Severe Mood Swings

I’m an Feeler (F) and also a Perceiver (P), at least according to the Myers Briggs personality test. That means that I make decisions based on emotions rather than on logic, and that I’m more spontaneous than one to go by The Schedule. I’ve been told that I’m eager – very eager (even this past week). I’ve been told that I’m random – so bizarrely random (even yesterday). Yup, I’m pretty random and constantly have the gut instinct to suddenly and spontaneously make irrational decisions based on my newest thought or feelings. Hm, it’s add this up… F, P, eager, random, and female… This sounds like a sure recipe for a walking disaster, or at the very least, a nutcase who’s highly prone to mood swings. Hi, I’m Mary, what’s your name? Ok, ok. So, I won’t pretend to be standing on a pedestal today, talking to you. I am mainly preaching to myself.

Mood swings. What are mood swings? Why do they come over us like inexplicable powerful waves to a point where Relient K wrote a song about it, titled, “Mood Rings”? But more importantly, as female Christians, what in the world do we do about our tendencies to have mood swings?

Mood swings are defined by Wikipedia (an excellent source of information, by the way) as “an extreme or rapid change in mood.”  Ok, let’s look at some crazy things that people say/do/feel due to their mood swings. I’ll list some examples below about “Martha” and her thought life:

1)  I’m so depressed right now, I don’t have the energy to smile or even look like I’m paying attention to someone even if they were right in front of me. I think I should just leave the room so that I don’t suddenly burst into tears.

2)  I’m so estatic! I’m so hyper and have all this energy that I can’t help jumping around and being giggly and silly!

3)  I’m so upset/angry at life right now. I need to punch something and/or scream or else someone is getting hurt.

4)  I’m SO READY! I’m on FIRE and I’m burning up! In fact, I’m close to signing up for a life of a nun (or overcommit by making some kind of crazy irrational vow)!

Ok, clearly, Martha has a severe mood swing problem because she is all over the place: sad, happy, angry, on a spiritual high… you name it. What are some potential issues that can arise if this she gives into her mood swings every time that she feels down, excited, etc? Right.. she is going to majorly freak people out. People are going to feel kind of nervous around her because she is unstable and might explode or do something weird at any moment. In other words, people won’t be able to relate to her very freely. They’ll either tiptoe around her in fear of setting her off, pity her and keep polite distance, or get turned off because they are frustrated by her behavior. She probably regularly embarrasses her friends in public because she has a certain lack of self-control over her emotions and her desire to express those emotions freely. This is extremely childish and while it’s cute in kids and babies, it’s not appropriate in adults because adults should display higher levels of self-discipline and ability to take things seriously.

Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about emotions. We’ll just visit the 4 mentioned above (though I’m sure that there are many more emotions, just like how there are many colors in a mood ring).

First of all, sadness. Guess what? It’s actually ok to be sad. Did you know that 67 psalms are regarded as lament psalms, and 61 of those are entirely laments? There are 150 Psalms so over a third of the psalms are all about sadness! Geez! Ok, so first thing that we can learn here is that Psalms is a really good place to go to if you’re sad. Psalms are great because you can cry, pray, and find comfort in the prayers of David or others who were major Fs. Random factoid: shortest verse in the bible is “Jesus wept”, John 11:35. Jesus was sad too, when Lazarus, his good friend, died. So it’s ok to be sad, as long as you go to God in prayer and not indulge in the “woe is me” pity party that leads to a downward spiral. Let’s take a look at one of the psalms to see how they can help you. Here’s a short and sweet one: Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

~ Psalm 13

Notice, it’s ok to say terrible things like, “Will you forget me forever?” People might gasp and go like, “Oh my gosh, are you accusing God of forgetting you? That’s blasphemy!” But it’s okay to be honest about how you are feeling to God (try not to drag too many people down with your laments though – some people might be stumbled if you go on saying too many crazy things). It’s okay to express your emotions and to let it out. A lot of the Psalms are like that: David would vent, and then feel better when it’s over. It’s like when you vent to a friend, and all you want is a sympathetic pat on the back or an “Aw, that sucks”. And then all of that pent up emotion and pressure inside of you is let out… you kind of deflate like a balloon that was about to pop but now… “Ahhh…” you can relax. You weren’t looking for the rational, correct answer or solution to your emotions. You just wanted to let it out. BUT you need to be careful. If you are letting it out because you want vengeance on the person you felt slighted by or because you want yet another person to join in on your pity-party, then you’re not venting because you need to release pent up energy in order to feel better. You’re just being bitter. There’s a fine line to straddle that only you and God can really know. Also, you need to be very careful about letting your own thoughts and depression go wild to a point of no return. What if Martha thought, “Life is so terrible right now, I think it’ll be better for me to just jump into the ocean and swim as far as my arms can take me. Once I’m fully exhausted, I’ll just let my body sink. Death by drowning will come pretty quickly, and then this pain and sadness will be over.” Uh oh, not good.

