If I’ve heard “Mads, lighten up!” one time in my life, I’ve heard it a million times. When I was younger, my dad would get me to chant the word en-thuuu-siastic, hoping to drill the idea of excitement and energy into my brain. When people call me “pensive” or “serious” or “deep,” it’s not because they don’t want to insult me by saying I’m acting standoffish and uninterested. It’s because I am. I process things. Everything in my life is deep and meaningful – which can be both good and bad. And generally, I’m pretty even about the whole thing. I’ve never been an emotional roller coaster. That’s why sometimes my deep thinking comes across as quiet or reserved; I’m just not going to go round up a group of people to enthusiastically proclaim my newest revelations to. I love people, but I’m an introvert by nature. Welcome to the paradox that is Maddie’s life.
And I forget the Enemy knows these things too.
I feel like I’ve been on a uncertain ship the past few weeks of this semester. I couldn’t seem to get a grip on my life or my thoughts or my emotions. I didn’t understand what I was feeling or thinking, or why. One minute things were great, and the next I wasn’t sure of anything. Excuse me, this isn’t supposed to be how sophomore year goes.
Scared and confused, I ran to what I know best – processing. Crazy emotions mean something is up in my heart, right? So I need to find what that is. So, more time with Jesus? More sleep? More people? Less people? More time alone? More journaling? More worship music? More Scripture? More memorizing Scripture? I need to identify what is going on in my heart, why I’m being so affected by external things, and then I need to fix it. . .with Jesus, of course.
And so, after several weeks of this, you can imagine my exhaustion. I don’t understand what’s wrong, why I can’t get a grip on things and myself. This isn’t me. I think deeply, but when it’s in Christ it leads me to a place of enthusiasm and renewal. There is so much in my mind. What’s up??
Here’s the funny thing about emotions – they aren’t representative of our relationship with Jesus. They aren’t rational. They often don’t line up with the truth we know and believe. And that doesn’t make them any less valid or legitimate. I’m queen of ignoring what I’m really feeling because I don’t want it to conflict with the truth of who Jesus is and what He is doing. The beauty of our security in Christ, is that it is from that place of truth that we can safely bring our emotions. We can admit to Jesus how we are really feeling in the moment because we know He already has the victory. We are free to admit how we are feeling to a Savior who felt them all – but then He takes them and replaces it with His joy. . .if we’ll let Him.
“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God- soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you.” Psalm 42:5, The Message
The deal with life is that it is up and down. Welcome to a broken world. Someone says something encouraging and I’m refreshed. Lunch plans get cancelled and I’m thrown off. I bomb a test and I feel like a failure. I get a CPO note and I’m encouraged. I laugh with friends at dinner and I’m grateful. I catch an unflattering glimpse of myself in a window and I’m filled with insecurity. Someone ignores me and I’m frustrated. Me. Me. Me. It’s all about me. It’s all affecting me. My life revolves around me. . .and it can happen even when I’m trying to focus on Jesus and process this life with Him.
This wasn’t where I was planning on going when I started typing this, but hey, it’s real.
I know the “joy of the Lord is my strength,” but do I know it? Joy isn’t faking being ok when you aren’t. It isn’t ignoring the crappy emotions. But it’s not living in them either – because living in my emotions, sometimes over-processing my emotions, negates the sovereignty and victory and strength of Jesus for my life. He is consistent when my circumstances aren’t. And if I’m not focused on that, and I’m focused on myself, even myself with Jesus, it’s no wonder that I feel tossed about by the waves of life.
Look, the authors of the Psalms get about as real as you can. Life is hard and it’s messy and external things do affect us. I won’t deny that it bothers me when people use the prayer chapel for things other than the Lord or that I can get a little cynical when I’m tired. It makes me feel good to receive encouraging notes, when my friends make me laugh, or when people intentionally pray over me. But none of those things can be my focus. I can’t focus on how they make me feel; as soon as I do more with it than submit the very real feelings to the Lord, the Enemy has a foothold. My joy is gone and I become contingent on externalities (a term that took on new meaning after I took economics).
Obviously I wouldn’t be writing this if it hasn’t been an issue all semester. I’ve been pressing into circumstances and emotions, trying to fix them and understand them. But we aren’t called to press into things, we are called to press into Jesus. He is where consistent joy and love and peace and hope are found.
So, that’s where I am. Learning to step back and confess and release. And then press into the only One who’ll get my eyes of myself and onto Eternity. Because life is messy, but the joy of the Lord will be our strength. He’s the only one who can put a smile on our face, regardless of the storm or sunshine around us, because He’s the only One who’s above it all. He’s already won, y’all. Our sovereign God is on the throne and He is loves us with a love that is beyond the fraction of our comprehension. Let’s press into that; let’s press into Him.