enemies?” Christianity.com. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/prayer/what-does-it-mean-to-pray-for-your-enemies.html. Accessed 16 Mar. 2021. 

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.

“What Does the Bible Teach About Conflict Resolution?” Compelling Truth. https://www.compellingtruth.org/conflict-resolution.html. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

“What Does Romans 12:18 Means?” BibleRef. https://www.bibleref.com/Romans/12/Romans-12-18.html. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.

What Six Words Taught Me

“Way to be a party pooper.” Her words were unexpected, and they cut deep. What was I doing? I didn’t belong here. 

Earlier that morning, I had rustled up the courage to leave the house and try out a local mom group. My husband and I had moved to town just a few short months ago with our young son. We left behind a group of friends that had become like family to us. We had all been walking through the same season of life together, and though we lived closer to family with this move, I found that I desperately missed those friendships. So, it was with a hopeful heart and a bundle of nerves that I had walked into that meeting that morning. Introverted to a fault, I took a seat at an empty table in the back of the room and watched other moms enter. Their laughter, the smiles on their faces, and the comfort with which they greeted one another brought tears to my eyes. This was what I had been missing! This being part of a community, this was what I was longing for. But, by the end of the morning, as I drove home with tears streaming down my face, I told myself that I didn’t think this was the community God had for me. How did I go from being so hopeful to completely discouraged in the span of a couple of hours?  Six words. Six words spoken over me when I didn’t participate in a game I felt uncomfortable joining. Six words. I replayed them over and over in my mind, and the hurt washed fresh over me again and again. And every time that hurt washed fresh, I stuffed it deeper within me.

Stuffing. It’s something that I can guarantee most of us have done at one time or another. We face difficult circumstances, circumstances beyond our control, or find ourselves in conflict with another person. Negative emotions rise within us and instead of pushing that emotion outward as an exploder would, it is pushed inward. A stuffer will lock her feelings inside and pretend that all is fine. Her words and actions may very well come across as peaceful, but she isn’t being honest with her feelings. She isn’t moving towards that soul integrity we’ve been talking about. That shift away from how the world tells us to think, to speak, and to act and processing our circumstances through God’s eyes. That morning, the rejection I felt . . . I didn’t choose to move towards soul integrity. I made the decision to stuff.

Lysa Terkeurst, author of Unglued says that we push our honest feelings about a situation or a person inward for various reasons. One reason is because we don’t feel safe enough to confront this person or situation. Maybe you feel vulnerable, fear the reaction of the other person with whom you have the conflict, or fear what might happen if you speak up. When we don’t feel safe or don’t feel safe with another person, it can feel better to stuff our feelings inside rather than risk the what might be if we share how we truly feel. 

Another reason that we may stuff our feelings is because we don’t have the energy or time to get into a conflict. When my kids were younger, I found that when the clock read 4:00 PM, it seemed to magically communicate to each of them that it was time to begin a melt down. They would get whiney, they would hang on my legs, they would cry, or they would fight with one another. I don’t know about you, but at that point in the day, I didn’t have the energy to enter into conflict with my kids, and with dinner still needing prepared, I didn’t have the time either. Rather than honestly deal with the issues at hand, I stuffed my frustrations inside and gave in to whatever they wanted. You want a cookie before dinner? Go for it! I don’t care. You want to punch your brother in the head? Go for it! See what happens. You want held while I make dinner? Sure! I only need one hand to cut chicken. Sometimes, we stuff because we don’t have the energy or time for conflict. 

Other reasons we stuff are because we don’t know how to address an issue, or we don’t want to seem hypersensitive.  It was for these two reasons that I never confronted the mom about how she had hurt my feelings that morning. How do you go about confronting someone you’ve never talked to before? What do you even say? Was I just being super sensitive? Was it really a big deal? Sometimes it’s not knowing how to deal with a situation or the fear of being viewed as too sensitive that encourages us to stuff. 

