Moving on to Toxic Emotions, Groeschel points out 4 major emotions that are toxic for us, and discusses how we can combat them with God on our side. The 4 major emotions are: bitterness, envy, rage, and fear. So, let’s dig in!
“God’s Word shows us clearly the dangers of bitterness: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:14 – 15, emphasis mine). Though we can’t control the outcome, we’re called to do everything possible to live at peace with others, even those — or especially those — who have hurt us….. Unfortunately, if you have lived for long, you’ve experienced some kind of pain or betrayal.”
If you’ve been reading my blog you have probably noticed a recurring theme of my struggle with bitterness, so this section was really good for my soul. The beginning of this quote really served as a conviction and reminder to me that in order to be walking right with God, I need to do everything I can to be at peace with others, and that includes those who have hurt me. In trying to move forward in my life I need to be on guard for seeds of bitterness so that I might get rid of them before they take root. Groeschel says,
“All roots, whether those of a giant Redwood or of personal bitterness, sustain themselves by what they absorb and the direction they grow. The roots absorb whatever moisture is nearby into their system to nourish the tree. If the roots absorb clean water, the tree will grow strong and healthy. If the roots absorb contaminated water, the tree becomes diseased and unhealthy. Just like people. The more they dwell on a hurt, the more poison their hearts absorb”
I love the analogy that emotions, like bitterness, are like the root of a tree and how those roots can either grow a strong and healthy tree or a diseased and unhealthy one. It really helps me to think about what kind of water I am drinking, what I am dwelling on.Instead of allowing my heart to absorb poison by dwelling on my heart I should focus my mind on the Lord and how to resolve these feelings and emotions of bitterness. Groeschel tells his reader of two ways we can remove bitterness from our lives:
“The only way to remove bitterness from your life is to kill it at its root. And there is only one way to kill the root of bitterness: with forgiveness. Ephesians 4:31 – 32 says, ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’…I’ve found that your prayers for others may or may not change them, but they always change you. As I tried sincerely to pray for a betrayer, slowly my bitter root started to die. To be honest, I don’t think I even noticed it at first. But the poison that I’d been allowing into my heart started to subside.”
So, in order for me to fully remove this bitterness, I need to forgive the person who has hurt me just as God forgives me. When I think about it in this way it helps me realize that God did not hold on to my past sins, but He forgave me and welcomes me back into His loving arms. If the powerful and sovereign Lord will forgive me, how can I not forgive my brothers and sisters in Christ? Praying for someone when you are still angry can be hard, and I know personally the temptation of dismissing this part of what Groeschel said. However, I want to challenge myself, and those who are reading this to pray for the people who have hurt us even if we start with simply praying, “Lord, bless ____.” Let’s forgive those who have hurt us and pray for them as well. It is not always easy, but in doing this, I believe we will be glorifying and honoring God.
“This personal scrutiny in which we compare where we stand in the world with where we see others is usually distilled into the word envy. From the Old French word envie, which in turn originated in the Latin word invidia, it literally means ‘to look upon with malice or resentment.’ Its closest kin include discontentment, dissatisfaction, and covetousness, all born of the marriage of comparison and resentment…Put simply, envy is when you resent God’s goodness in other people’s lives and ignore God’s goodness in your own life. It’s when you think, ‘They’ve got it and I want it. They don’t even deserve it. They shouldn’t have it in the first place!'”
I love how Groeschel simplifies the definition of envy at the end of this quote on how envy is resenting God’s goodness to others, and ignoring His goodness to you (me). There are so many various forms of envy: materialism (newest gadget), appearance (desire to look like___), relational ( envying relationships of others). “Envy is insatiable.” It’s easy to think that envy is just a part of life and think that because everyone struggles with it that it’s just not a big deal. Groeschel explains why this is a dangerous way to think:
“The big deal is that allowing envy into your heart is like planting nuclear waste in your flowerbed. If you don’t think envy is a serious problem, just consider what Scripture has to say about it. James doesn’t mince words: ‘But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice’ (3:14 – 16). So this issue of being dissatisfied with what you have and instead wanting what others have isn’t a big deal? ‘Every evil practice’ sounds like a profoundly big deal to me.”
Whoa, “such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” Those are powerful words, words which ought to cause us to pause and consider the magnitude of what God’s word has to say about envy. So, then what can we do to prevent ourselves from becoming envious of others? Here is what we can do, we can choose to focus upon the blessing’s God has given us, personally and be thankful to Him for all things. Groeschel says,
“God has put blessings right in front of us. It’s easy to let our appetites rove. But when you let your eyes wander, looking for something else, you might as well be chasing after wind. It’s better to enjoy what God has given you than to look around to see whose grass is greener. It’s easy to always look for more. What about what God has already given you? Are you grateful for the things you do have? If the grass is greener in someone else’s yard, maybe it’s time you watered your own. How long has it been since you’ve taken stock of what God’s given you and said, ‘Father, thank you’?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So, in the spirit of this verse, I would challenge you (and of course myself), to actively focus upon the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us the next time we find ourselves envious of someone or something.
“The Bible has a few things to say about anger. In fifteen different instances, the Bible mentions both the word anger and the word fire in the same verse. The comparison is not only dramatic and colorful but very revealing about the qualities of this volatile emotion. Fire is a gift that can sustain life. When it’s contained, when you control it, when you manage it, fire can warm you. You can cook with it. You can use it to heat water for a warm bath, or use it to light candles or lamps to illuminate dark nights. However, when a fire rages out of control, it can destroy everything in its path, consuming in just a few moments everything that we’ve spent a lifetime building…Just like fire, our anger can be used constructively or destructively. Used as a catalyst for justice and the pursuit of God’s righteousness, anger can cleanse, restore, and unite. Or, if we allow our anger to rage out of control in conjunction with our desires, frustrations, and grievances, it can lead us to hurt others and ourselves.”
This is why I love Groeschel and this book so much. He is such a wordsmith, always effortlessly and eloquently pointing out the truth to his readers. We can either have righteous anger or sinful anger. So, lets focus on sinful anger for a minute.
“Whether served hot or cold, anger stew is a poisonous dish, a carcinogen that will grow a cancer inside you.” In a post I did recently about another book I love by Lysa TerKeurst called, “Unglued: Making Wise Choices In The Midst of Raw Emotions” I discuss the differences of stuffing and exploding and Groeschel touches on this using the terms spewing and stewing (If you want more information about the differences between spewing (exploding) and stewing (stuffing) then you might want to look at the post on being unglued).On this matter, Groeschel says, “Regardless of whether we’re a spewer or a stewer, we’re likely going to wind up in the sewer unless we learn to control our response to our anger and express it productively.” How can we go about changing how we handle our anger? First we can take a look at what God’s word has to say. Proverbs 17:14 says, “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” James 1:19 – 20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Groeschel brings up a great point when he says, “Seven different books of the Bible all mention the same character attribute of God. Do you know what it is? Seven different writers all noticed that God is ‘slow to anger’ and ‘abounding in love.'”
This brings us to righteous anger. Consider this, “Rather than allowing his anger to cause him to sin, Jesus redirected his anger to do something righteous. It’s okay to be angry. You can be angry and not sin. Let the Spirit of God fan that flame…Do you struggle with sinful anger? Get mad at it! Attack it with righteous rage. Turn its power into a righteous anger that begins to fulfill God’s will for your life. Get angry about the things that anger God.” I know this post is heavy with quotes but I do not want to plagiarize and there are so many things that I just couldn’t put into words better than he has, so I am going to conclude with yet another quote that I wraps up the topic of toxic rage and how we can actively combat it:
“Instead, spend quiet, slow time with God, in prayer and in his Word, and learn what things make him angry. Then, when you feel your pulse starting to race, your temperature starting to rise, the veins in your neck starting to pop out, ask yourself, Where is this heading? If it’s toward sin, put it out. Drop it. But if it’s toward righteousness, fan the flame. Invite God to make you more like himself — and then let him.”
“People often say that fear is the opposite of faith, but I respectfully disagree. The way I see it, fear actually relies on faith — it’s simply faith in the wrong things. Fear is placing your faith in ‘what-ifs’ rather than in ‘God is.’ It’s allowing your imagination to wander down a long dark alley of possibilities and get mugged every couple of steps. Almost everyone who allows themselves to be taken hostage by what-ifs discovers that the only thing binding them is their own imagination”
I couldn’t agree more with this statement. It is so easy to get caught up in the “what-ifs” of life, I should know since I am the queen of what-if scenarios. For me these what-ifs don’t always deal with fear and worry, but all too many times it does and it causes my mind to wander aimlessly about and that usually does lead to worry.
For instance, my husband is planning to go to seminary in a year or two and we have discussed the idea of actually moving to where the campus site is (for the school he is interested in is Louisville, KY). I get excited about it because I have never lived outside of Georgia and I find myself saying excitedly, “What if we move there, how cool would that be, I hope we are able to go.” But then, I think about it more in depth and what it entails and my excited what if turns to a more fearful and worrisome one. I find myself worried about living away from family, finances, and the list grows the more I focus on the what-ifs that could happen.
However, when I turn this around and say, “God is faithful and provides for His children. God will cover us with His grace and mercy and He is our portion” , the fear and worry dissipates and I am able to find peace. Groeschel hits the nail on the head when he says,
“It seems like we spend a huge amount of time brainstorming a list of everything that could go wrong, instead of better using that same energy to ask God for steps we could take that will help us meaningfully get in on what he’s doing.”
So, what can we do to change and focus on “God is”, rather than the “what-if”? Groeschel answers this by saying,
“Simply put, you must seek God. That’s it. Start seeking God, and don’t stop. When you diligently, consistently, tirelessly seek him, your fears will evaporate. Jeremiah 29:12 – 13 says, ‘You will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’…God has not given you a spirit of fear. If you’re feeling afraid, that’s not from him. Don’t accept it. Don’t give in to it. What God has given you is a spirit of power, of love, and a sound mind. Seek him. Fear not, for the Lord is with you.”
Amen. Prayer is the best way to wipe fear from your mind and access the power of a sound mind. A Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Whatever your worry or concern is today, take it to the Lord in prayer. We have a good, gracious, loving, caring, sustaining, powerful, sovereign Lord who hears us when we pray (Ps. 65:2).
I can’t speak for others, but I know that I struggle in each of these aspects of toxic emotions in one way or another, but through this book I have been gently reminded where I fall short, and encouraged in love to seek out God in these problems. I honestly feel like anyone could benefit from this book all the while being pointed back into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior.