If only my problems were as easy as to fix as everyone else’s problems. No, I don’t really mean that my problems are more severe than your problems – only that it is much easier to see the problem and the resolution in other’s dilemmas than in one’s own. That said, I do find my own dilemmas intractable.
It is such a strange conundrum. I sit with individuals frequently, discussing the difficulties they face – with self, with family, with friends, with enemies, with employers, with God – and I am able to (at least sometimes) help…but when it comes to my own dilemmas, I oftentimes feel like I am butting up against a steel wall that will never cave and which I can’t even chip apart like a brick wall.
I learned that I needed to process and express my emotions. That was an important lesson for me. I learned as a child that spontaneous emotional expression was not safe and I eliminated it – even to the extent of forcing my voice into a strictly monotonous tone.
This might find its roots in a psychoanalytic background – and one can also offer up Scriptural support for such a process as well. For example, David in the Psalms spends a lot of time processing with God his emotions and experiences and the Book of Job is a meditation custom made for the hopeless – and not necessarily to bring them (me) succor. In the Christian realm I’d consider Larry Crabb and John Eldredge to be examples of this approach.
On the other hand, I’ve learned that I am master of my emotions, that others do not cause emotions in me – I choose how I respond to external events and this causes my emotions. This has been helpful as well. When someone treats me unfairly I can reframe this in my mind – instead of feeling hurt I can tell myself, “They don’t know you, so they can’t judge you like that” or “I know I am competent. Their opinion is not what matters” or “I know that I am laying myself open before God, I will continue to follow His leading.” In the Christian realm I’d consider Neil T. Anderson and nouthetic counseling to be examples of this approach.
One can find plentiful Scriptural support for this latter approach as well…Scripture oftentimes tells us to do things in spite of our emotions. We are to restrain our anger, even though we feel it; to forgive even when we don’t want to; and so on.
Both of these approaches have been helpful to me in various situations in my life and I am thankful for the robust way in which individuals have helped me understand and apply Scripture. I know some will object that this is only the masking of psychological methods with a thin veneer of Scripture – I would simply ask you for your understanding on these matters and a few moments to determine what psychological method your framework is built upon. I’ll be happy to discover some day that someone’s framework isn’t built on anything but Scripture, but I have yet to meet such a person – our understanding of Scripture seems intrinsically formed by our experience…and since psychology is to a certain extent just an attempt to understand human behavior, it is not surprising that human philosophies, even one’s based on Scripture, should fall into such categories roughly.
Now I don’t know what to do in specific situations, usually the intractable ones. Lets take an example from Streams of Mercy that is not personal to me. A sheriff is called to a homicide at a bar. He walks in and the man instantly surrenders himself. After cuffing the man they roll over the body, which is nearly cut in half from a close range shotgun blast – it is his daughter.
Now tell me – how should this man at this moment process what he is experiencing? Should he say, “Praise the Lord!” Should he say, “I’m going to rip your head off your shoulders.” Should he remain stoic and calm? And how should this man process these emotions tomorrow? A week from now? A year from now?
What if, for some reason, this man is let off on a technicality and moves in next door to the sheriff. How should the sheriff deal with him then? What if the man wants to be his friend? What if the man somehow becomes one of the sheriff’s deputies? What if the man doesn’t understand that he did something wrong? What if the man won’t admit to doing anything wrong?