Other times, we stuff to protect ourselves from further hurt. Confrontation can bring resolution, but sometimes it brings rejection. Sometimes confrontation causes us to lose control or makes things worse than they were to begin with. To protect ourselves, we tell ourselves that if we stuff the hurt away where no one can see it, that everything will be all right. Everything will be fine.

And, sometimes we stuff because we think it’s what God expects of us. Stuffing is the Christian thing to do and we aren’t being very Jesus-like if we are truly honest about how we are feeling. We even have Scripture to back us up on this:

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

Matthew 5:9 (MSG) 

“Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God.” 

Hebrews 12:14 (MSG)

We stuff our thoughts; we stuff our feelings. We stuff because we don’t want to upset anyone, hurt anyone’s feelings, or look like anything outside of a perfect Jesus follower. Tell me I’m not the only one that does this.

Though there are many reasons as to why we choose to stuff our feelings, there is one thing that we all have in common. That is our hesitancy to process our hurts and then release them. It’s more comfortable to hold our hurts close and wallow in them. To “wallow” is to spend time experiencing something without making any effort to change your situation or feelings. Ouch! Read that one again! To wallow is to spend time experiencing something without making any effort to change your situation or feelings. Isn’t that what we do when we stuff our feelings inside? We are making the choice to linger in our hurt. We are making the choice to not move towards resolution. And as we wallow in our hurt, we are coating that hurt with even more hurt. It reminds me of a yarn winder. A yarn winder does exactly what you would expect. It takes skeins of yarn and winds them into nice, neat balls. When we stuff our hurts, we are like a yarn winder. We try to keep our hurts nice and tidy so they don’t get out of control and explode. But, what we’re really doing is taking each hurt and wrapping it around a previous hurt. We stuff a hurt in and wrap. We stuff and wrap. What we end up with is a ball . . . a ball of hurt. Then we take that ball and do one of two things with it. We use it to build walls to protect ourselves, or we hurl it at someone in retaliation.

Walls or barriers. A stuffer builds them to protect herself from further hurt. Maybe she is afraid to be honest with the one who has hurt her. Maybe she is tired of repeatedly being hurt or feels as though the relationship isn’t worth her efforts. A stuffer will build barriers with the hurt she is holding onto, avoid confrontation and pretend that everything is fine. But, what is the problem with building barriers? 

First, the building of barriers is not coming from a place of honesty. Though everything may seem fine on the outside, on the inside you are building a wall of hurt against this person. And nine times out of ten, the other person has no idea what is happening. This wall of hurt you build creates distance between you and the other person and leads to confusion and a breakdown of communication. A breakdown of communication can end a relationship.

The other problem with building barriers is that we rarely build just one. Lysa Terkeurst says, “The destructive isolation that happens with stuffers who build barriers doesn’t limit itself to just one relationship in that person’s life. It becomes an entrenched pattern that impacts many relationships . . .” If you make it a habit of building barriers with others, it will lead you down a path of isolation. Friend, we were not created to be isolated from others. We were created to live in community with one another. 

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)

“One who separates himself seeks his own desire; He quarrels against all sound wisdom.”

Proverbs 18:1 (NASB)

Instead of building barriers, build boundaries. What’s the difference? While barriers are dishonest, boundaries are honest. Barriers cause a lack of communication and confusion. Boundaries clearly communicate limits. While barriers lead to isolation, boundaries lead to connection. 

How do we set healthy boundaries?  First, identify your feelings, your expectations for this person or situation, and what part of the situation is yours to own. What emotions does this person or situation trigger within you? What do you wish was different? Are the expectations you have for this person or situation realistic? What part of this situation are you responsible for? Take the time to honestly identify how you are feeling, your expectation, and what parts of the situation are yours to own.

Secondly, communicate your boundaries and consequences if those boundaries are not respected.  In their book, Boundaries, Drs. Cloud and Townsend say, “Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t . . . Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me.” Identify what you can realistically give physically, mentally, emotional and spiritually in a situation. Ask yourself if what is being asked of you is reasonable or is adding unneeded stress. Identify your limits and then communicate those clearly. It’s also important to communicate what will happen your limits are not respected. For example: 

  1. If you continue to miss the bus in the mornings, you will need to find another ride to school from someone other than me.
  2. If you continue to miss your deadlines for this project, I will give this opportunity to another employee.
  3. If you continue to throw your peas on the floor, I will take your plate from you and lunch will be over. 