Let’s go back to the psalm. After all of that lamenting, how does the psalm end? This is very important: it ends on a hopeful note, which is only possible because of God. “I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” This is crazy! How did someone who just a few lines ago said, “How long must I… have sorrow in my heart all day,” proclaim joy when the situation had changed about… hm, zero degrees? It’s only possible because David zoomed out and saw the bigger picture of salvation. David trusted in God, and that was enough. No sad or tragic event in this short life can ever cast a bigger shadow on his salvation. In fact, his relationship with God, the best thing in this life and beyond, causes David to end this lament in singing instead of venting! Imagine that. So, the answer to our sorrows is to let out that angst via honest prayer and/or venting to a friend and re-find the joy of our salvation – our relationship with God. As sinners who deserve ultimate death, we have ultimate life. That truth undergirds everything about reality the moment we become Christian and we can always find joy in that, no matter what sucky situation we are in.

This directly leads into our second emotion: happiness. This one is a fun one, but this too needs to have its energy get channeled in a good/right way. Let’s look at some examples of some hyped up happiness. Our first example is Moses. In Exodus 15, after the Red Sea closed in on the Egyptians, Moses and the people of Israel busted out into this super long song about what God did in their midst. In a sense, high fives and cheers went all around. “What God did was so awesome!” times 10 and put into verse and stanza format. Mariam then led all of the women with making music to the Lord with tambourine and dancing. In other words, they had a party! Another example: King David. He “danced before the Lord with all his might” in 2 Sam 6, with the commoners, because of the sacred Ark was brought back to Jerusalem. It was time for celebration and boy did he celebrate. Now, notice what these partiers had in common.

Their joy was, first of all, an expression of praise to God for what God had done. Nowadays, I don’t know if dancing around would be an appropriate thing to do in response to God’s salvation or handiwork in our lives. We still have tambourines, though, or rather, drum sets, guitars, piano, etc. So, yeah, praise songs and hymns are definitely great ways to express joy to God while we give Him the glory for what He has done. We can also share in the joy of our salvation through times like making awesome food for a post-Easter service right after we just celebrated Jesus’ victory over the cross, having good attitude/smiles when we have large gatherings together, etc.

Secondly, their joy was shared with others. David was king, but he didn’t snobbishly refuse to share in his joy with the commoners. Good joy like this can be shared. This is contrary to the wrong reasons why we are joyful, like, “Ha! My friend failed in doing X and I’m happy, because I’m jealous of her usual success,” is definitely a joy that is limited to your selfish self. So, I think a good test of joy is if you can share it with others. Sharing testimonies, or stories of God’s provision, is a great way to share and express the joy of God’s hand working victories in our lives. So, if you’re happy, that’s great! Hopefully, you’re happier over spiritual victories or just your joy relating to God and others over selfish personal victories. Or even better, you can share your personal victories with others and make your victories theirs as well! For example, if you got a raise at work, you can celebrate by sharing in that joy by treating others out. Everyone wins and can rejoice in that situation!

Ok, back to a “downer” emotion: Anger. Now, let me clarify – just like the previous emotions that I mentioned, anger in it of itself is not a sin. How do I know? Jesus is sinless. Jesus got angry. Here’s a verse that distinctly separates the two:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. ~ Eph 4:25-27

Notice, anger is not sin in it of itself. You can get angry. However, the catch here is that Satan often finds it easy to use that emotion against us. After all, haven’t we all done something permanently stupid in our temporary rage? He a pro at wielding our emotions to displace our good judgment and causing us to instead indulge in sin or do something that we’ll regret later. So while it’s clear that the emotion of anger itself is not sin, it’s also clear that it would be very easy to sin if you are often overcome with anger. I don’t think I need to give any further detailed examples beyond a simple mention of an abusive husband to show how uncontrolled anger, next to maybe depression that leads to suicide, is probably one of the most destructive emotions out there if it’s not well channeled.

