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. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

Instagram. 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. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021.

McDowell, Crystal. “How to See Wise Council . . . Who Should I Talk to?” What Christians Want to Know. 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. 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. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

“What Does the Bible Say About Venting?” GotQuestions. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.

“What Does the Bible Teach About Conflict Resolution?” Compelling Truth. 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. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.

“Examples of Biblical Conflict Resolution Activities.” Grace In My Space, Living and Designing in Grace.21 Oct. 2019. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021. 

Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 13 Mar. 2021.

Stratton, Carol. “What Does It Mean to Pray for Your Enemies?” 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. Accessed 15 Mar. 2021.

“What Does Romans 12:18 Means?” BibleRef. 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. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.

Chery, Fritz. “Letting Go.” Bible Reasons. 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. 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. Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

Ehman, Karen. “Sweet and Salty Speech.” Proverbs31. Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

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

The Day I Exploded

The room grew instantaneously, but uneasily still. Trembling, I turned my back on my students to hide the tears that sprung in my eyes. What had I just done?

I was several months into my first year of teaching.  Fresh out of college, I had eagerly taken on this position and had looked forward to having a class of my own. But, now, just a few months in, I found my enthusiasm wane. My class of thirty was unlike any I had experienced before, and I felt ill equipped to meet the many needs that walked through my door each morning. 

Two of my third grade students did not know their letters of the alphabet. Though tested, neither one qualified for learning support. I was told they both just had really low IQs and to do my best with them. I had another student that had received a diagnosis of ADHD prior to the start of the school year. Her medication for this diagnosis left her lethargic and unable to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Though I questioned the side effects of this medication, my concerns were brushed aside, and I was again encouraged to just do my best. I had another student who would repeatedly leave the temporary trailer where our class was held and climb onto its roof. The school nurse was the only one who could coax him down with the promise of a banana and some time to lie down in her office. Another student within my class would antagonize one of the only two white girls in the class. Most recesses found the two of them engaged in a battle of fists and racial slurs. These students represented just a small number of the challenges that I faced every day in the classroom.  Challenges that left me feeling frustrated and defeated.

And on one particular day, those feelings of frustration and defeat overwhelmed me. My efforts that day to teach were met with resistance in the forms of students talking above me, throwing things at one another, and refusing to do as instructed. Frustration and defeat swelled within me and so did anger. As one more paper ball flew through the air, something within me broke.  I moved towards the empty desk that sat at the front of the room, picked it up, and slammed it to the floor. My actions were met with silence. And, in that silence, regret instantly washed over me. 

Our emotions . . . they are a gift from our Creator. He created us with the ability to feel deeply, to love richly, and to experience this beautiful life to its fullest. But, far too often, we allow our emotions to control our responses, direct our words, our actions, and how we communicate with others around us. Far too often, we give the negative emotions that rise within us far more power they deserve. We give them the power to steer us away from the sacred moments God has for us each day. That moment in my classroom . . . it was far from sacred. 

But, how do we remain calm in difficult circumstances or in situations that are out of our control? It starts by understanding our reaction tendencies. In her book, Unglued, Lysa Terkeurst identifies four main Reaction Types that people have when they face difficult circumstances or situations that are out of their control. The purpose of understanding the different reaction types is not to place another label on ourselves, but to help us learn how to react more calmly. Lysa says, “Condemnation defeats us. Conviction unlocks the greatest potential for change.” Understanding how we tend to react is the first step to making positive change.

There are four main Reaction Types:Exploders that Blame Others, Exploders that Shame Themselves, Stuffers that Build Barriers, and Stuffers that Collect Retaliation Rocks. If you’re like me, you’ll find that your reaction type is very dependent on not just the circumstances you face, but who else is involved in those circumstances. Does this situation that feels so out of control involve your spouse, your kids, a family member, your boss, a friend? Your reactions may vary depending on not only what is happening around you, but those who are involved. 