Identify your limits and communicate them clearly to others. 

Now, just as there are stuffers that build barriers, there are also stuffers that collect retaliation rocks. A stuffer who collects rocks takes that hurt she’s holding onto and covers it with more hurt over and over again. But, instead of building a barrier with it, she places it in a pile of hurts that she’s been collecting over time. This pile grows bigger and so does her feelings of bitterness and resentment. She gets to the point where the pile of hurts is too big, or the bitterness and resentment feels as though it’s too much, and she explodes. She explodes and throws those rocks filled with hurt to hurt others, to shame others, or to prove she is right. The regret is often immediate. She bows her head in defeat, starts stuffing her hurt inside, and starts a new pile of rocks once again. 

For those of us who stuff, what can we do to keep these hurts from building up within us? We have to learn how to process our hurt and release it.  How do we process our emotions before they sow seeds of bitterness or resentment in our hearts? It starts with being honest. Honest with others, honest with ourselves, honest with God. Honesty is defined as being free from deception. It’s truthful, it’s sincere, and it’s frank. When we pretend that things are ok when in reality they are not, we are not being honest.  When we lock our feelings in because we think they don’t matter or we believe if we ignore them that they will just go away, we are not being honest. Proverbs says, 

“Truth spoken will stand forever, but lies survive only briefly.”

Proverbs 12:19 (VOICE)

Truth spoken will stand forever, but the lies, the pretending, and the ignoring . . . they don’t last. They may make us feel better for a brief period of time, but they don’t address the real issues at hand. We need to start being honest.

Secondly, we need to seek a fresh perspective. In this situation you are facing, are you trying to prove that you are right or are you trying to improve the relationship? Is this issue even going to matter in the long run? Are you trying to understand where the other person is coming from? Do you care enough about this person to fight for this relationship? What does God see in this situation? What would things look like if you look at your circumstances through His eyes?

Next, have realistic expectations. What expectations have you placed on this situation or this person? Are those expectations realistic at this point in time? Sometimes we find that the expectations we place on others are unrealistic for one of two reasons. Either they are unable to reach those expectations or they are unwilling. I think that second one hits the hardest. Unmet expectations leave us feeling disappointed and sow bitterness. Ask yourself if your expectations are realistic for the situation you are in or for the person with whom you’re in conflict. 

The next thing to remember is that there is a difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking. A stuffer genuinely desires for peace, but at what cost does it come? Peacekeeping avoids confrontation and is motivated by fear, distrust, or weariness. A peacekeeper will often sacrifice everything for peace. She will sacrifice honesty, integrity, her safety, her boundaries, her needs, all for the sake of keeping the peace. 

Peacemaking, on the other hand is motivated by honesty, love, and commitment. It is making the choice not to avoid conflict or tension, but to work through what’s hard. It’s making the choice to have those hard conversations, to be honest with your boundaries, and to work towards reconciliation. Peacemaking is proactive, respectful, honest, and comes from a place of love. Romans tells us:

“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” 

Romans 12:18 (AMP) 

Lastly, surrender. Every hurt, every tough situation, every hard conversation, every moment that we want to stuff our feelings and pretend everything is ok is an opportunity for surrender. It’s an opportunity to let go of the hurt we’ve been stuffing inside. Now, letting go of a hurt doesn’t mean that it never happened, that it didn’t cause pain, or that it must be forgotten. Letting go is walking into the freedom that is found when we relinquish our grip on our pain and place it in God’s hands. C.S. Lewis once said, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” We have to let go of the past so God can move us forward into our future. Isaiah says, 

“You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You—in both inclination and character], Because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation].”

