Have you ever heard the expression, “Your reactions are showing”?
Reacting can be both positive and negative. On one hand our reflexes can help us snatch our hand away from a hot stove eye or block our face from an incoming baseball. But on the other side of that coin is a plethora of knee-jerk reactions that aren’t always the best. When our emotions get synced with our reactions we might find ourselves in trouble.
How do you typically respond when:
- You read a Facebook post that implies you didn’t handle something correctly?
- Your spouse blames you for something you feel is unfair?
- You are falsely accused of something?
I am sure you can remember a time (or many times) when your reaction made things much worse than they had to be. For some, it is really easy to go too far and cause irreparable damage to relationships, reputations, or even your job.
When I think back on my own life I can remember times I wish I had stopped to think before I acted. It is amazing what 24-hours will do to perspective on almost anything. When we step back and look at it with a little perspective we realize that our emotions were leading the way and begging for a disaster.
So how can we stop our emotions from leading us into trouble?
The key to success in this area of our lives is self-control. Being able to control your emotions is a necessary life skill. There are two key words that we must remember when we are working on this area — understand and manage.
Digging into our emotions can be a messy ordeal. And although that is sometimes necessary for healing and forward progress, it is not necessary for success in controlling them. The key here is understanding that our emotions do not represent the truth. In fact, many times our negative emotions are completely fueled by false ideas or perceptions that we have in our head. We can react in pride, anger, stubbornness, and so many more destructive ways without the least consideration for what is true or real. For example, pride doesn’t stop to ask what the truth is or to take a hard look at the situation. It immediately rises up to protect us at all cost.
If I know this about myself, it can be a great tool in helping me manage my reactions to people and situations.
Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs that a fool expresses all his emotions but a wise person controls them. The ability to control our emotions creates the environment for positive things to happen. Personally it allows us to make decisions and speak into a situation with wisdom and truth. This brings an immediate sense of calm and focus that is not evident when our emotions are leading the way. It also brings clarity to many circumstances that we find ourselves in with other people.
But how do I control something that reacts so quickly?
Pause and Process
Learning to stop and take a deep breath before speaking or reacting is vital to managing our unruly emotions. It sounds easy but in the moment, pausing is one of the hardest things to do. While our emotions are formulating words and responses at the speed of light, it is difficult to back away and just pause for a moment. Everything in us is screaming to react but wisdom knows I need to think for a moment.
This is the hard part and it will take patience and practice as you train yourself to respond in the correct way. Even the best emotional managers struggle when added stressors come into play. Sometimes a bad day can really send you into a spiral. The next thing you know Mr. Calm has gone off the deep end.
Pausing gives you time to think and in those few seconds it is amazing how your reactions can change. Over time you will develop a habit of pausing and thinking in both good and bad situations. I can’t tell you how much money I have saved over the years because I paused before purchasing. The items were not bad but I didn’t need them as much as I thought I did standing in the store. Pausing and processing protects us from many of those “What was I thinking?” moments.
In Galatians, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit comes out of our lives as we live in fellowship with God and walk in obedience to His ways. When I look at the list of character traits that can be part of who I am on a daily basis it is really overwhelming.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26
These amazing traits are like flavors in a tropical fruit punch — it’s one glass of juice but every time you drink you get hit with a different flavor. Paul describes these traits as all different aspects of one united fruit of the Spirit. If one is possible they are all possible. If one is evident then they all should be evident. The key to living by the Spirit so these traits can be evident in our lives is stated in verse 24 — death to the flesh.
This is where the pause becomes so important. The moment we pause and hold back our initial reactions we are practicing self-control. Now we have a clear path to think and process the situation.
We can ask important questions and find the truth we are seeking to know and understand.
- Why did the person say that to me?
- Why did they act this way?
- What is the right response to this situation?
- How will I feel about this in a week?
We can pray and talk to God about how we are feeling and what is the right way to respond. Sometimes I do this on the spot because not every situation allows me to go and take a 10 minute walk and figure it out. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced the peace of God in my heart in the middle of that moment.
When writing to the church at Philippi, who were being treated terribly because of their faith, Paul told them not to be anxious about their circumstances but instead talk to God.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
This is an important part of the processing. Let your heart and your thoughts be turned to God even if you are still in the situation. Take a few deep breaths and ask God for his promised help. I can promise you from personal experience that the peace will come. The situation may not go away or get resolution but you will have a peace in your heart and mind. This peace is invaluable and will carry you through painful emotional struggles.
But there is also more that will come from pausing and thinking things through with God. I have found that once I do this, multiple benefits begin to come my way.
Often I get a better understanding of the person I was struggling with and since many times these are people that I care for, this is important to me.
A trust deepens between me and God and I know that he will be there for me in all situations.
I learn things about myself that only testing shows. I realize that I am not bearing the fruit that is important to me. That brings me back to God again for his help in my own personal growth.
The next time you find yourself in an emotionally charged situation, I hope you will use the pause. Then talk to God about it and experience the peace. Soon you will find the pause to be your first reaction. Feel free to share your situation with me when it happens — I would love to read it.