Think for a moment about one person that tends to get your emotions spiraling in a downward  trend. Ask yourself how you process your frustration towards this person. Are you more apt to express that frustration through your words? If so, you are likely an external processor. If you tend to pull in your feelings of frustration and think about whether or not to address them, you are more likely to be an internal processor. When it comes to my kids, I’m a complete external processor. If mama isn’t happy with their behavior, they hear about it. But, when it comes to my husband, I’m an internal processor. I avoid conflict with him whenever possible and would rather sit and let my frustrations stew a bit then address them. What about you? Are you more of an external processor or an internal processor?

Now, think about how you handle any conflict you have with this person. Do you tend to deal with the issue at hand or do you just pretend that everything is just fine? If you deal with the issue and talk about it,  you’re an external expresser. If you tend to pretend that everything is fine, you’re an internal suppressor. Going back to the example of my kids. When I am in conflict with them, I am a total external expresser. We talk about the issue at hand. Actually, it’s more that I’m the one who does most of the talking and they do they listening. With my husband however, I’m completely an internal suppressor. I’d rather pretend things are fine than risk the confrontation. What about you? Are you more of an external expresser or an internal suppressor?

Our reaction types are identified by how we process our circumstances, externally or internally, and how we move forward and handle our circumstances, expressing or suppressing. Lysa Tekeurst identifies those that are external expressers whether they are internal or external processors as Exploders. Exploders are 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, like slamming a desk on the floor, to express their negative emotions.  Once the emotion is out, exploders often feel deep regret. If they are an internal processor, they blame themselves for their outburst. If they are an external processor, they push away any regret they may feel by blaming others.

On the other side, we have our internal suppressors, otherwise known as our Stuffers. Stuffers are those who push their emotions inward and lock their feelings inside. They stuff to avoid conflict, to protect themselves from further hurt, or to wallow in their hurt. If we’re honest, haven’t we all done some wallowing at one point or another? Haven’t we all had times when we’ve pulled our hurt in, dwelled on it, maybe even pampered it for a bit? Have we ever lingered in the hurt because we felt we deserved it or because of the attention it drew to ourselves? Sometimes a Stuffer would rather wallow in the hurt than process it and release it.  Lysa uses the example of an oyster. Just as an oyster repeatedly coats a grain of sand that has worked its way in, Stuffers will take a small hurt and repeatedly coat it with more hurt. But, unlike the pearl formed by the oyster, the Stuffer is left with a hard rock. This rock is then used by internal processors to build barriers or if an external processor, to retaliate against others.

Exploders and Stuffers. If we’re honest, haven’t we been both? And if we’re still being honest, do we have doubts that we will ever change? The answer is yes, we do doubt. But, let me tell you this. Change is possible. Lysa says, “In processing (our) reactions, soul integrity is the heart of what we’re after. Soul integrity is honesty that’s godly. It brings the passion of the exploder and the peacemaking of the stuffer under the authority of Jesus where honesty and godliness embrace and balance each other.” Under the authority of Jesus is where honesty and godliness can embrace and balance each other. Think about that for a moment. 

When we explode, we’re being honest with how we are feeling, yes? But, where is the godliness in our words and in our actions? When we stuff, our words and actions may very well come across as peaceful, but are we being honest with our feelings? This balance, or as Lysa calls it, soul integrity . . . .it’s what we are after. It’s honest. It’s wise. And it comes as we daily make the decision to submit our thoughts, our emotions, our words, our actions to Jesus. It comes as we ask our Father to help us process our circumstances through His eyes that see the whole picture. Not just our eyes which only see that which is right in front of us.

The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way (the battle for our thoughts, the battle for our minds, the battle for how we reaction in difficult circumstances) —never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” 

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (MSG)

Soul integrity requires a shift. A shift of our perspective. A shift away from how the world tells us to think, to speak, to act. A shift towards that which is holy and sacred. A shift towards wise living. Part of living wisely is loving others well. 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:16-18 (MSG)

Soul Integrity. It’s honest and it’s wise. It’s treating others with dignity and honor. It’s being gentle. Being reasonable. Loving well. And it’s something that we need to learn. Something that needs to be practiced. Something that we can do with the strength of God’s Spirit living within us.