Isaiah 26:3 (AMP)

Some days it seems so much easier to stuff our emotions inside instead of opening ourselves up to possible hurt or conflict. But, stuffed hurts only harden into rocks of bitterness and resentment that builds walls, breaks down communication, destroys relationships and leaves us feeling alone. Sweet friend, do you trust God enough to surrender your hurt to Him? Turn your gaze upwards and with open hands and an open heart, let go. Let go and trust the One who created you and loves you deeply. He has you.

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.

Chery, Fritz. “Letting Go.” Bible Reasons. https://biblereasons.com/letting-go/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021. 

Moore, Beth. Living Beyond Yourself, Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit. Nashville. Lifeway. 2004.

Poirier, Gina. “How To Set Biblical Boundaries As a Christian.” Equipping Godly Women. https://equippinggodlywomen.com/community/christian-boundaries/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021. 

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.

Explosions in a Winter Wonderland

“You will be downstairs putting your shoes on by the time I count to ten! One! Two!” If we didn’t get everyone in the car soon, we were going to be late. “Three! Four!” Giggles floated down the stairs. “Five! Six!” They were both supposed to be brushing their teeth. “Seven! Eight!”  Silence. Silence with a three year old and a two year old in the house is rarely a good sign. I climb the stairs, “Nine!” At the top of the stairs, I pause; the door to the bathroom is closed. Again, not a good sign. “Ten!” I open the door and walk into what looks like a winter wonderland. My confusion lasts only a moment as a familiar scent reaches my nose. Baby powder. My precious younger two had climbed onto the bathroom counter, retrieved the baby powder from the top shelf, and proceeded to make it “snow” in the bathroom. Their delight was evident as I watched my daughter make it snow on top of her brother’s head. I however, was not amused and could feel my emotions surging towards the boiling point. I was about ready to explode. 

Our emotions . . . a gift from our Creator that gives us the ability to experience this life to its absolute fullest. But, far too often, we allow our emotions to control our responses. We take in what is happening around us and react by either exploding or stuffing. When we explode, we’re being honest with how we are feeling, but more often than not, we lack godliness in our words and in our actions.  When we stuff, our words and actions may very well come across as peaceful, but we aren’t being honest with our feelings.

Our goal in all of this is to move towards soul integrity. Soul integrity is honest, wise, and it requires a shift. A shift away from how the world tells us to think, to speak, to act. It’s placing every thought under the authority of Jesus Christ and learning how to process our circumstances through His eyes. I’ll admit . . . that morning in the bathroom . . . I made no effort to see my circumstances through His eyes. That morning, I allowed my emotions to control how I responded to my kids. That morning, I exploded.

 Exploders. They are the people who can’t keep their emotions in and push them outwardly either loudly or very quietly. Exploders use a raised voice, stern words, harsh looks, or explosive actions to express their negative emotions.  Once the emotion is out, exploders often feel deep regret, and this deep regret is directed in one of two ways.

First, an exploder can blame herself for the outburst.  She sees how she has hurt others, blames herself for the explosion, and then places a label on herself. For example: a mom yells at her kids and says things she does not mean. Later, she tells herself that she is a bad mom who yells too much. Another example is a wife who loses her temper with her husband because he’s playing with the kids after dinner instead of helping her with the dishes. She later tells herself that she’s a bad mom for wanting her husband to help her rather than play with the kids and a bad wife for getting so angry with her husband. Sometimes when we explode, we place the blame entirely on our shoulders and carry the weight of a label that isn’t rooted in truth. The lie is that we are incapable and unworthy of being a good mom or wife. The truth is that we are worthy, and we are capable, but need to seek God’s wisdom when it comes to controlling our tongue. It’s moving towards that soul integrity.

