I’ve always been intrigued when the scriptures command an emotion:
- Let the priests, the Lord's ministers,weep between the porch and the altar (Joel 2:17)
- Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
Some events--and the emotions that go with them--are beyond our control: unexpected loss, good news beyond all expectation, hurt inflicted from a loved-one. Yet in the everyday-ness of living, I believe that our emotions are largely the result of our habitual thoughts. If we could discern the map of our heart and mind, I suspect we would discover the well-worn pathways of our thinking and feeling. Expressed another way, we train ourselves to think and feel in certain predictable ways.
(This is where I should cite studies from the Journal of Psychiatric Studies or some such authoritative-sounding publication, but no: I’m just going to share what I’ve observed about myself and others during my few decades of living.)
I believe the reason we find repeated exhortations in the scripture to think and feels certain ways is because God has given us the capacity to rule our thoughts and emotions. Consider his very telling exchange between God and Cain, just before Cain chose to murder his brother:
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4: 6-7)
Genesis, the book of origins, tells us the story of our first encounter with anger, jealously, and feelings of rejection. Contained in this story is revelation about our own psyche: we are responsible for our emotions, and each of us has been given the capacity to choose a healthy emotional response. In this story are the seeds of hope for a fallen world: God comes to us in our anger or hurt, and encourages us to choose wisely. He believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.
Is there any better meditation for the week of Thanksgiving? Is is possible that we can redirect the pathways of our heart? If we give ourselves time and space in this holiday, I believe we will hear the voice of our Father encouraging us, “choose thanksgiving--it’s the best thing for you.”