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. Accessed 1 Feb. 2021.

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

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Accessed 1 Feb. 2021.

When My Emotions Spiral

I glanced down at my phone once again. The gentle vibration was one I had almost grown accustomed to in these last few hours. Another news alert. Another report of the chaos that was ensuing at our nation’s capital. I turned on the television and one by one, my children came into the room and sat quietly. As we watched the events unfold, my youngest turned to me, confusion in his eyes; he didn’t understand. He didn’t understand what might lead someone to act so violently towards another. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t understand either. But, if I’m being honest, I did. Now, let me be clear and say that there is no excuse for what happened at the Capitol. None at all. But, as I watched, the crowds in the streets, I couldn’t help, but understand. How many times have I too felt my emotions running high and hot? How many times have I reacted to what is happening around me rather than seek God’s perspective and respond from a place of grace? How many times have I faced circumstances that were hard or out of my control and used them as an excuse to act out of control? How many times have I allowed my spiraling emotions to dictate my actions, my body language, and even the words I speak? More often than I’d like to admit, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. 

Our emotions and the feelings that accompany them. Though slightly different by definition, the two intertwine, and it is unlikely that you’ll experience one and not the other. Our emotions are the natural and instinctive mental reactions we have in response to what is happening around us. Consciously thinking about and reflecting on those mental reactions then gives rise to our feelings. These feelings can be quite strong, but it is important to remember that they always stem from the emotions that surface in the midst of our circumstances. There are several important things to remember about our emotions as well. 

First, they are triggered by someone or something specific. As a mom, my kids are usually the ones that tend to stir up my emotions. One leans in for a hug; it stirs my emotions. One has still not completed a task that was asked of him; it stirs my emotions. One is heard encouraging his sibling; it stirs my emotions. One is spewing hateful words towards a sibling; it stirs my emotions. Other people will stir my emotions as well. A driver tailgates me; it stirs my emotions. The person in line ahead of me in the express checkout has thirteen items not the required twelve or less; it stirs my emotions. An elderly gentleman holds the hand of his wife as they walk in front of me; it stirs my emotions. The people we come in contact with on a daily basis will trigger our emotions. 

Sometimes though, it’s not a particular someone that triggers our emotions, but a particular something. A sickness or death in the family stirs up emotions. Your baby has a blow out diaper just has you are heading out the door; it stirs up emotions.  You receive an unexpected diagnosis or the loss of a job; it stirs up emotions. Sometimes it is the circumstances we find ourselves in regardless of whether they were expected or not that trigger our emotions. 

The second thing to remember is that emotions can affect our physical, mental, and emotional health. Our mind and bodies are closely connected, and as our brains take in what is happening around us, it releases chemicals it thinks will help us in a given situation. Positive emotions can help increase our awareness, attention, and memory. They can help lower our blood pressure, help with better digestion, and help us to deal better with periods of stress. Negative emotions can also be helpful in warning us of threats or dangers we may be facing but, chronic negative emotions can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed and can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive issues, a weakened immune system or other health problems.

Think about the emotions that you have experienced so far today. Who or what triggered them? How did they cause you to behave or function? Have obedient children who got along with one another all day, straight green lights on the way to work or a house that looks exactly the same as if did when you left it ten minutes ago, left you feeling joyful, happy, and confident in your abilities as a woman and as a mom? Or have disobedient children who spent the entire day fighting, getting stuck behind a combine on your way to work, or a house that constantly looks like a tornado ripped through it, left you feeling stressed, tired and defeated? Our emotions can have an affect on the way we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

The next thing we need to remember about our emotions is that they are a gift. They are a gifted given by God to help us experience this life He has given us to the full. When God created each one of us, no detail was forgotten. Psalm 139 reminds us:

“I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.

