Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Need some comfort?

I came across some interesting research on how stress and feeling depleted of mental and emotional energy causes people to make unhealthy choices.  One group was tested by having to memorize large series of numbers, and another group memorized only two-digit numbers.  They were then given the opportunity to choose whatever snack they'd like from a table of fresh fruit that also had a large platter of rich chocolate cake.  Without fail, the majority of the people who had gone under more stress to memorize the harder numbers chose cake more frequently, and those with the easier tasks chose healthy fruit.

That simple experiment illustrates why some people continuously make harmful choices that they know full well are wrong - sometimes illegal, and sometimes even deadly.  Those of us who see their foolish mistakes, stand back in amazement and wonder why they keep on taking those drugs when they see how destructive they are, or why she always goes back to that abusive man, or why the homeless guy won't accept the help that others are willing to offer him to get off the streets and live a normal life.

People who are emotionally depleted are stuck in a state of emotional starvation.  They are starving for something or someone to soothe and erase that feeling of emptiness, and will do irrational things.  Their sense of starvation drives them to hurt themselves, and in so doing keeps them even more emotionally depleted than ever.

Why do so many come home from a stressful day at work, with aching backs and high blood pressure, only to soothe themselves with a whole pint of ice cream eaten straight out of the container, and a large delivery pizza while laying on the sofa staring at the TV?  Their blood pressure suffers more, the back pains from their lack of exercise and lack of healthy eating has worsened, and once they wake up in the morning with the TV still blaring, covered in pizza crumbs, they'll look at themselves in the mirror and feel depressed with who they have become.  Their emotions, their health, and sense of self-worth have just been depleted even more.

There are times that we don't do what we should because we are constantly looking for that thing or that experience that will soothe our depleted egos.  We want to find that person who will make us laugh, that sense of well-being to overcome us, that feeling of being wanted or praised or thought of as worthwhile envelop us, just someone to give us a long lingering hug before we decide to tackle what we imagine are very stressful tasks.  And most of the time, those instant fixes don't appear.  Or we resort to manufacturing our own little "rewards" to motivate us, which end up backfiring like the chocolate cake that makes us so drowsy and bloated, instead of being fired up to work harder, we just want to take a nap!!

Based on 25 years of counseling experience, there are a vast number of people who live in constant search of anything to soothe their depleted egos.  And a huge amount of them are Christians, who claim they want to make a difference for God in this world.  But they don't.  They feel disappointed in themselves, and they think it's humility.  They feel afraid to act, or feel that they need to wait for a clear direction from God before they do anything radical.  So they try to comfort themselves with music and fellowship and friends and busy-work in the church.  But they don't like themselves very much, and they don't believe in themselves at all. They're impotent Christians.

Meanwhile God looks down and sees us as pitifully confused as the drug addict who keeps returning to his destruction.  But as always, God has given us an antidote for this debilitating problem.

Philippians 4 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

This is God's protection from becoming depleted.  This is not a suggestion, it's a command.  THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS.  Whether you feel like it or not.

Allowing the feeling of always being mistreated at work and that no one will ever appreciate you, does not fit the description of "whatever is lovely or admirable."  Deciding that you are undesirable as a mate and will live out your life in loneliness is not "excellent or praiseworthy."  Deciding that cleaning your house will only stress you out more, you'll do it later when you feel happier, is neither true nor noble!

When we make a rule that our thoughts will conform only to this list that God gives us, there is no more room for self-soothing behavior, because in fact, God's mode of thinking immediately begins to heal our troubled souls.  There is no room for self-pity, only for joyful thanks and praise that God is working and will lead us to overcome our problems.  Before we know it, His Spirit soothes and comforts us (He isn't called the Comforter for nothing!)

I have nothing against ice cream or chocolate cake, or enjoying a good laugh or allowing a friend to inspire me.  God brings wonderful pleasures our way when we first seek His Spirit, but His Spirit does not follow the other way around.

"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." (Philippians 4:6-7  The Message - of course!)

1 comment:

Maura Olivera said...

Dear Mrs. Evelyn:
I read carefully this post, twice.
I like it, I know you are speaking the truth, and I will think and act upon it.

Thank you,

M. Olivera