'Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God” [for temptation does not originate from God, but from our own flaws]; for God cannot be tempted by [what is] evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is dragged away, enticed and baited [to commit sin] by his own [worldly] desire (lust, passion). Then when the illicit desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin has run its course, it gives birth to death.' (James 1:13-15 Amplified Bible)
Our difficulties should not surprise us, but often they do. They may come in obvious behavioural forms such as lashing out, avoidance, self-harm etc. For all our overt behaviours there are still deeper implicit difficulties that we may have that drive the overt behaviours. Things such as depression, anxiety, guilt, feeling unsubstantial and a general lack of self-worth. These feelings come up from the depths of our being, or as we often talk of, our introvert. These feelings and the consequences of having them may seem very natural to us and given the right set of circumstances may seem completely logical and acceptable. In behavioural psychology behaviours that are used to cope with certain situations are called adaptive behaviours. The problems start when the behaviours we have used to cope with certain situations don’t serve us. These are sometimes called maladaptive behavioural strategies and they can be harmful to both us and those around us. The problem is that we can give ourselves permission to feel and act in a certain way and will justify to ourselves and others for doing so.
So, what may this look like in the real world? A simple example from my own life might be the way I have handled work experiences. For some reason I have always sought value from work. Not that you would have believed that if you had known me for the first 16 years of my work life. I must have had at least 20, maybe more, jobs by the time I was 30. Admittedly, many of these jobs were a dead end, monotonous, generally unpleasant or all those things. This would impact me emotionally and affect my self-worth. I would become ‘depressed’. As a good Sanguine Melancholic I would be driven to exit anything that felt uncomfortable, rapidly, and if I could find a way of doing this either in a rebellious or humorous way so much the better. The important point, however, is that I was being driven by my emotions (the Melancholic) and acting out to hide or change how I was really feeling (the Sanguine). Of course, this did not serve me very well. I did not stay anywhere long enough to progress and, if my true CV was ever printed, it would be many pages long! It also meant I had several bouts of unemployment which further impacted upon my self-worth, creating a negativity feedback loop reinforcing all my worst fears about employment and myself.
After the first few miserable experiences a pattern was forming in my feelings, thoughts and behaviours. This leads us to an important point about how we handle ourselves, ‘If you have gone through something, there is a good chance you will go through it again’. This is supported by broad medical opinion (at least in the case of depression), for example, The Royal College of Psychiatrists states that if you have had a depressive episode there is a 50 % chance you will have another one (RCPSYCH, 2020). I believe this could be applied to several responses and situations and, therefore, we should not be surprised by our problems! Again, my own experience has borne this out. Recently I was made redundant from a job I had invested a considerable amount of energy and time in, and one that I also felt was meaningful. This was a first for me. Since then I was kindly offered a job by a friend of mine. This job was very familiar. It was like previous ones that I have had in that it feels like a dead end and it is monotonous. Consequently, I have had similar emotional responses to what I used to have in my earlier working life. I have felt down with a significant urge to radically change the situation. However, the fact is that this job is ideal because it allows me to focus on other more important things and has certainly helped pay the bills!
So, are we doomed to be at the whim of our emotions? I don’t believe we are, and I do not believe that the apostle James believed that either because he says:
'So get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalise its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth].' (James 1:21-22, AMP)
James believed that we could change and react differently through the word of God. So, what does that look like practically? Bearing in mind we will always be tempted to go down these paths again, usually when we most think ‘I’ve got this’. I believe the first thing to do is to stop being surprised by our difficulties. Write them down if necessary so they are less likely to surprise you. When did they trouble you in the past? What was going on? Who or what was involved? Is there a pattern over time? The next thing to do is what Pastor Bob Beeman calls ‘fighting the battle before the battle’. Now that we know what trips us up, we should plan how we are going to deal with similar problems in the future. For example, I like many of us, tend to lose perspective once the pressure starts to mount. I will catastrophise, become anti-social and become depressed. A good way I have found to prevent this going too far is to talk it through with somebody (although I am sometimes not as quick to do this as would be ideal!). It is essential that this person knows the Lord, themselves and has a vision for you that is in line with who God really intends you to be. This allows the Word to come alive and be of real practical benefit as James suggests above.
This of course can be difficult especially if we are wrestling with extremes of emotion triggered by events happening to us. I do believe it can be done however:
'Not that I speak from [any personal] need, for I have learned to be content [and self-sufficient through Christ, satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or uneasy] regardless of my circumstances. I know how to get along and live humbly [in difficult times], and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret [of facing life], whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need. I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]' (Philippians 4:11-13, AMP)