Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wherein God Speaks, and Emily Gets a Clue

Many of my friends have noted that I rarely get mad. There is very little that sets me off anymore, at least on a personal level. Now, this has sometimes been seen as a bit of a flaw in me, and perhaps out of balance it is, but I remember the time when my temper ruled my world. It was so much easier to get caught up in the mayhem of emotions run amok than to deal with the cause of the emotion. Now, I didn’t just stop losing my temper because I woke up one morning and decided to be a kinder and gentler Emily. I stopped losing my temper when I learned how to be kinder and gentler to Emily.

I realized that nothing makes me angrier than failing, and so much of my life I have failed to have the appropriate emotional response to any given situation. I am the type of person who finds Christmas arduous, funerals amusing, comedic movies depressing, and dry theological tomes thrilling. None of these meet the criteria for the proper emotional response in any social circle I have inhabited. So it seemed that everything I ran up against rubbed me the wrong way, exposing my failures to the world, and the best cover for this – anger. No one questions the emotions of an angry person.

I never really set out to stop losing my temper. I considered it my divine right to spew my venom at anyone who failed to meet my standards, and my standards are just one degree removed from perfection. And can you guess who the biggest offender was?

Yep, that would be me. So I went around, mad at the world and my loved ones for failing to be who or what I thought they needed to be. All the while, I am failing miserable to be who and what I thought I needed to be, leaving me angry with me and with so much more anger to share. There was enough of this toxic emotion to power the entire east coast, but I was the one being zapped.

One day as I was driving home from work, I had a thought that must have been sponsored by God. (I just have this image of him saying, “I want to buy a thirty second spot to run a special commercial in her brain.”) I know it had to be him, because I am not this smart. The thought was, “Your response should be counter-intuitive.”

Occasionally, a cryptic remark like that makes more sense to me than the most detailed diagram but this was not one of those times. So I paused for a moment to ponder what this could possibly mean. The person sitting behind me at the light did not properly appreciate this revelatory moment, I could tell once I became aware of the honking horn and some rather expressive hand gestures. I can be perceptive like that. Fortunately, I was too intrigued by what was going on in my head to care or I might have been angry.

What?, I thought with incredulous eloquence. My response to any give situation is an emotional reflex, how in the world can I make them counter intuitive? Almost immediately, the next God thought followed, “A response is not the same as a reaction.”

Now wait a minute, I thought, how could they be different? Can you distinguish one from another? I waited, but it seemed like I was on my own this time. Here’s what I came up with, a reaction is the first emotional rush brought on by any given event. It is the emotional equivalent of hitting your knee with a hammer, your knee jumps and it is neither good nor bad. It just is, accept it as part of a working design.

A response is what I give when I have put thought into how I will behave towards any given situation, and once I think about how to behave I am responsible for my actions, because it is no longer a reaction. And this means any thought, even as minute as “I am going to kill them.” I am making a conscious choice in how I am conducting myself, and that puts me in charge, not some pre-wired survival mechanism. First, I realized that this a pretty weighty responsibility, but then I realized something fabulous.

I am not responsible for my reaction. I don’t have to beat myself up any more for not having the right emotional reaction to life. I can react any way my little erratic mind reacts and it’s okay. I wasn’t a failure. I was operating as God intended me to operate, as a person who tends to be a little on the passionate side with a warped sense of humor. And I am good with that.

All of a sudden my job shifted, I could stop wasting time trying to undo my emotional reflexes and work on the stuff I really could control. I am a great thinker, and I love to do it! How awesome is it that God had already given me the tools to fix my problem! As I learned to temper my responses, I found that my reactions became calmer, more subdued, and I could offer an honest response more in keeping with the heart of my Father. When I learned to cooperate with the creation he had made in me, and stopped fighting it, I was able to live at a greater level of freedom and effectiveness than I had ever known.

1 comment:

Dirty Butter said...

I've never been one to have much of a temper, but as I get older I'm more frustrated with myself. And it is showing in my shortness with my hubby. I'll be thinking about what you've said. Thanks.

I follow you on ExposeYourBlog.