Another way an exploder can direct her deep regret is to blame others. Have you ever had a toddler who refused to walk in the grocery store? My youngest would do this. He had the most glorious rolls when he was younger which made it difficult for him to ride in the top of the cart, and he wasn’t always a fan of sitting in the carts that look like cars. He typically preferred to walk beside me and push the cart. But, there were some days he just decided he was done walking. Like, completely done, sit his butt on the floor, and not move completely done. I’d beg and plead for him to stand up or bribe him with the promise of a treat while becoming acutely aware that we were attracting an audience. In my frustration and embarrassment, I would pull him up and drag him by one arm behind me or hoist him up on one hip all the while reminding him that this was NOT appropriate behavior. He would typically respond by kicking and screaming as I struggled towards the check out. These meltdowns left me feeling so frustrated and defeated for the remainder of the day. I was convinced that calm trips to the store were a thing of my past and would never change as long as my son was with me. So often, we blame others for our explosive actions. Someone else is to blame for our hurtful words, harsh looks or rash actions. Someone else is to blame for us throwing our own tantrum and acting out of control. Where is the soul integrity in that? 

So what can we do when we find ourselves in situations where we just want to explode? First, take a moment to pause and breathe. Sometimes it takes only a brief pause to regain control of our spiraling emotions. When my kids were younger, I always encouraged them to pause, take deep breaths, and count to ten (or twenty or one hundred) when they were feeling really upset. If that didn’t work, I’d encourage them to step back from the situation and take a quick time-out. I’ll do this for myself as well. Sometimes, I need to walk away from a situation where my emotions are out of control, and take a few moments to calm my thoughts. Scripture tells us, 

Taking the time to pause before we respond helps us not only regain control over our spiraling emotions, but it gives us an opportunity to implement some wisdom. In the pause, we can submit our spiraling emotions to Jesus. In the pause, we can ask God for understanding and to help us see this situation through His eyes. In the pause, we can seek how He would have us respond.  When you’re emotions are spiraling, give yourself a moment to calm down and seek His guidance in how you should respond. 

Secondly, make the choice when your emotions start to spiral to maintain your self-control.  Self-control is defined as the ability to control ones emotions or the expression of them in difficult situations. Scripture tells us:

“Like a city that is broken down and without walls [leaving it unprotected] is a man who has no self-control over his spirit [and sets himself up for trouble].” 

Proverbs 25:28 (AMP)  

Think about that for a moment. During biblical times, it was common for cities to have a wall surrounding them. Walls offered protection against enemies. A city without walls was open to the enemy and his attacks. It is the same for us. If we don’t maintain our self-control, we are opening ourselves up to the enemy. We can’t always choose the type of situations we find ourselves in, but we can choose whether we will let our rising emotions overtake us and direct our next steps. Paul reminds us in Timothy:

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” 

2 Timothy 1:7 (AMP) 

If you have made to choice to follow Christ, you have the power within you to maintain your self-control. Through Him, you can stand up against the emotions that surge and declare that the enemy is not welcome today. 

Lastly, make the choice to respond rather than react. There is a difference between the two. Responses are driven by soul integrity, that honesty and wisdom found as we grow in our relationship with Christ. Reactions, on the other hand, are driven by the need to intentional hurt another person or prove another person wrong. My kids are big reactors. When one child is in conflict with another in our house, it is made clearly evident. Harsh words, death glares, and the occasional full blown tackle have been observed. And though it has been awhile since I’ve tackled someone, I too must admit that there have been times when I’ve chosen to react rather than respond. I have experienced situations when I wanted the other person to experience hurt or I wanted to prove to everyone that I was in the right. But, what does God’s Word say about all of this? 

“Listen, open your ears, harness your desire to speak, and don’t get worked up into a rage so easily, my brothers and sisters. Human anger is a futile exercise that will never produce God’s kind of justice in this world.”

James 1:19-20 (VOICE)

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.”

James 4:1-3 (MSG)

When it comes down to it, I’m just like my kids. I get mad when I don’t get my own way. I get mad when I don’t get what I want. I get mad when things don’t go my way. I get mad and react in ways that tear others down instead of building them up. But, is this what God desires for me? It’s not. His desire is that I would respond in ways that ultimately bring healing and encouragement to others, and that bring glory Him. That is His desire. How do we do this? 

