What to do when emotions hold us back from moving forward
You are a leader - someone that others look up to and who others follow. One of your family members and co-workers has just been murdered. You are in charge of a medium-sized enterprise. What do you do? What are the emotions that are ramming into you at full speed? Are you going to go to work today?!
Today I want to tell you a true story about a group of people who were faced with that situation and their responses, struggles and breakthroughs in the day that followed and see if we can learn a thing or two about handling strong emotions in the midst of life that goes on.
When emotions press in
Before I tell you the story I want to tell you how their story came to speak to mine. These past few weeks I have been feeling sad. That broken-inside sad that you can’t really put your finger on. Nothing has happened to make me feel sad - definitely nothing as dramatic as murdered co-workers for sure, - but I have been struggling with strong negative emotions and had a lack of motivation to do anything. Days where you doubt you are doing anything purposeful anyway. That toxic cocktail of enemy lies, hormones and weariness.
Feeling sad and not really knowing why left me introspective and trudging through emotional mud. I had to fight to want to separate time to read the Bible, worship and pray and I had to be okay with feeling like I was getting nothing productive done beyond mountains of washing and dishes. Inside there was a growing dissatisfaction that I am called to more than rest and the mundane (see that big lie?!). 'There is more to be done!' my inner task-master would shout and yet I felt powerless and stunted at the same time to move forward.
I had also been struggling with the passage in John 6 I was given to preach from. It is the passage where Jesus walks on water, reveals himself to his frightened disciples (who let him into the boat) and then the winds calm and they suddenly find themselves all supernaturally transported to the shoreline (see John 6:21). It is a passage that talks a lot about Jesus’ power over creation and yet one that was remarkably difficult to find personal testimonies to share. My walking on water skills have never improved since my childhood attempts failed and my personal desire to increase in faith for supernatural transportation isn't really there either (although how awesome would it be to just suddenly turn up in your friends' living room when they weren't expecting you?!).
The day Jesus is grieved: healing, provision and water-walking.
However, as I read around the passage in John 6, and the different versions of the story found in Matthew 14 and Mark 6, it became more of a story I could relate to. You see Jesus began the day with news that his cousin and fellow kingdom co-worker, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. He must have been gutted and grieved and most likely emotionally overwhelmed because the Bible tells us that his first response is to withdraw to pray, no doubt to align his emotions with the larger perspective.
And then amazingly, he allows his heart to be moved to compassion by the sick beginning to crowd around him. I would have probably run away, hid behind a bush or brushed off the crowd with a 'sorry, not today, someone close to me has just died', but Jesus doesn't. My confidence in my supernatural authority would probably have been shaken, but Jesus doesn’t let the news and his emotions undermine his trust in His Father. He doesn’t let the news and the accompanying strong emotions paralyze him or his ability to heal. They don’t undermine his faith, but instead, he welcomes the needy and meets their needs. He even provides a banquet of fish and bread for them all so they won’t go home weary and weak! He advances the kingdom in spite of what his emotions must have been screaming.
The crowd are electric and they want to make him their king. They have had a taste of this Kingdom provision and they like it. But fame isn’t something human souls deal with well - the emotions are heavy; the temptations strong. Jesus knows he needs to get away again, away from the distorted earthly priorities. After dismissing the crowd and sending his disciples ahead of him in a boat to rest, he heads up to the mountain again to pray, to realign with Home and saturate his soul with truth and his calling. To get heaven’s filter once again.
That day was packed enough but it isn’t finished yet, for it is then that the winds begin their drama. After the noise of his heart and the noise of the crowds comes the noise of the winds: distracting and threatening. But fear doesn’t seep into Jesus’ bones. He sees his disciples straining at the oars and he decides to go and check in on them. Weariness doesn’t overwhelm Him. He doesn’t even try and stop the wind or waves, but instead walks out into them, head held high, King over creation.
Storms when all you need is rest
For the disciples, however, it is a different story. They were fearful, tired, overwhelmed and caught up in the rollercoaster of emotions of that day too. No doubt they had also been affected by the news of John the Baptist's murder, had then been joyfully astonished at the multiplication of bread and yet also bone tired from all that walking around picking up leftovers from the first entry into the Guinness World Records of 'largest picnic'.
When Jesus sends his disciples away ‘to rest’, they no doubt muttered 'finally!' under their beards and limp-ran to the boat holding their weary backs, setting off from shore before Jesus could change his mind. But after a couple of miles rowing, the winds picked up and 'mission: rest' suddenly got blown away. Through the night they rowed against the storm. Unlike Jesus, they didn’t have the strength to keep going and they were not at peace. They hadn’t got their top-up on heaven’s perspective. Mark tells us that what had been offered to them - the revelation of the bread and the fish, of God’s goodness and heaven’s reality - hadn’t penetrated and transformed their hearts - they had only enjoyed the food in itself. All too quickly they had forgotten about the One who multiplies bread and created the wind and the waves.
God's place in our storms
As much as God desires us to have peace in the midst of a storm, and to see things from heaven’s perspective there is also another truth in this story. One that I have needed to receive this week: God meets us where we are at. Jesus headed out onto the lake when he saw the disciples rowing against the wind and he intended to pass them by and just to check on them. But when it became clear that their strength was failing - their emotional strength as much as their physical strength, He drew near at their desperation call. He dwelt with them in the boat and brought the kingdom to them.
And that is the beauty of our Emmanuel - that He meets us where we are at and brings the atmosphere of heaven to us if we will allow it. Either way, the kingdom breaks thorough - whether we can see and partner with it, or have it sloshed all over us when we desperately cry out to Him to come. Because He loves sharing the kingdom and all its rescue, redemption and restoration with us. All the provision, power and purification from sickness, scarcity and sin.
When the storms are silenced
And when I look at how busy I have been in the last couple of months, I realize that I am just weary from rowing against the wind of my emotions and the dark storm clouds. It isn’t my lack that is causing me to be so unmotivated right now, but rather my humanness. I need to reinitiate self-care rhythms and stop expecting too much from myself. I need to stop looking at the storms and look at Jesus instead. I am so grateful that Jesus comes and meets me in the midst of it all and makes his face the centre of my gaze. That he doesn’t belittle my anxiety or leave me struggling by myself. Instead, He demonstrates another reality and invites me to look up to Him and to trust Him and to rest in Him. Because He is the only one who can say ‘Be still and know that I am God’ and the mental storms fizzle out.
Are you in a storm right now? Do you believe that God is with you in that storm? What do you think his attitude is towards you in that storm? Do you feel He is condemning how you are handling it or do you believe He is wanting to graciously and lovingly meet you in it and help you with it?
How are your self-care rhythms going right now? Are you managing to find those life-giving moments of rest? To help us all meet with God in the midst of the busyness of life, I have put together a free guide where you can get 8 fresh, practical ways to meet with God in 10 minutes or less. Click on the image below to get your free copy: