Burdened With Emotional Baggage?
Right on page 2 of his book The Source of My Strength, author and pastor Charles Stanley wrote a paragraph that almost took my breath away. He was talking about the tragic effect of emotional baggage in the lives of so many people, including Christians.
He wrote, “Some of the heartaches, afflictions, and trials in our lives stem from external causes; others stem from internal causes. Regardless of their origins, however, the pains are real. And unless we are willing to deal with the painful experiences that life brings our way, the pain becomes a ‘burden and wound’ of the heart. Afflictions turn into damaged feelings, hurts turn into habitual patterns of behavior that are destructive, failures and rejection result in a flawed outlook on the world and on God, and harmful and destructive relationships become a heaviness deep within that keeps us from truly experiencing the fullness of freedom and purpose that the Lord has for us.”
Does that paragraph describe you? I know that it described me and a large portion of my life, because I was carrying emotional baggage that I needed to get rid of. It took me a long time to do that, with the help of several pastors and counselors. If you find yourself burdened with emotional baggage, I hope this will help you.
What is emotional baggage? Charles Stanley describes emotional baggage as “those feelings, thought patterns, and past experiences that continue to traumatize a person each time they are triggered or recalled, and that affect in an ongoing way a person’s behavior and responses to life.”
I think this is an excellent definition. Notice again the three components of emotional baggage:
- thought patterns
- past experiences
Let’s take a closer look at these three powerful elements.
Feelings can change in an instant. They can wash over us like a wave. We can go from the heights of euphoria to the depths of despair. Feelings can overwhelm us, leaving us frozen and unable to take action. Feelings can dominate our life…if we let them.
But before that happens, it would be wise to look at some facts about feelings:
- God created us with emotions. It was not His desire to have a family of robots. His plan was for us to have feelings. God is a good Father, and He gives good gifts to His children. He gave us free will so we could choose to love Him, and others– and yes, even ourselves. Are you grateful for your emotions? They are a gift from God.
- Feelings are morally neutral. We have a tendency to categorize our emotions: “these are good feelings, those are bad feelings.” But the truth is that feelings are neither. Our emotions can serve as guidelines or as warnings. We need to acknowledge them without letting them coerce us. Some people try to suppress certain emotions, but this is not a healthy response and will lead to frustration.
- Not all feelings come from God. Some emotions, such as depression, anxiety, and fear can originate from our enemy. Satan seeks to “steal, kill and destroy,” and he is a master at manipulating our feelings. We need to be on guard against the devil’s attacks, and the best way is to stay close to our Father for protection. This is why we cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by our emotions. We are to be led by the Spirit, not our feelings.
- Feelings are fickle. Our emotions can change from one moment to the next. And sometimes our feelings can lie to us. We need to examine whether the thoughts and beliefs generated by our feelings are true. Do they line up with God’s Word? One of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and there are times when we may need to rein in our feelings and say, “No, I’m not going to follow those feelings. I choose to follow Christ.” It’s not always easy, but with God all things are possible.
In her classic book Battlefield of the Mind Joyce Meyer states, “Our minds are not born again when we are; they have to be renewed.” Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Thoughts can come from three sources: God, yourself, or the devil. Just as with our emotions, Satan can influence our thoughts. He knows that if he can control our thought patterns, he can control our actions. This is why we must “take every thought captive” and see if it lines up with what God says. The Bible, the Word of God, is our only standard of truth, for everything God says is true– and everything Satan says is a lie, for “he is the father of lies.” Satan is also called “the accuser of the brethren,” so don’t accept what he says about you!
Many of our problems are rooted in wrong thinking. If a thought doesn’t line up with God’s Word, we need to reject it. This is why it’s so important to read your Bible on a daily basis. The renewal of your mind is a process; it takes time. As Joyce Meyer notes, “Nearly every deliverance God has brought to me has been progressive and has come about by believing and confessing the Word” (emphasis added). She goes on to say, “I know that it is the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that brings victory into our lives. But a large part of the work that needs to be done is for us to line up our thinking with God and His Word.”
The Bible continually emphasizes this important concept. In Psalm 119:15 David wrote, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.” The Bible says David was “a man after God’s own heart,” and this is how he achieved that status. Controlling and transforming your thought patterns will bring great rewards. “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
We have seen that emotional baggage is comprised of three parts, and we have looked at how we can exercise control over our feelings and thoughts. Our feelings and thoughts can be transformed.
But what about past experiences? We can’t change what has already happened to us. “It is impossible for you to go back and redo or undo whatever happened in the past,” says Charles Stanley, “but you can confront your past baggage now, in the present.”
I believe there are two parts to dealing with your past. The first part is forgiveness. One of the reasons past experiences can hold us in bondage is because we need to forgive those who have wounded us. As long as we hold on to anger and resentment towards those individuals, release from the pain they caused will elude us.
I was terribly hurt in my childhood by bullies, and by my father, who was a closet alcoholic. In my twenties and early thirties I was also the victim of spiritual abuse through my pastor, who was also my employer. All of this traumatized me and had devastating effects on my life, including deep depression and addiction. I had to make a concious effort to forgive all these people. It was not easy, because the enemy would bring up memories and then tell me, “See? You haven’t forgiven them. You still remember.”
It took me a while to realize that the words “forgive and forget” aren’t in the Bible. God never tells us to forgive and forget. God just tells us to forgive! This distinction is very important. Forgiveness is a decision, a deliberate act of the will. You may need to repeat that forgiveness many times before you begin to “feel” that you’ve forgiven them. But continue to reinforce that to yourself, and it will become a reality.
You will never forget what happened to you. You don’t have to forget in order for forgiveness to occur. But the second part of making peace with your past is dealing with those memories. There are times when they will be triggered, and at that point you need to determine how you will respond.
One thing that helped me was to realize that those memories were just that– memories. In other words, they were experiences from my past— they did not exist in the present. The pain I experienced when those memories surfaced was also a memory– it was past pain, not present pain. Because Jesus has been working healing in my life, that pain no longer has dominion over my life. Jesus has set me free from that. I have a new life, a new identity in Christ. This is what Paul was referring to when he wrote, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
So, are you ready to exchange your emotional baggage for emotional freedom? You’ll be so glad you did. Jesus said, “Who the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). Be led by the Spirit, not your feelings. Renew your mind with the Word of God. Forgive those who have offended you, and decide that the memories will not have dominion over you. Ask God to help you dump the baggage, so you too can start living the transformed life!
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“It’s All In Your Head!” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/it’s-all-in-your-head
“5 Things You Need To Know About You” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-you