Choices, choices, choices
by Lisa Kartos 11/01/2011 / Marriage
Novel idea: we have control over our own feelings. Imagine the possibilities if we could wrap our minds around this fact. Ultimately, I do believe feelings stem from somewhere real within our spirit. But before we act upon our feelings, we make a quick, near-mindless decision about how we will respond or react to the situation. If we would all live life in slow-mo, we'd have a much easier time trying to take the reins on our reactions and feelings. But in our fast-paced world, we react so quickly and, in almost every case, overreact quickly.
Let me provide an example: let's say my husband says something that, in the moment, genuinely hurts my spirit. Now take a step or two back. Was it really my husband's intention to say something short that would hurt his wife's spirit? No, he is a good-intentioned man, and he would never hurt me on purpose. Maybe he is tired, maybe he is bored, maybe he was not focusing on what he was saying. But that comment is now projected onto me, and maybe I'm tired, or maybe it comes after an already ambiguous comment. And here it strikes me. And I have a decision of how to react.
*The somewhat normal reaction would be a sad facial expression at him, usually followed by a heated hand gesture paired with an accusatory comment of something along the lines of "what is that supposed to mean?" And before you know it, he becomes defensive, and an hour later, still brooding over a misunderstood and meaningless comment, a dramatic quarrel has ensued and we've lost an hour (or more) of our precious lives.
*Flip side of the coin: I could have the strength to stop in the moment, maybe take a deep breath, and say to myself, "Lisa, he did not mean to hurt you" or "Lisa, Drew loves you with all of his heart". Also, as important, not to mysteriously turn cold and moody, but to maybe give him a kiss, or change the subject. Even just to stop and think about it for a short 5 minutes...I'm sure if I was being rational and, here's the key, trying to get over it, I would see that the comment was not intentionally hurtful.
And from there, who knows where your night will go? Maybe we'd have the chance to create a super fun memory, or change the course of someone else's life; or even if it turned into just a regular peaceful evening, we would still have grown together in accepting each other at our weak moments. As opposed to the unnecessary drama of the first version, where you go to bed exhausted and possibly still not quite settled. And wake up the next morning with sour remnants of the night before, spilling into yet more of a waste of our days.
The point is, we have a decision to make when we think our feelings rule over us. I learned that "your response is your responsibility" from Emerson Eggerichs (http://loveandrespect.com/) and that has been a heart-opening concept. To make a statement like "you make me so angry" is completely untrue and quite childish. Maybe a more fitting description would be "I am making myself so angry" (much more difficult to blurt out). Emerson wisely illustrates someone stepping on a rose, as it emits a sweet smell, versus someone stepping on a skunk to reveal a stinky odor. Whoever stomped on the rose or the skunk is not at fault for the sweet versus stinky smell, but rather the stomper is just revealing the inner properties of what already exists. So if Drew says something mean, and I react negatively, I am just revealing my true character. Whereas if Drew says something cruel, and I can react neutrally or spin things positively, that reveals something positive about my inner character and spirit.
This is a small example of how we have control over our feelings. But on a larger scale, imagine the self-discipline we could garner from this realization. Some people see it as a strength to say whatever comes to mind; but being "quick to listen and slow to speak", as the Bible teaches us in James 1:19, allows you to work within your spirit for a less emotional response, and a more rooted, rational response. In turn, this would lead to more positive relationships across our lives, and, on a larger idyllic scale, even in world affairs. Imagine if the President were more quick to listen and slow to speak. What different decisions would the Senate and the House come up with for our world affairs?
In the meantime, we can each individually practice self-discipline within our own feelings and emotions. Love of every kind, between all humans, is ultimately a choice, not a feeling. Imagine how many people would never marry if they saw it that way. Or how many friendships or relationships are broken over misunderstood conversations or actions, or by people reacting hastily on their feelings alone. Remember, God gave all of us a spirit ultimately full of good so we could image Him. So, whoever we are trying to blame in our everyday life, is really not evil at the heart. Rather, we could try and trust in the good of those around us. We do not have to be victim to our own feelings, rather we can master them, and live a less bitter and cynical life.