Emotional Stability

A young lady fell into depression in her late teenage years and spent a decade of her life buried in murky feelings that consumed her life. Yet today, despite her temptation to revisit those unhappy feelings, she is able to get on with life.

Something changed for her. And what changed involves a lesson that everyone needs to learn along the way. So, whether you are given to emotional instability or depression, or not, this discussion may be very important for your overall wellbeing.

I Feel Bad

One of the challenges of adolescence is the awakening of our emotional faculties. In our younger years emotions are dormant and we face life with its good and bad with the ability to be practical about what comes our way. We shed our tears, feel our upsets and face our challenges, in the matter-of-fact way that children can.

However, during our teenage years emotions begin to stir within us. We begin to encounter feelings which can sweep with the force of ocean tides over our life. We discover that we can feel bad, for no apparent reason. We can feel euphoric, for as little good reason. We are able to rise to new heights and plumb new depths, like never before.

It Feels So Real

Our challenge, during this new season of our lives, is to discern what is really going on. If we do not have adult counsel from people who have been there and done that and worked out what is going on, we can be quite confused and destabilized by these emotional surges.

Our new-found feelings “feel so real” to us. They demand our attention and present themselves as tangible expressions of something of substance.

When people “feel” something, that feeling is completely real to them. It may be irrational and unreasonable, but it will be “real” to the one feeling those emotions.

Controlled By Vapour

Feelings have the capacity to activate just about any kind of sensation at whim. We can be having a perfectly happy time and then suddenly “feel” sad, or lonely, or unresolved. We can be in the middle of a serious situation and suddenly “feel” irrationally happy.

Those feelings are vaporous. They are not the product of real experiences and they may not reflect the correct response to the present set of circumstances. They can be completely irrational and persist in the face of hard evidence that they are out of place.

Thus, if we allow our feelings to control us we will be controlled by vapour. But to us the vaporous feelings will “feel so real”. And that is where we can end up bogged in an emotional quagmire.

Emotions Out of Control

If we do not realise what is happening we will be inclined to believe our feelings. Since they “feel so real” we could assume that they are a clue to what is really going on. We might think, “I feel really bad, so something must be wrong.” We might then go looking for some justification for our feelings.

If we wake up one day feeling as if no-one loves us or cares about us, we can then look for evidence to explain why we think and feel that way. Since we have all been neglected to some degree, a person could assume that their feelings genuinely spring from the treatment they have experienced.

Rather than control their emotions, seeing them as a faculty that needs to be tamed, many people allow the wild emotions to run freely, assuming they are some genuine response to the real world.

In such situations it is possible for a person to step into adulthood, with their emotions out of control. Thus, their life becomes “out of control” too. They will be controlled by the vaporous feelings which “feel so real”. They may never question those feelings or recognise that they are being fooled by their emotions.

Break-In The Bronco

Each new colt has to be broken in. All the energy, strength and majesty of a powerful steed must be brought under control if ever the horse is going to be useful and successful. And that’s how it is with our emotions. They must be broken in.

If you allow a horse to run wild, the process of breaking it in will be much more difficult. And so it is with our emotions. If we allow them free reign in our lives, it will be much more difficult to bring them under control when we need to.

Emotional Maturity

Part of emotional maturity is to achieve the place where emotions are our “servant” not our “master”. When we can tell our emotions to stop interfering with our life we can live a much more stable life, but also call upon our emotions in appropriate ways.

Professionals must learn to harness their emotions and put them out of the equation, so they can do what they have to do consistently and without inappropriate reaction. Doctors, police, emergency services, officials, ministers and many others are required to have emotional maturity. If they “lose it”, getting upset, venting their frustrations, acting on prejudice, or the like, they will be disciplined and may lose their job.

Emotional Journey

The young lady I mentioned in the opening paragraph has been on an emotional journey. In her younger years her emotions swamped her. Feelings of depression commandeered her life and cut short her studies and her career aspirations. Her health, physique, personal disciplines, relationships, self-worth, hopes and dreams, friendships, and more were damaged by her emotional spiral.

Since her emotions were out of control she could not bring herself back to normal. She burned most of the bridges in her life and became increasingly depressed. She abandoned the values she was raised to respect.

She is now moving out of that mess. I credit her recovery to her dad, who is praying for her on a daily basis, although she doesn’t know he is doing so.

Somehow she has come to her senses. She is not free of the tendency to be depressed. She still faces most of the challenges which have grown around her over the years. Yet she has changed her attitude.

Can’t Afford to Be Depressed

She recently told her parents, “I can’t afford to be depressed!” The bills don’t go away just because she is having a bad day. The problems don’t get solved by her having a pity-party.

