Avoiding Emotional Roller Coasters in 2018

Roller coasters are for young people. If you’re over 50 and still like roller coasters, I think you’re either crazy, or perhaps you just like going to chiropractors.

People probably like roller coasters for the same reason they like scary movies. There’s an undeniable adrenaline surge when you think your life’s in jeopardy.

But I’m not sure that’s a healthy way to live.

I’ve discovered lately that many people who no longer ride Disney World roller coasters are instead riding roller coasters of a different kind. Rather than pay the exorbitant gate fees at an amusement park, they’ve developed the habit of riding relational and emotional roller coasters.

Even though you don’t have to pay a gate fee for an emotional roller coaster, there’s a high cost nevertheless. So I’m determined to do my best to avoid emotional and relational roller coasters in the coming year.

How about you?

In order to minimize life’s emotional roller coasters, we must recognize how we’ve unwittingly ridden them in the past. This may require a painful walk down Memory Lane, but it’s worth the effort.

Here are 4 tips for avoiding emotional roller coasters in 2018:

  1. Minimize your contact with dysfunctional people. If you’re a therapist, this tip would be detrimental to your career. But for the rest of us, we need to choose our inner circle of friends carefully. Solomon warned, “Do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly” (Proverbs 24:21-22).

Of course, it’s impossible to completely avoid dysfunctional people unless you become a hermit. And then the only dysfunctional person causing you problems would be yourself…

But let’s get real: Compassionate, caregiving people like me tend to spend far too much time in codependent, unhealthy, nonproductive relationships. Too often, we try to fix people who don’t really want to be fixed. Instead of making them any better, our own lives just become worse.

If you closely attach yourself to people who love emotional roller coasters, you will end up joining them on a jolting ride through life. Yes, if you love drama, it will be hard to give this up. But for me, life is too short for roller coasters.

  1. Make sure your life is built upon rock rather than sand. Jesus warned about this in Matthew 7:24-27, describing the fate of two different men who built houses. I’ve never noticed it before, but the man whose house was on a rock had a comparatively boring life! Hurricanes and floods could come along, and he was able to rest securely within the unshakeable home he had built. In contrast, the other man experienced an adrenaline surge every time a storm came his way. He never knew whether the sand under his house would suddenly give way during a stressful time. He ended up with a roller coaster life, continually subject to the weather patterns of his surrounding circumstances.

As a kid, one of my favorite stories was “The 3 Little Pigs.” Two of the three pigs had houses that could be blown down by the big bad wolf – who was a fitting image of the devil. Yet the third pig was safe from the enemy’s attacks. In addition to building his house with strong materials, there was a FIRE in his fireplace – a great picture of someone whose heart is on fire with passion for the Lord. If I had to be a pig, I would like to follow his example.

  1. Tie your emotions to eternal, unchanging things rather than the transitory conditions around you. If your state of mind is based on the weather or the daily stock market report, you’ll inevitably live a roller coaster life. Likewise, you’ll be a very moody person if you allow your disposition to be determined by how you’re treated by your boss, your coworkers, or even your spouse.

Too often, we’re like the teen girl trying to figure out if her boyfriend really loves her. Picking the petals off a daisy, she says to herself, “He loves me. He loves me not…”

But the good news is that we can tie our self-image to a Someone whose love is unchanging. There’s no roller coaster with His love, for He’s continually telling us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Not only does the Bible say your Heavenly Father loves you, but it also declares that He will never change His mind on that! Realizing this unchanging truth is an essential step in getting off of your emotional or spiritual roller coaster.

  1. Beware of physical factors that cause your emotions to fluctuate. The link between your body and your emotions is profound. If your body rides on a roller coaster of sugar, caffeine, junk food, and drugs (prescription or otherwise), your emotions are sure to follow. Likewise, yo-yo diets and bipolar sleep habits will tend to cause yo-yo, bipolar emotions.

And just as your body affects your emotions, the reverse is true as well. Solomon pointed out that the condition of your mind and emotions will bring either health or harm to your physical well-being: “A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones” (Proverbs 14:30 MSG). Even without roller coasters in Solomon’s day, he could see the danger of “runaway emotions.”

Romantic Roller Coasters

If you’ve found yourself on a wild roller coaster ride in recent years, you’re certainly not alone. As I’ve documented in previous blogs, my good friend Ron has been a poster child for the roller coaster life.

Whenever an attractive woman shows Ron any attention, his heart goes flitter flutter. His hormones send his emotions sky high, making him feel intoxicated and strangely invincible. It’s like being an infatuated high school kid all over again.

However, you’ve probably heard the saying, “What goes up, must come down.” I’m not sure that adage is always true, but it surely has been the case with Ron. The elation he feels when he “falls in love” is quickly replaced by depression when the relationship doesn’t work out.