Psalm 139:14 (VOICE) 

God marveled over your unique creation. Each detail He placed brought Him great delight. He gave you the personality He desired and the talents that would help you fulfill the purposes He has for your life. He also gave you emotions. God gave you the ability to feel and to love deeply, to have compassion, and yes, even to be angry. Our emotions are a gift, a gift given to help us experience this life in all its wonder and to its absolute fullest. 

But, sometimes we take this gift of emotion and use it in ways that God never intended. We find ourselves in the midst of something hard, negative feelings rise up, and instead of responding in a way that would ultimately bring glory to God, we allow those negative feelings to control our responses. We feel anger. We lash out. We say things we don’t mean. Just now, as I write these words I think back on a response I had just this morning. 

I have a deadline to meet with the words on this page. A deadline that I know will only be met with time, quiet, and allowing myself to be still so God can speak through my fingers. But, my youngest doesn’t understand deadlines. He doesn’t understand the pressure I feel to place words on this page. With a day off from school, he swings between boredom and grand adventures both of which must be expressed to me in the greatest and often most exhausting detail. As the door opened once again and I lost my train of thought once again, I felt frustration well up within me. I spoke his name sternly, explained once again that I was working, and that I would have to lock the door if he was unable to give me some quiet time. His response? “I know, mom, but I have just one thing I have to ask you!” He simply wanted permission to build a fort using a table I’ve been using for a jigsaw puzzle. But, in asking permission to use the table, he felt it was important to included a detailed explanation of the two ways he could handle the puzzle pieces, what might occur if the pieces came apart, how he would resolve the problem of a broken puzzle, and debated on what might be the wisest course of action. The longer he spoke, the greater my frustration grew. It finally got to the point that I interrupted him, told him rather sternly to go make his fort and to not interrupt me again. Regret filled me as the words left my mouth and hurt filled his eyes. He apologized and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him. I closed my eyes as I felt defeat wash over me. Why did I respond the way I did? Instead of offering patience and grace and seizing the moment as a gift of time to marvel in how God uniquely created my son, I chose anger and hurtful words. And, if I continue to respond in this manner towards him, will there come a day when he no longer will want to approach me and share the thoughts on his mind? I grieve that very thought. 

Far too often, we allow our emotions to control our responses, direct our words, our actions, and how we communicate with others around us. Far too often, we give the negative emotions that rise within us far more power they deserve. We give them the power to steer us away from the sacred moments God has for us each day.  James 1 reminds us:

“If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.”

James 1:20 (CEV)


And Ephesians 5 tells us:

“So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. Don’t run around like idiots as the rest of the world does. Instead, walk as the wise! Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times. So understand and be confident in God’s will, and don’t live thoughtlessly.”

Ephesians 5:15-17 (VOICE) 

When we allow our emotions to direct our steps, we can easily find ourselves on a path that God never intended for us to walk. 

But, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Our emotions do not have to be the guiding force behind the way in which we respond to others or our circumstances, and they shouldn’t be! Our guiding force should be the Holy Spirit, God living within us. The transformation of our responses comes as we learn to recognize our emotions, bring them to God for His refinement, and allow Him to renew our thoughts. Romans urges us to:

“ . . . Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may (discover) what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:2 (NASB)

 We can be angry and respond calmly. We can be hurt and extend forgiveness. We can face circumstances out of our control without acting out of control. We can do all of this through the work of His Spirit within us as He renews and transforms us into His image.

Our emotions, they are a gift from our Creator. He created us with the ability to feel deeply, to love richly, and to experience this beautiful life to its fullest. When you face circumstances that are out of your control, are you choosing to trust Him? Are you choosing to trust that through Him, you can respond in ways that ultimately will bring Him glory? 

“But blessed is the one who trusts in Me alone; the Eternal will be his confidence.  He is like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots beside the stream.  It does not fear the heat or even drought. Its leaves stay green and its fruit is dependable, no matter what it faces.”  

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (VOICE)

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

Merriam-Webster. Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.  