Now, despite the fact that her emotions are just as real, her resolve has changed. Rather than indulging her emotions, she is resisting them. Instead of going with the flow of her feelings she is telling her feelings to “Shut Up!” She thinks her feelings are real, but she has become pragmatic enough to realise she can’t afford to indulge them.

Maturity Emerging

What is happening in her life is that maturity is emerging. She is gaining emotional maturity, not by giving in to her emotions, but by resisting them. She is finally learning to do what she could have done as a young teenager.

And that process is just as real for you. Your emotions will present themselves to you, as “real”. They will demand that you serve them. But you must learn to put them in their place and get on with life. If you give in to them they will rule you. If you resist them, they will serve you.

Pop Culture in the Bible

Here’s an interesting test for you.

We have Biblical truth, which should describe for us all that is important in our lives. We should be able to live within the bounds of Biblical revelation and be fully equipped for the moral, spiritual and personal challenges of life.

At the same time we are bombarded with Worldly ideas which are pressed upon us as if they have all the authority of holy writ.

Most Christians are so compromised on their Biblical worldview that they simply drink in the world’s concepts as if they were of equal, or even more value and relevance than Biblical truth. Many western Christians are better equipped to discuss worldly concepts than they are to expound Biblical truths.

To compound this problem many Christians keep the Biblical truths and Worldly ideas in separate baskets, never using one to critique the other. Or maybe more truthfully, holding the Worldly ideas above the Bible and assuming that the Bible either has nothing to say, or has missed this important truth.

All Truth is Not God’s Truth

One foolish idea that has been popularised to add to the confusion is that “all truth is God’s truth”. This is a ridiculous idea used to justify the ready embracing of Worldly ideas as if they have the same imprimatur as God’s truth.

The Bible clearly points out that just because something appears to be wisdom (truth is what we might call it) it can be nothing short of devilish deception.

“This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” James 3:15

God’s Biblical truth is truth. The Worldly ideas we have pressed upon us are very likely to be devilish wisdom. Many worldly ideas are deceptions, created by the devil to “steal, kill and destroy” the good things God has given us.

Try This Quiz

Here is a short list of worldly ideas which most of us have become very familiar with. Some of us have attended courses where these concepts have been central to the material. The terms crop up in many contexts.

You task is to take each of these and filter them through a few questions.

1. What does the Bible call it?

2. How does the Bible say it is to be dealt with?

3. How does the life and sacrifice of Jesus deal with it?

4. How do faith and the Christian life address it?

Here’s the List

Now that you have the questions, apply each one to the following items on this short list of worldly ideas.

Stress

Depression

Self-Esteem

Starter Thoughts

Stress is a term that picked up great impetus from about the 1980’s. Since then it has become a ready explanation for all manner of situations. Stress is seen as a medical indicator. It explains poor work performance. It justifies a person’s inappropriate behaviour. Just about everyone has their own personal load of the stuff and can refer to it to excuse their headaches, titchy attitude, lack of productivity and so on. I recently heard a radio report say “there were no injuries but one person was treated for stress”. Now, what was that supposed to mean?

People have been programmed to accept the nebulous diagnosis of ‘stress’ as if it really has meaning. This ill-defined, rubbery term is a huge basket into which all manner of things can be swept.

The technical definition focuses on the idea of people being in a situation where they do not have control over the outcome. No matter what they do they cannot change their vulnerability of take charge of their own destiny. A soldier on a battlefield cannot know when a bullet his heading toward him. An office worker cannot be sure that a whole bunch of new work won’t be dumped in their in-tray.

Biblical Stress

The Bible does not mention stress. Neither does it talk much about the concept of people not having control of their lives. Instead the Bible talks about such things as fear and faith.

David said that he dealt with fear by putting his trust in the Lord.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” Psalm 56:3

Jesus instructed a father who had just been told that his daughter had died to “keep on believing”, to “have faith”.

“But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: only believe, and she will be made whole.” Luke 8:50

Life is full of uncertainty. Those who have faith can put that uncertainty aside. They can get on with life, confident that God has everything under control and will watch over their affairs.

The Apostle Paul, in prison with a possible death sentence ahead of him, was able to be completely free from stress. He resolved the stress by knowing that either way, death or life, he was happy with the outcome. His faith sustained him.

The same was true for three young men threatened with death by King Nebuchadnezzar. They told the king that they were sure that God would save them, but even if God did not save them they would not worship the king’s idol.

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:17,18

Stress is a place of fear, where a person cannot find faith in God to hold them together.

Depression

Depression is another one of those rubbery terms we all know and think we have a good handle on. But finding a good working definition to “depression” is an interesting challenge.

A friend asked me recently if I could specify the difference between ‘depression’ and ‘grief’. His contention was that our understanding of depression is sufficiently shallow as to not be able to be sure that depression and grief are not the same thing.

Is a depressed person actually suffering grief? Or is it linked to “hope deferred” which we know makes the heart sick?