Although Ron’s pursuit of love is inherently hazardous, I’m convinced the romantic roller coaster can at least be minimized…

  • Roller coasters are not as dangerous if they proceed at a slower, more deliberate pace. Although it’s seldom easy to slow down the freight train of love, it’s wise to at least include a few speed bumps on the journey.
  • I keep telling Ron to fix his eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Once again, this is easy for me to say and hard for Ron to do. Yet this is the ONLY way to main God’s perfect peace amid a dating relationship or any other new endeavor in life (Isaiah 26:3, Colossians 3:15).
  • One of the discouraging things about roller coasters is that they never really take you anywhere. After all the ups and downs, you arrive back at the same place where you started. This is a lot like the 40-year circular path the Israelites took in the wilderness. In contrast, God has a plan for your life, and that plan includes PROGRESS toward His PURPOSES. Every relationship or endeavor should be evaluated on whether it’s taking you further down the road toward God’s ultimate purpose.

So, are you ready to stay off unnecessary roller coasters in 2018? Are you willing to minimize the extreme highs and lows, opting instead for a slow, steady, purposeful walk with the Lord?

If you’re still young, I can understand why you might want to treat life like a face-paced, adrenaline-producing video game. But at my age, I’m finding that I must be strategic about how I spend my time and energy.

Let me know what you think! Am I being too hard on the roller coaster life?

Although my blogs and tweets are always free of charge, notice that there’s a DONATE button on my website, a convenient way to make a tax-deductible donation to Crosslink Ministries, my ministry outreach.

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Avoiding Overdrawn Relationships

overdrawn account 3

Many decades ago, I discovered the reality of Jesus’ teaching that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). So I became a giver, and I’ve received many blessings as a result.

But, as with most truths, there’s another side to this principle: Healthy relationships are reciprocal.  When one person in the relationship does all the giving and the other does all the taking, the bond inevitably becomes twisted and toxic.

Sadly, I’ve been rather slow in learning this. Giving has always been a natural part of who I am, but receiving is much more difficult for me. I don’t like asking people for their help, even when I need it. And the thought of being a burden to someone else is horrifying.

So, when I give, I seldom expect anything in return. Based on Jesus’ words in Luke 6:34-35, I’ve always thought this was the godly way to relate to people. But once again, I’ve often missed another important component of the relationship equation. Too often, I’ve been willing to continually give and give, while the other person received and received. Although this made me feel good at first, it was a prescription for codependency, certainly not a healthy relationship.

The apostle Paul seemed to face this kind of situation with the Corinthian church. He had poured his life into them and opened his heart wide. While this kind of imbalance was fine in their infancy, he said it was now time for them to grow up and open their hearts to him as well (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).

Monitoring Your Account

If we don’t ever monitor our checking account, we run the risk of overdrawing it from time to time. Our relationships need to be monitored and assessed in much the same way.

I’ve found that when our emotional bank account is full and overflowing, it’s very easy to be a giver. But if the other person never puts anything back into the relational bank account, we eventually discover that the account is empty or even overdrawn.

Have you ever experienced this? If you’re a chronic giver like me, I’m sure you have. And then you find yourself resenting the very people you joyfully gave your life to for so long.

If you are willing to do all the giving, you’ll have no trouble finding people willing to do all the taking. Even with that imbalance, everything is likely to seem fine until the relational bank account finally runs dry.

This is a hard lesson, but you’re not doing people any favor if you allow them to become a leech instead of a healthy contributor to the relationship. They may not be able to contribute as much as you do, and that’s okay. But they need to contribute something.

Making Changes

Recently I’ve had to say “NO” to several people who wanted to make a withdrawal from my emotional bank account. Why? Because, over the course of time, they had never put anything into the account.

When people face times of crisis, it’s natural to want to help them. But what about a situation where someone always seems to be in crisis mode? And how should you respond those who never make any deposit into your account even when times are good for them? It may seem harsh, but sometimes the imbalance is so great that the wisest thing to do is to shut the door on the relationship altogether.

In contrast, I’ve found that it’s always a great joy to give to those who’ve taken time to make a deposit of some kind into my life. Whatever they need, I’m happy to give it if I can.

So I hope you’ve discovered the joy in being a giver. But I also hope you’ve learned to develop healthy, reciprocal relationships, where both of you are putting something into the account.

If, like me, your relationships have often been off-balanced, perhaps it’s time for some frank discussions with your friends and family members. Don’t wait until the account is totally overdrawn to request some changes.

One More Thing…

Even as we learn the importance of cultivating reciprocal relationships, where both parties make contributions into the account, there’s another vital principle we must never forget: The ultimate source of love is God Himself, not any human relationship.

“Let us love one another,”  we’re told in 1 John 4:7, “for love comes from God.” If we look to any other source, we’re certain to face disappointment.

You see, we’re much more likely to be hurt by our human relationships when we allow our love relationship with the Lord to run dry. When His love is overflowing in our lives (Psalm 23:5), we’re far less likely to be offended by the failure of people to make deposits into our emotional account. That doesn’t let them off the hook, but it means we can abide in God’s peace and joy even when people let us down.

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Love-Starved but Love-Resistant

Love hard heart

I recently discovered a strange phenomenon: People who are the most starved for love usually are resistant to receiving love when it’s offered to them.

This is like California or Texas after a long-term drought. When rain finally comes, the ground is so hard that it can’t properly soak up the water. Instead of being a blessing, the rain sometimes causes a flood!

Have you ever tried to show love to someone who was extremely love-starved? If so, the person probably either rejected your love or latched onto it in a completely unhealthy way. If you doubt me on this, talk to some of your friends who’ve ventured into the world of online dating…

The love-resistant principle is illustrated in the life of one of the Bible’s most fascinating characters, Mephibosheth. This son of Jonathan was crippled at age five and after his father’s death on the same day, he was exiled to a desolate wasteland called Lo Debar.

One day King David started wondering if any of Saul and Jonathan’s heirs remained, and he was told about this woeful, exiled prince (2 Samuel 9). David was intent on finding this forgotten young man and showing him kindness.

But although kindness was something Mephibosheth desperately needed, there was just one problem: this crippled son of David’s friend Jonathan was love-resistant. Like a Type 2 diabetic who’s insulin-resistant despite needing more insulin, he was emotionally unable to absorb the very thing he so clearly needed.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised. For several years this man had grown up in squalor and hopelessness. Lame in both legs, he was completely dependent on others. Day after day, his condition reminded him of his great loss, which occurred at no fault of his own.

So what happened when Mephibosheth was brought before the king?

Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” (v. 8 MSG).

How sad. After years of deprivation, this dispirited, love-starved man judged himself to be a loser, unworthy of kindness from the king or anyone else. Instead of being heir to the throne, now he felt of no more value than a stray dog!

Can you blame him? After all, he couldn’t hold a job…couldn’t produce anything…couldn’t even walk! In the eyes of most people in that period of time, he was WORTHLESS, plain and simple—and that’s how he saw himself as well.

As the story makes clear, Mephibosheth was crippled in both of his feet. But if we read between the lines, we realize that he was even more crippled emotionally. Instead of seeing himself as a prince, he was a pauper, completely unlovable.

Oh, but David’s love—like God’s love for us—was not to be denied. Despite the deplorable condition of this man, both physically and psychologically, the king persisted in his plan to RESTORE him to what he had lost.

That’s good news, because we’ve ALL suffered losses of various kinds. Thankfully, King Jesus offers to bring us from Lo Debar, bringing us restoration rather than judgment.

This story has a beautiful conclusion: “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table” (v. 13). No longer dwelling in the spiritual wasteland of Lo Debar, the crippled prince once again ate at the king’s table, just like one of David’s sons.

Are you starving for love today? Remember the story of this dejected young man whose hard emotional shell finally gave way to the relentless kindness of God. When you let the King shower you with His love, it will open the corridors of your heart to experience love from other people as well.

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The Funny Thing About Your Fears

Fear and faith. Two primal forces that significantly shape our actions, attitudes, emotions, and relationships.

Like oil and water, the two don’t mix.

Throughout the Bible, God tells people, “Fear not, for I am with you!” (Isaiah 41:10, etc.)

But here’s the funny thing about it:

I’m convinced God intentionally puts us into situations that expose the fears we’ve harbored in our heart. And once we’re in one of those terrifying situations, He then tells us, “Fear not!”

When you see this pattern, you might be tempted to think God is sadistic and cruel. Why else would He be so intent on revealing our deepest fears—just so He can comfort us and tell us not to fear?

The answer is that the Lord does this as part of our healing process. Unless our fears come to the surface, we’ll never confront them and allow Him to heal us.

The Biblical examples of this strange process are too numerous to list, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • At a time when Jacob was terrified of his future and on the run from his brother Esau, God took him to a dark desert where he had a stunning revelation of a ladder between heaven and earth. His fears melted away as he recognized the Lord’s awesome presence with him.
  • When Moses was 40, the Israelites rejected his effort to help them during their captivity in Egypt.As a result, he had to escape to the wilderness, where he took care of sheep for 40 years. Eventually the Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush and sent him right back to Egypt, the scene of his previous trauma and rejection.
  • The most traumatic experience of Joshua’s life occurred when more than a million Israelites rejected his counsel and chose not to enter the Promised Land. When Moses died 40 years later, what did God do? He brought Joshua full circle to the very scene of his deepest fears—and commissioned Joshua to courageously lead the Israelites on the same mission that had miserably failed 40 years earlier.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times around a fire in the courtyard of the high priest. After the resurrection, God arranged the circumstances for Peter to again be around a fire—where Jesus told him three times, “Feed my sheep.” Three failures were erased by three statements of affirmation from Jesus.

So what are YOU afraid of? Years ago, I might have answered, “Nothing! I’m fearless and full of faith!”

Yet God has found ways to expose fears I didn’t even know I had. Fears of intimacy…failure…abandonment…loss…loneliness…financial lack…and countless other things.

As I look back on the difficult experiences I’ve faced along the way, I’ve come to realize an amazing thing about this process: I’m not nearly as afraid of those things anymore! Hey, the devil took his best shot, and I’m still standing!

If you are in a situation today that is revealing some kind of fear in the depths of your heart, I have good news: Faith can overcome your fears. And the healing balm of the Holy Spirit can cleanse every wound and calm every anxious thought.

So fear not, my friend. He is with you. And if you let Him, He’s going to work everything for your good (Romans 8:28).

But getting set free from your fears is a funny process, isn’t it?

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