I am an emotional person. I can remember my dad telling me as a child, whilst I was crying over some film, probably Lassie, that my bladder was too close to my eyes. I think I am not an orphan in this respect. The good side is that I am an empathetic person, which helps with my role and caring for others. Yet there is a dark side. Our society tells us in so many ways, through so many mediums, that if it feels good then do it. We are constantly receiving messages to base our decisions, actions and words on our emotions. All of our choices are to be considered primarily from how we feel. And in our troubled times of uncertainly and lock down, this can be unsettling and unhelpful.
We all know that tough times are not new in this world, others have learnt to manage and live a life to the glory of God despite fighting feelings of shame, despair and grief. Ironically, the stirring hymn Amazing Grace, closely associated with the African American community who have, and still, suffer so much unfair prejudice, was written by a former enslaver, John Newton. Newton’s story and hymn remind me about how often when we are at a very low point that we have to confront ourselves and why we behave the way we do. He took so many years after participating in the trade to renounce slavery publicly, he reflected that:
“It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”
Newton’s beautiful hymn represents the painful process of recognising how behaviour, choices and subsequent emotions can impair decision making and our attitude to life. Shame is a significant motivator to change behaviour. I can easily forget to be guided by faith, to live in God’s word and to pray. I am a saved wretch despite whatever I have done. It is God’s word, Jesus’ example, that I need to follow and not my emotions. Joyce Meyer in Battlefield of the Mind says that “Your life will not get straightened out until your mind does.”
I am not saying that it is appropriate to ignore emotions, that is an impossible dream in my case, but that they are only part of the story. Meyer also explains that we can choose thoughts and think things on purpose. In other words, I do not have to just think about whatever falls into my mind. The mind is the leader or forerunner of all actions, so we need to think about what we think about. In Romans 12:2 Paul says: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
I have learnt to recognise my feelings, but not behave based on them or I will be stuck in the same spot. God sees my heart, my competitive nature and my over abundant feelings – whether I admit to it or not. I need to remember: you become what you think. Think discouraging thoughts, and I will get discouraged – think competitive thoughts and I will never be satisfied with what I have.
And it is in Philippians that we can find encouragement of change in our lives. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, that we can "be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Head of Senior School