Let’s go back to Jesus. In Mark 3, the Pharisees were stubborn and didn’t care about the man with the withered hand. They refused to engage in Jesus’ question:

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. ~ Mark 3:4-5

Jesus was frustrated and angry because the Pharisees were so caught up with the minute details about not doing work on the Sabbath that they completely missed his question of love. They didn’t even engage and became irrationally vengeful even after this miracle, in which they were so stubborn of heart that they wanted to kill Jesus instead of rejoicing in what they just experienced first-hand. In other words, Jesus was angry at stubborn sinners for refusing to engage in love. He also got angry when he saw the desecration of the temple and he whipped them all out of there! His emotions and passions, even anger, ran deep because of his love for people and zeal for God. As John says,

“His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” ~ John 2:17

Anger channeled into zeal for God and people is actually a good thing. Another example of someone who got angry was Samuel.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. ~ 1 Samuel 15:10-12

Oh man, I can’t believe that Samuel was so angry that he, what? He cried out all night to God! I’ve definitely never had an all-night prayer meeting over my anger, so I commend his energies! Notice though, Samuel is not angry because his ego is bruised. He’s not angry because he anointed this king, who turned out to be not so great of a king, and now he’s embarrassed or he needs to defend his name as the one who anointed this guy to begin with. We know that he’s not feeling this way because we see that later on, Samuel readily obeys God anoints someone else (King David). So a word of warning here: often, we get angry because someone slanders us instead of getting angry that someone is indulging in sin. We have this irrational need to protect our own ego and so our rage wells up and we strike because others have dared to tarnish our names. However, notice why Samuel is angry here. He’s not angry because of his name was brought down in shame, but rather, he’s angry because Saul turned back from following God and has not performed his commandments. In other words, Samuel is angry that himself, his people, and God are so greatly affected by Saul’s sin! He’s frustrated at the same thing that Jesus was frustrated at: sin, and he shares in this emotion of anger and regret with God all night. So anger is not misplaced and is actually an appropriate response to sin, particularly if there is a heightened level of sin: irrational stubbornness of heart in refusing to repent and sin that affects many other people. We don’t need to get angry for ourselves when we are slighted. Rather, in that situation, we should feel angrier that the other person is sinning against God by choosing to unreasonably harm us in that way. That way, our anger can be channeled in an attempt to correct that sin (that originates from an angle of love and concern).  We can be angry at our sin and others’ sin and we can fully feel and express our emotions appropriately, but we must not sin by unnecessarily lashing out. Of course, there are times that call for lashing out (like Jesus’ escapade at the temple), when zeal consumes and demands a high level or response. But we must be careful to not sin in our anger.

Ok, last emotion for today: being on a spiritual high. Just as anger may be generated from zeal, what if you just have unrequited zeal that you can’t help but exude? A spiritual high is almost like drugs, except better, right? We have good intentions so it’s good to go all out for God all the time, everywhere, right? Meh, I don’t know about that. Let’s look at some biblical spiritual highs. One: Moses. In Exodus 34, he went up to Mount Sinai, had a nice chat with God for 40 days after getting a peek of his glory and he comes down, and BAM! His face is shiny! That’s kind of freaky for the Israelites, so what does he do? He does something practical: he veils his face and he goes back to his tent and continues doing leader stuff as necessary. He doesn’t lose his tightness with God (represented by his shiny face), but he also doesn’t freak people out. Instead, he’s considerate of them: he veils himself and goes back to business as usual. Sometimes, your commitments to God kind of sound, well, weird. It’s best not to go spreading those around too much, especially to your non-Christian coworkers who might be turned off by your weirdness. For example, I’m not about to go tell my coworkers what kind of schedule I live by or what my particular personal commitments to God are, because I have to be sensitive to those who are not as close with God. If I “show off” too much at once, they’ll be scared off by my sharing in God’s glory when they don’t understand that yet. Although I may mean good, people may completely misunderstand and instead of helping or expressing my eagerness in a good way, I could actually do more harm by causing them to develop a distaste for Christianity. So, I purposely need to veil parts of my life so that I can be more approachable for their sake.

A second example: Elijah. He had an awesome spiritual high at Mount Carmel after he faced off with 450 Baal priests. Basically, he waited all day for the Baal guys to dance, wail, and otherwise try to get their fake god to light up their offering. Finally, after some smack talk, he drenched his offering in all this water, prayed a quick prayer, and God sent fire from heaven to smoke his offering. He totally decimated his enemy! But, it turns out that Queen Jezebel wasn’t too happy about that, so she tried to kill him right afterwards. Not cool. Instead of being proud and arrogant because he just beat 450 men, or confident and calm in God’s strength to muster up courage to face Queen Jeze, 1 woman, Elijah runs for his life. I’m not sure if this is exactly commendable, but note this: sometimes, after spiritual highs, we have crashes. The buzz wears off and life hits, hard. For Elijah, he was so “emo” that “he asked that he might die” (1 Kings 19:4). Then he lay down and slept under a tree. He was poked awake by an angel who gave him some food and water, but he slumped down again in depression and exhaustion. Oh man, that’s the kind of crash that spiritual highs can have on us sometimes! But note what happens next:

And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you. And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. ~ 1 Kings 19:7-8

In other words, God knows that Elijah was weak. He gave him strength and supernaturally provided, so that he was able to continue living day to day on God’s strength instead of his own. This is similar to Moses’ ability to carry on in normal every day activities even after a spiritual high. You made an awesome, rational commitment to God? Great! Keep it! Don’t let that zeal die off. But, come down from that mountain and carry on. Let the word of God be that food that sustains your Christian walk, more than just that mountain top emotion. You might crash and burn (the bad way) after a spiritual high. Satan likes doing that – he even did that to Jesus during his 40-day desert wanderings right after his initiation dove and dunk into ministry (baptism). But in times of highs and lows, you gotta feed on God’s word, you gotta keep thirsting for God. That’s the only way you can flare up to begin with in the good times and that’s the only way to keep that flame burning in the bad times. Be sold out, but for the long term. Love God extravagantly but be reasonable in the day-to-day.

What? How can I do that? Can I really feel all these emotions and love God a lot and be reasonable at the same time? Ok, fine. So sometimes, it’s hard to be completely rational. But you know what?  God himself agonized and seemed to change his mind time and time again about punishing his people, the wayward Israelites, and threatening to never come back to save them, but yet, he still does. That’s not exactly logical. But here’s the catch: Love is not logical. God, our king, our Lord, Jesus lowered himself to be sent to a manger as a fragile baby and grew up to die for sinners on the cross – while we were still his enemies and perhaps forever to remain so? That’s the most absurd thing that I’ve ever heard! And also the most beautiful. That’s love, and God invites us, too, to share in his heart of slightly-irrational-yet-intense love.

To wrap up, ok, I confess. I’m “Martha”. All the emotions I listed? They are real emotions that I’ve experienced even in this past week alone. I probably seem like I’m slightly insane or unhinged at times, probably because I am. But you know what? It’s truly only God’s word and presence that calms me, that brings me to peace each time an emotion uncontrollably flares up. Among all of the earth quaking and waters roaring and mountains trembling, Psalm 46 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”Ahhh yes. In all the chaos and loudness of our situations of life, God’s gentle whisper is still audible if only we would listen for it. Elijah knew this. We need to know this too. Only God, like the good shepherd of Psalm 23, can calm our fears and be our comfort in any valley. Only God can give us strength to carry on even though we know that we’re weak and constantly a day or two away from death, like the widow of Zaraphath.

As women, we are gifted with strong emotions. Our challenge, then, is to temper our emotions with love and discretion. Often, this means that we need bring enough self-discipline to the table to restrain ourselves from fully expressing our emotions in any given situation, especially when we’re in front of others. It’s a balance, just like how we need to maintain childlike faith without being too childish in character. In order to do this, we can – or rather, we must – take our emotions to God via his word. The psalms are awesome, but there also are many other examples of people who display all kinds of emotions. Again, there are many promises in the Bible that show us that in our storms of worry, God provides peace. In our grief, God brings comfort. In our weakness, God provides strength. In our darkness, God provides hope in the light and good that is sure to come. We can also go to God via prayer or his people: your trusted mentors/friends. We can let the unbridled emotions and thoughts out – the craziness and all – and fully feel everything, but then we need to come back to reality and make sure that our daily emotions are properly re-aligned with truth and with how God would want us to feel. That way, even our emotions can be beautiful and even our emotions can help us love more deeply.

Self, I have some questions for you:

1) Sadness/depression/grief: Do I need to indulge in this emotion right now? Can I wait until later to pray about it and just be all here with the people in front of me right now? If not, I need to practice a level of self-control and maintain stability long enough to get some privacy before breaking down before God or a trusted one. Are you spiraling down and leaning toward despair or even suicidal thoughts? Or are you going to God’s word and God’s people to get perspective and to get uplifted?

2) Joy/happiness: Are you sharing good emotions with others, like joy? Or are you the only one happy because your life is just that small? How can you share your joy with others? If you can’t, is it because your joy is selfish or misplaced? Do you want/need more joy in your life? You can find it in your salvation! Your painful situation is not a mere “nothing” to be dismissed, but surely your relationship with God must trump that!

3) Anger: If you are angry, are you angry because you were personally offended or hurt? If you react to your anger right now, especially in lashing out onto others, are you going to regret it? If so, hold back, take the time to cool down, and reconsider if you should just drop that response against those people completely. Or are you angry at sin and wanting to get out of sin yourself or wanting to help others get out of their sin? In your anger, be careful not to sin.

4) Spiritual high/eagerness: Is your spiritual high backed by the Bible/truth or is it irrational? Is your vow reasonable and sustainable? What practical ways are you implementing this commitment in your life so that your eagerness or good emotion will be able to continue for the long haul? Are you able to veil your excitement for God for the sake of others, who might be more harmed by your over-zealousness rather than helped?

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