Today is my first day back in the office after seven weeks of a sabbatical. During that time, I was able to write over 77,000 words towards a book, and by God's grace I will add the finishing touches on it sometime in the next few weeks. Whether or not the book will be of any significance to others is in His hands, but it has been a significant experience for me. I found that I both enjoyed and wrestled with writing more than I expected to. At times, putting thoughts and experiences into words seemed a very natural, life-giving process. At other moments, I felt intense struggling over my own inadequacies- trying to find exactly the right words to capture a thought and never finding them exactly right.
I do hope to share more about the writing experience later, but for just a moment today I want to reflect on emotions. As I step back into the world of helping lead a local church, I find myself inundated with emotions. Here are just a few of them:
PEACE: I have a firmer sense than ever that this is God's church and these are God's people. I do not own them nor control them. I have been placed over them as a steward, under them a servant, and with them as a friend.
ANXIETY: As I read through a stack of mail and several hundred emails, I opened more mental boxes than I care to count. If you tend to think that all pastors do is sit around and write sermons for Sunday, you need to ditch that idea! The sheer variety of issues awaiting my direction creates a mild panic about my ability to handle it all. The anxiety whispers into my brain, "Hurry up and get stuff done!"
JOY: After seven-weeks of being often secluded, it is nice to be with people again. It's nice to go out for coffee with a co-worker and answer the phone when it rings. God has blessed me with great people to work with and for. I like what I do. The joy whispers into my brain, "Slow down and enjoy people!"
EXCITEMENT: God is doing good things in me and in the church. I can't wait to see what happens next. I can't wait to preach again and bring forward some ideas that have rambled about my skull for several months.
FEAR: I have no idea what's going to happen next. People make mistakes. People come. People go. Ministries start. Ministries end.
I hope this short list highlights one thing: I am a complete contradiction of emotions today. When I feel this way, I have a tendency to allow emotions to define my life. I am either up or down with each email read, each thought of work to be done, each report of past events that I missed. How can I simultaneously feel so many different things? My guess is, you have been there as well. You love your kids to death, but sometimes you feel they will be your death. Work is a joy; work is a pain. We are up, we are down. The emotional roller coaster takes us all over the place.And if we're not careful, our emotional state of mind begins to define our lives.
What I am trying to keep in perspective today is this: I am not my emotions. Emotions tell me something about my environment and my reaction to it, but emotions are not who I am. The differing emotions I feel are like warning lights on a pilots instrument panel, alerting me to something deeper going on. Rather than focusing on the warning light, a pilot traces the meaning back to the core issue to be dealt with. I find that when I do this, I am not controlled by my emotions, but rather informed and aided by them.
The key for all of us is that something greater is happening in our lives underneath the emotions we feel. When the mail arrives and we feel excitement or fear, God is asking us to trust him. When the kids won't listen yet again and our anger flares, the Spirit invites us to seek Him for patience. When that phone call or emails comes that raises our temperature, we look underneath the emotion to see what hidden fear or joy God is bringing to life. In all of this knowing of self, we learn to trust Him more completely.
So today I am walking in many opportunities, sometimes dozens in an hour, to trust God with who I am. I suspect you are as well. May your emotions alert you to the deeper things God is doing in your soul.