I remember so clearly the day I said to myself, “Christmas just isn’t like it used to be.” I was thinking back to earlier years when it seemed Christmas was such a happy and joyful time. During those earlier years, I remembered being excited about decorating, cooking, and playing Christmas music. On that day, I was sad about what I felt was lost and thought, “it’s just not like that anymore.” However, almost immediately, I felt the Lord challenge my thoughts and say, “that’s your choice. You are the one who determines how much or little you enjoy it.” I thought about it and couldn’t say anything but “AMEN.”
Our emotions are a choice, and we control the level of our joy or the lack thereof. Of course, there are times when we deal with loss or sickness, and those times are difficult and deserving of prayer and support. However, most often, we can decide what direction our emotions will take us. That year, when I just was not feeling the same “Christmas joy” I had once felt, I learned that I was in control of my emotions and could choose joy. I took a pivot and started decorating, playing music, inviting friends and family over, and I had a wonderful Christmas season. My decision changed my actions, and my actions impacted my emotions. I was so glad that I listened to the Lord.
I learned a lesson that Christmas and I can honestly say that it caused me to evaluate my emotions about other aspects of life. In life, it’s easy to get down and focus on the negative. This makes me think about a show that I watched growing up called “Good Times.” I honestly don’t know why it was called “good times” because the show was about a family that lived in the projects, and they dealt with one tough challenge after another. Their good times seemed to always turn bad. In many ways, the tenor of the show set you up for the letdown and it often negatively reinforced an expectation for things to go wrong. In life, just like in the show, if you are not careful, you can stay in a perpetual state of waiting for things to fall apart. Once you get to that point, it’s easy to become the type of person who just expects bad news, and that can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you search for good, you will find favor, but if you search for evil, it will find you.” (Pr.11:27 NLT). I find it interesting that things that aren’t good seem to easily find us. Think about it, you don’t really have to work hard to “feel bad”. Many times feeling bad happens easily and quickly. So, the question becomes: How do you fight against the temptation to be negative, or to expect the bad? Or how do you keep from going to a dark place when things seem so tough?
One of the ways I’ve learned to avoid going to a dark emotional place is to trust God to redeem the negative circumstances of life. There are some things that may have been meant for your demise, but God has a way of turning negative circumstances to your advantage. When you truly learn to trust God, you can keep a positive attitude even when things are rough. There is a story in the Bible of a man named Jephthah. The town elders and his half-brothers wanted nothing to do with him because his father, Gilead, had him outside of marriage with a prostitute. As a matter of fact, his brothers not only wanted to expel him from the town, but also from their family so they wouldn’t have to share their inheritance with him. Wow! What a hurtful request. He didn’t ask to be born, and it wasn’t his fault that his father connected with a prostitute. Nevertheless, Jephthah complied with the request to leave. He went on his way and grew up on the rough side. By all accounts, he was a rough dude. He became a notorious fighter who even led a gang. Who knew that one day, the very ones who asked him to leave would need him for a favor? I’m sure when he left, he didn’t think that he would ever have any dealings with his “family” or the town that didn’t want anything to do with him.
Well, as things would go, the very place that didn’t want anything to do with him, had a great need for his services. An enemy state, that they were confident that they could not defeat, come up against the town. The following, from Judges 11:6-11, is a dialogue between Jephthah and those who once asked him to leave their town.
“The elders said, “Come and be our commander! Help us fight the Ammonites!” But Jephthah said to them, “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?” “Because we need you,” the elders replied. “If you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you ruler over all the people of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders, “Let me get this straight. If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler over all the people?” “The Lord is our witness,” the elders replied. “We promise to do whatever you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their ruler and commander of the army. At Mizpah, in the presence of the Lord, Jephthah repeated what he had said to the elders. “
What a turn of events! Can you imagine the pain and rejection that Jephthah felt when he left his home and had to fend for himself? I’m sure at times he wondered why his brothers got to grow up with two parents and enjoy the blessing of a stable home. But, here’s a notable life lesson, even if your circumstances aren’t so ideal, God has a way of redeeming and vindicating your most hurtful life experiences. Jephthah could have chosen to stay stuck in the emotions of the unfair, undeserved circumstances of his life. Yet, look at the beautiful way the Lord redeemed his misfortune. The ones who kicked him out, were forced to call him back and pay handsomely for his services. Chances are, he got way more than what was coming in his inheritance.
So, here’s a consideration, don’t focus on the unfortunate circumstances of your life. Choose to be joyful now no matter the situation, and trust God to show Himself mighty on your behalf. Our emotional state is most often a personal choice. There are so many who could have chosen to be down and bitter but instead chose to hear God on the matter. When you choose to think like God thinks and see things through His eyes, hope can spring anew, and you can find yourself in a place of joy as opposed to sadness and despair. Joseph learned that lesson when his brother betrayed him, and he ended up in jail for no fault of his own. God redeemed his pain so beautifully that we are still talking about his life hundreds of years later.
People may dismiss or discount you, but it really doesn’t matter. Those people who mistreat you may find themselves needing you. Don’t spend your energy thinking about what was or what happened, choose to be joyful and trust God for the last word. Even when things are hard or tough, we can still choose joy. I pray that whenever you are faced with a negative emotional choice that something rises up in you that refuses to “go there.” Choose joy, trust God, and allow His wisdom to always have the last word.
God bless you!