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

“What does the Bible say about managing/controlling emotions?” GotQuestions. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

Embrace Hope

Several years ago, some children were asked to share their resolutions for the new year. This is what they came up with:

  1. Joey age 10 – “My New years resolution is to not eat as much sugar. But il probably won’t keep it.”
  2. Hadssah age 7 – “I am going to stop picking my nose. It is going to be hard.”
  3. Declan age 11 – “My New years resolution is to eat 10 bags of clementines each month.”
  4. Brianna 2nd grade – “ . . . my resolution is to not wig out like I’m seeing the Lockness monster when I see a bug!”
  5. Annie age 5 – “I am going to help doggies! Like if they are stuck on cliffs.”
  6. Will age 4 – “ Eat all the cake.” 

I especially love that last one. Like Will, I too would love to eat all the cake. 

New Year’s resolutions. The tradition of making resolutions at the start of a new year began over 4,000 years ago within ancient Babylon. The Babylonian people would reaffirm their loyalty to their king, make promises to pay their debts and return any items they had borrowed from others. To complete all three tasks was viewed as a way to earn favor from the gods in the coming year. 

Under the rule of Julius Caesar, the Romans would also make resolutions at the start of a new year to earn favor with the gods. They believed that their god Janus was able to see into their past and into their future. By offering sacrifices and promising good behavior, their hope was that Janus would offer them a favorable year.

For early Christians, the start of a new year became a time to reflect on the past and the mistakes made and resolve to do better in the future. Methodist founder, John Wesley, began to hold church services on New Year’s Eve. At these services, the people read Scripture, sang hymns, and prayed for the coming year. 

Today, New Year’s resolutions are commonly made with the focus of self-improvement. Many vow to eat healthier or exercise more. Some will make promises to quit smoking, limit sugar intake, or watch the words they use in front of their children. Others will focus on stress management, realigning priorities, or learning a new skill or hobby.Now, these are all good things, but I think that many of us may be missing an opportunity here. What if instead of just focusing solely on our self-improvement, that we looked at the start of a new year as a time to gain some heavenly perspective? What if we chose to remember what was, reflect on what has been, and hope for what’s to come?

Think back with me for a moment on this past year. Life, for many, is so different now than it was a year ago. 2020 brought a great amount of change, uncertainty, and so much struggle for so many people. I cannot think of another time in recent history where a desire for a fresh start has felt so needed. But before we can move forward, it is important to first look back and remember and reflect on a few things.

First, remember what was hard. What was particularly hard for you this past year? What was difficult for your family to walk through? Remember what was hard and name it. For many, COVID was hard. There are others though that have lost a loved one, walked through a separation, or received an unwelcome diagnosis for a child. Remember what was hard this past year.

Next, remember what God has done. How did God provide for you in the past year? What healing did He bring? What circumstances did He see you through? Many of the Jewish celebrations we read about in the Scriptures were celebrations held to remember. To remember what God had done in the lives of His people. It is easier to trust that He will be faithful when we’ve practiced remembering how He already has been faithful. Scripture tells us:

“Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” 

Psalm 103:2 (NLT) 

“Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts.”

Psalm 77:11-12 (MSG) 

Remember what God has done. Remember how you have seen His hand move in your life and in the lives of others. 

Next, take some time to reflect on this past year.  Was there any good to be found in the midst of the hard things you walked through?  What did you learn? What promises of His did you find to be true? Did you learned anything about yourself? Did you learn anything about God? Reflect on the lessons He had for you in this last year and remember that His Word always stands true.

“It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 (AMP)

“Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8 (AMP)

Lastly, resolve to rise with hope. When we resolve to do something, we are making a firm decision on a specific course of action. We are purposeful and intentional with our steps moving forward.  There was so much about last year that was hard, but, there was so much good that came from it as well. Commit to placing your hope in the Lord and rising to meet and embrace all that He has for you in the coming  year.

“We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.” 

Psalm 33:20-22 (NLT) 

“Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word].”

Hebrews 10:23 (AMP)

Remember, reflect, and resolve. Resolve to rise with hope. We can have hope because Jesus will remain unchanged yesterday, today, and forever more. We can rise with hope because He is reliable, trustworthy, and always faithful.