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Self-Esteem

Now here we get into some really tricky business. It is said that low self-esteem is a major problem. Yet the Bible suggests otherwise. The Bible points to pride, too high an opinion of ourselves, as a major problem area for humans.

We are instructed not to think too highly of ourselves. We are warned against pride. We are told that God blesses the lowly. Jesus spoke highly of the “poor in spirit”.

Whose Truth?

So these notions of Stress, Depression and Self-Esteem, which have gained great currency in popular Western culture may not embody the “truth” which they are ascribed with.

So we need to question the various truths and expert opinions which are presented to us. We are told that God’s blessing rests on those who do not walk in the “counsel of the ungodly”.

“Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” Psalm 1:1

We are also warned that things which appear to be “wisdom” are in fact devilish ideas which will only steal, kill and destroy, rather than bring blessing and grace into people’s lives.

“This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” James 3:15

Out With Pop Culture

Christians know to be wary of pop culture, pop psychology, popular science, the latest breakthrough insights, the latest craze and concepts which simply do not stand on the authority of scripture.

Ahem….

Read that last sentence again and see if you agree with me. Do most Christians know how to be wary of those things? Is it not true that most Christians swallow the popular culture and popularly promoted ideas as if they are “God’s Truth”, when they may well be devilish ideas to harm them?

Next time you hear some concept being spouted as authoritative take the time to see if you can find it in the Bible. If you can’t, then be very wary of its deceptive and false messages.

Make sure you are Biblical, not a foolish product of popular culture.

William Cowper the Depressed Hymn Writer

William Cowper was born, in Hertfordshire, England, on November 26, 1731.

His father, Reverend John Cowper, was a Church of England clergyman. His mother, Anne, died when William was but six years of age, and he found himself in boarding school facing “loneliness, insecurity and bullying”. It was probably the result of these sad days that led to bouts of insanity in adulthood.

He studied law, was called to the bar in 1754 … but never practised law. Fear of appearing in public and mental illness prevented him from doing so. “On this occasion he bought poison and placed a penknife at his heart, but hadn’t the courage to kill himself by either. Then he tried hanging himself with a garter, but the garter broke” (Gospel in Hymns, by Barclay, page 13).

Lord David Cecil, in his biography of Cowper, tells us that he was committed to Dr Cotton’s asylum in St Albans, “a gibbering, raving maniac” (page 71). “Day after day he lay upon his bed bound for fear he would kill himself.”

The fear that he had committed the unpardonable sin burned into his brain.

It was whilst in the asylum, “walking in a garden, he came upon a Bible lying on a bench”. He read John 12 – and took the Bible to his room to read some more. “I flung myself into a chair near the window,” Cowper wrote later, “and ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was the 25th verse of Romans 3: “Whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins.” Immediately, I received strength to believe it and the full beams of the Son’s righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood… In a moment I believed and received the gospel…” (Quoted in The Stricken Deer, the Life of Cowper, by Lord David Cecil, page 74).

It would be good to be able to say that he was miraculously healed of his mental troubles. But such was not the case. There were still days ahead of unbearable suffering, and attempted suicide again.

Eighteen months later, however, he left Dr Cotton’s asylum.

Cowper found lodging in Huntingdon, with the Reverend Morley Unwin, his wife Mary and his family. After Unwin was killed in a riding accident in 1767, Cowper continued to board with Mary and her family.

The following year Cowper and the Unwin ladies moved to Olney in Buckinghamshire to be under the ministry of the Reverend John Newton, who was the evangelical curate there. In 1786 Cowper and Mary Unwin moved to the nearby village of Weston Underwood.

Cowper formed a close friendship with Rev. John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace”. For the next 12 years Newton and Cowper served the Lord as a team, the latter caring for “the poor, the sick and the dying”.

When a bout of melancholy oppressed his friend, Newton suggested they write hymns. Thus it was that William Cowper loomed large in the history of hymnody.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform …
There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins …
Hark, my soul, it is the Lord, ‘tis the Saviour, hear His Word…
Oh, for a closer walk with God …
Sometimes a light surprises …
All these, and more, came from his pen.

Despite periods of severe depression (melancholia), Cowper’s eighteen years in Olney and eight at Weston Underwood were marked by his great literary achievements as poet, hymn-writer, letter-writer and translator.

Cowper’s works include: The famous Olney Hymns, published in 1779, on which Cowper and Newton collaborated; The Diverting History of John Gilpin, a humorous ballad written in 1782 and first published anonymously, but which became so popular that after Cowper admitted authorship, he became a household name; The Task, which condemned slavery, published in 1785 and was very well received by all levels of society, including the Royal Family, influencing the later Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth; and a new translation of Homer, which Cowper planned as an improvement on Alexander Pope’s version.