We start by making the choice to honor the offender. To honor someone is to show one respect regardless of whether it is deserved or not. When we are faced with difficult circumstances or in conflict with another person, it is important to remember that every person on this earth is one of God’s creations, His masterpieces. God loves and is in pursuit of each and every one of us. For that reason alone, all people deserve our respect. Now, we don’t have to agree with someone to show respect, and we don’t have to accept their actions as appropriate to show respect. We show respect by remembering that each person has value in God’s eyes. Matthew reminds us:

“This is what our Scriptures come to teach: in everything, in every circumstance, do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Matthew 7:12 (VOICE)

Honoring the offender is treating others as you would want to be treated. It’s showing respect even when it is not deserved, and it is remembering that each person is valued in God’s eyes. 

Secondly, our responses should acknowledge the hurt, clarify our intentions, and be honest, but gentle about the issue at hand. It goes without being said that anytime we face difficult circumstances or are in conflict with another, hurt will be present. If left alone, this hurt will fester and grow into resentment and bitterness. I walked through a really difficult season with a dear friend. It wasn’t until we sat down to acknowledge the hurt we both felt, clarified our intentions behind our actions and words, and approached the conversation with gentle honesty that healing began. When in conflict with another, acknowledge the hurt present, clarify your intentions, and have the courage to honestly, but gently discuss the issue at hand. 

Next, our responses must be “seasoned with salt.” Colossians says:

“Your speech must always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” 

Colossians 4:6 (NASB)

Colossians says that our words must always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt. It doesn’t say only when we feel like, only on Tuesdays or only when we’re in church. It says always. And our words must be with grace, as though seasoned with salt. What does that mean? 

In her devotional, “Sweet and Salty Speech, Karen Ehman shares that salt has many different purposes that can be applied to the words that come out of our mouths. First, salt preserves. Are your words improving the situation or keeping decay from happening? Secondly, salt is valuable. Are you words adding value to the conversation or are your words empty and worthless? Next, salt purifies and softens. Are the words you are choosing to use pure and truthful? Are your words soft and kind or harsh and hostile? Next, salt melts ice. Are your words phrased in a way to help melt an icy conversation? Is your speech bringing out the best in others? Lastly, salt prevents infection in a wound. Are your words healing? Are your words preventing further toxicity from spreading? Our words have tremendous power to encourage others, build them up and bring healing. But, they also have the power to discourage others, tear them down, and bring pain. The wrong amount of salt or using the wrong seasoning can ruin the soup. What words are you choosing to respond with? Are they encouraging healing or inflicting more pain? What types of words are you using with your children? What about your spouse or significant other? Are your words gentle and seasoned well?

Lastly, it’s important to take quiet time by yourself to reflect. Now, I know that sounds nearly  impossible when you’re in the thick of raising little people, but it’s important. You need time to be still. Time to shut out distractions. Time to get quiet with God. Lysa Terkeurst says there are several things that happen when we are in the quiet. First, we become humble before God. I’ve learned that in many of the conflicts I’ve found myself in, I am partly to blame. Coming humbling before God, He can speak truth into my heart, show me where I was in the wrong, and the steps needed to make forward progress. 

Secondly, in the quiet, we are reminded that our real enemy is not the other person. Ephesians tells us:

Our fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:12 (ERV)

When we are in the midst of difficult circumstances or in conflict with another, our vision can become clouded as to who the real enemy is. The real enemy is Satan, and he will do everything in his power to discourage you, to bring you down, and to raise people up against each other. In the quiet, we are reminded that there is a spiritual battle being fought all around us. The enemy is not your circumstances and the enemy is not the person you are in conflict with. Remember that. 

Lastly, in the quiet, we are reminded that God is good, He is faithful, and He can be trusted. We may not understand the how and why behind the work of His hands, but we can trust His hands. Romans 8 says:

“We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”

Romans 8:28 (VOICE)

If you are a follower of Jesus, you can be confident that every circumstance you face, every conflict you’re in, every time you explode can ultimately bring something good and beautiful. Be encouraged today, sweet friend. God is always faithful.

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

Ehman, Karen. “Sweet and Salty Speech.” Proverbs31. https://proverbs31.org/read/devotions/full-post/2017/02/07/sweet-and-salty-speech. Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.