Works Cited:

Gray, Timberley. “The Importance of Reflection.” Living Our Priorities. Accessed 4 Jan. 2021.

Pruitt, Sarah. “The History of New Year’s Resolutions.” History. Accessed 5 Jan. 2021. 

Richamond, Mom. “Funny New Year’s Resolutions From Kids.” Richmond Mom. Accessed 2 Jan. 2021.

Chasing Joy

The first seeds of doubt were planted as I leaned in to push against the trunk; my face fully engulfed in needles as my fingertips stretched towards the center. The late afternoon sun found our family walking the familiar snowy paths of our local Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect tree to adorn our home. We had passed on those deemed to short or too tall and settled on the beauty before me. Yet now, as I found myself submerged within its fullness, I wondered if this had been a wise choice.

We’ve had our share of Christmas tree mishaps in years past from trees falling over multiple times to one that chose to quit taking in water weeks before Christmas and therefore dropped its needles. Every year, we debate about whether or not we should get a real tree, and every year, we choose adventure over artificial. Yet, with needles threatening to go up my nose and sap sticking to my cheek, I wondered if this particular adventure was indeed the best choice.

I watched three grown men heave our precious bundle onto the top of our car, and I felt another wave of doubt wash over me. How on earth would we manage to not only get this thing inside, but get it standing upright? It’s at moments like this that I am so thankful for my husband. He was already formulating a plan on how we would tackle this tree raising.

Once home, he carefully pulled our tractor, fork lifts attached, up to the side of our car. He instructed me to stand on the back of the tractor to serve as a counterweight and proceeded to cut the ties that had held our precious cargo safely on our drive home. I held my breath, fearing the worse. Would the tractor be able to hold the weight of the behemoth we had brought home? With an encouraging push from my husband, I watched as the tree rolled towards me. I braced myself as it dropped from the top of the car and safely onto the forks below. The breath I had been holding released and laughter spilled forth.

More laughter followed as we heaved our tree over the railing onto the back deck and guided it ever so gently into the corner where it would reside for the weeks to come. (Actually, there was nothing gentle about it. It was more of a hold on and don’t you dare let the bottom kick up as we moved it into an upright position.)

As my husband freed the branches from its bindings and snow flung in every direction, I couldn’t help, but hear God’s whispers. “Open your eyes and see. See Me. I am here. I am in this moment. I am found in the scent of pine, the laughter of a child, the snow melting into a puddle on your floor. I’m found in the crisp, cold air, the twinkle of the stars, the warmth of a fire. I am here. Are you choosing to see me? Are you choosing to take great delight in me? Are you choosing to chase joy?”

Joy. How does one even begin to define it for it is more than just happiness. Joy is not rooted in our circumstances, but in the utter delight found in the presence of our Savior. A Savior whose fingerprints can be seen in all and through all. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp says, “Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped.” Joy is a gift. It is a gift that was given in the form of a baby many years ago. In Luke 2, we find these words:

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’”

Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

The birth of our Savior was to bring great joy to all people. Great joy! To experience this joy we must accept the gift. Accept the gift of a Savior that died in our place. Accept the gift and then seek Him. What does it mean to seek? It means to be in pursuit of something, to chase after it. Seek Him in the laughter and in the heaviness that life can bring. Seek Him in the quiet and in the chaos. Seek Him in the everyday mundane and in the unexpected moments we face. Seek Him. Look for Him. Chase after Him. Chase joy.

And, in those moments when life feels too hard, and it’s difficult to see His hand moving . . . in those moments when you feel weary and joy seems out of reach . . . in those moments, sweet friend, choose thanks. Shift your gaze from all that is hard and look for those things for which you can be grateful. A child to love. A pillow beneath your head. A sun that rises each morning. Ann says, “While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He know that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving . . . Joy is a function of gratitude, and gratitude is a function of perspective. You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see.” Chasing joy requires a slowing down, a grateful heart, and a desire to see our world through His eyes.