Cowper was also one of the greatest English letter-writers, writing both of everyday life in Olney and Weston Underwood and of political and literary events. His letters show wit, acute observation and great good humour.

Cowper’s place at Olney is now a museum. A painting on the wall shows an eccentric poet absent-mindedly boiling his watch over the grate and holding an egg in his hand! (Bailey, page 133).

Bouts of depression continued until 25 April, 1800, when he passed into his heavenly home where suffering and pain are no more.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

The Crash of 2008

We are living through the Crash of 2008. This time will be long remembered and it will be used as a reference point, just as the 1987 Crash and the Great Depression are. So we should take stock of what is going on and what we are going through.

This Is Your Crash!

Just last month, in September 2008 world markets crashed and entered a time of great volatility. In the weeks since then governments have taken drastic action to save their banks. Panic has hit the markets. Uncertainty and fear grips most economies. And in the lead up to this crisis millions of Americans have lost their homes. And to top it off the nation of Iceland is on the verge of bankruptcy.

People want to know how far this is going. Where will it end? Is this a recession or a depression? Is this survivable or is society going to change from this year on?

History of the Crisis

Firstly let’s review the history of the current crisis. It springs in large part from the Sub-Prime Lending problem. Following deregulation of the banking and financing sectors in many countries during the 1980’s money was made available to people whose ability to pay was not as reliable as was previously required to borrow money.

Prime Lending is for those who have good credit rating and strong asset backing. Sub-prime means they do not meet that standard. Loans were also treated as an asset by the banks and having a large number of loans meant lenders could sell those off.

In the 1990’s many new lenders paid good commissions to sales agents for selling their loans to people. Consequently millions of people who were not good credit risks ended up taking loans.

The large volume of business made the lending companies appear successful. International banks were keen to invest their money into the USA home market because of the high return they could get. Everyone knew it was risky, but no-one expected to get burned.

Problems with the subprime lending game were evident in the early 2000’s as many loans began to go bad. In Sept 2002 USA Home Foreclosures were at a 30 year high.

Yet the subprime lending boom continued and more billions were poured into this risky business from people around the world who wanted part of the profit.

By early 2007 the problem had escalated. In the first two months of 2007 22 American lending companies went bankrupt. There were 1.7 million foreclosures in America in the first 8 months of 2007.

By August 2007 international fall-out from the Sub-Prime Lending problem became a house-hold topic in Australia as we realised that many Australian and international banks were going to be hurt from their lending to the USA Subprime players.

Over the following year the shock-waves of the problem continued to reverberate, until last month, September 2008, when two major home lenders in the USA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the USA Govt.

The repercussions on many international banks who were players in the USA home lending market, either directly or through various indirect connections, means that some banks have bone bust while others have had to be bailed out by their governments.

The recent $700 billion USA commitment and $1,370 billion Eurozone plans are just part of the scramble to stabilise the world economies.

The Bigger Historical Picture

This is not the first great crash and it may not be the last. What is happening here is part of a long history of people getting caught out while trying to make a profit. Prognosticators have warned for decades that balance of payment issues, high levels of personal and national debt, and other pressures spelt doom for our economies. Yet corrections, collapsing markets, booms and busts have been part of history for a very long time.

Speculation, Boom, Bust and Bubbles

What tends to happen over and over again is that people who are keen to make a profit and get rich quick will catch on to something that seems popular. They are all hoping to strike it rich and make their fortune. This feeds speculation, inflates bubbles and leads to some of the booms and busts.

Millions of people have crossed oceans and faced all kinds of hardship because someone found gold in some place or other. These Gold Rush enthusiasts left whatever they had in the hope of finding much more.

In the same vein investors and dreamers have all jumped on the bandwagon when various things looked profitable, often losing all they had in the hope of gain.

Bubbles in the Bubbling Economy

A “Bubble” is created when false expectations are set up and a venture is made successful only because people invest in it. There have been many famous Bubbles down the centuries.

Holland had tulip mania in the 1630’s.

In 1720 just about everyone who had money in England was drawn into investing in what is known as the South Sea Bubble. English and American investors lost huge amounts of money in the hope of profits from ships going to South America. Isaac Newton and Mark Twain are said to be among those who lost money in that bubble.

There was the British Railways Bubble of the 1840’s.

The US Bull Market of the 1920’s created what we know of as the Roaring Twenties.

Florida had a Property Bubble from 1920-1925.

More recently we have seen the Junk Bonds in the USA, the Japanese Bubble economy of the 1980’s, the Dot.com boom of the 1990’s, Hedge-Fund Mania and even Enron Mania.

What is Really Going On?

So much for the background. That is cold comfort when we still don’t know where we are going and how bad it’s going to get. To take this discussion further I need to discuss what is really going on. That is the topic of a follow-on article which I’ll be posting in the next week.