I pray this Christmas that you would accept the gift of our Savior, chase joy, and simply delight in His presence. Look for Him. Look for the traces of His fingerprints through all and in all. During this season, give thanks for a Savior who gave it all for you.

By the way, every time I look at this tree, I give thanks. Thanks for the adventure and for helping me see. #largemarge

Works Cited:
Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift, Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Carol Stream, IL. Tyndale House. 2013.

Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts, a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2010.

Believe and Trust

The weeks leading up to Christmas have always been my favorite. Decorating the house, baking cookies, and spending time with those I love most are some of my favorite traditions. One tradition, in particular, that is a favorite for my kids is wandering the familiar streets of my hometown. The first Friday of December is light-up night, and the streets of my girlhood home fill with the faces of those I have known for most of my life. My kids huddle together with their grammy and papa to watch the tractor parade, wade through the crowds visiting local businesses for a treat and walk for what seems likes miles to fill their cards with stamps that give them a chance to win a prize. The evening draws to a close after a cup of hot chocolate and an arm’s length of raffle tickets is given, and my kids strategically place tickets in bags at the Chinese auction in hopes of winning a new toy. Every year, we head home exhausted, but filled so completely with the love of family and the joy of celebrating this season together.

This year, though, things look a bit different. The traditional light-up night will not be as are so many other traditions that we look forward to in this season. If you’re like me, the changing of each season throughout this past year brings a fresh wave of grief. A longing for some semblance of normalcy in a world that looks so different. A longing for something familiar and stable when this current life leaves me filled with such uncertainty. A longing for a Christmas like the ones of years passed. But, in the midst of this longing, I’ve felt God challenging me. I’ve felt Him challenging me to turn my eyes from the what once was and look at this season in a new light. I have felt Him challenging me to look at Christmas through His eyes.

He took me to the book of Luke, and to the story of those who were there that first Christmas. The story begins with a young woman named Mary.

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!’
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’ Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.’”
Luke 1:26-35 (NLT)

Place yourself in Mary’s shoes. What thoughts do you think may have been racing through her brain in those moments? Here she is, a young, engaged woman, and she has just been told that she is going to become pregnant. While that might be exciting news for many, it likely wasn’t for Mary. Having a baby outside of marriage wasn’t done. Her pregnancy would likely cause a scandal within her village. She faced the possibility of divorce, being banished from her father’s home, and even being killed. If you were Mary, how would you have responded to this message from God? I think I would have been scared out of my mind. I also think I may have felt some anger towards God for placing me in those circumstances. In the next few verses, we find Mary’s response to what the angel told her.

“’What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.’ Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.”

Luke 1:36-38 (NLT)

How does Mary respond? She chooses to believe that what God has said to her is true, and in doing so, she chooses to trust Him. She chooses to trust Him even though the path before her looks nothing like what she had expected. She chooses to trust that His plan is greater than her own. When we find ourselves in seasons that are hard or in places that are unexpected, do we respond as Mary did? Do we make the choice to believe what God says is true and trust that He is at work in our lives?

Continuing in Luke, we read more about how Mary responds to the news that she’s going to be a ma ma.

“A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.’ Mary responded, ‘Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.’”
Luke 1:39-50 (NLT)

Mary chooses to give thanks. She chooses to be grateful for what God has given her even though this gift of a child would take her down a path that is difficult. That got me to thinking. In this season, am I merely passing the days waiting for things to get back to “normal”, or am I choosing to see and be grateful for the good that can be found in my present? Am I making the choice to give thanks in this season? In 1 Thessalonians, we are encouraged to:

“Give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (VOICE)

Reflecting on the first Christmas, I wonder what this season in my life would look like if I chose to respond to God as Mary did. What if I chose to believe Him and trust Him? What if I chose to be thankful for the people and circumstances in my life? And what if I chose to look expectantly look for His hand moving?

This Christmas season, friend, I challenge you to take a lesson from Mary. Turn your gaze upon Him. Believe those things He says to you and trust Him. Choose to give thanks even when you don’t feel like it and look expectantly for Him to continue His work in you.