Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Taking Out Your Emotional Trash

(Excerpt from Taking Out Your Emotional Trash by Georgia Shaffer, Harvest House Publishers)

What Desires Need to Be Discarded?

Sometimes our legitimate desires become warped by “wrong thinking” that results in emotional garbage weighing us down. Courtney had always wanted to travel. This is a perfectly legitimate desire. When she and Chuck were first married, they frequently traveled to Paris, San Francisco, and other beautiful places. Gradually, as often happens, Chuck became more involved with his work and found it increasingly difficult to get away.

“He knew I loved to experience new places, so he began giving me homemade vouchers for my birthday and Christmas,” Courtney shared. “Each note was a promise to take me on a vacation somewhere that I wanted to visit, such as London.”

As the years passed, the actual trips became scarce and the notes accumulated. Courtney’s resentment grew along with the pile until one Christmas she told him, “Don’t give me any more notes as gifts because we never go. I have a jewelry box filled with empty promises.”

From then on Chuck would say, “When I retire I promise we’ll go to London” or “When I retire we’ll go to Hawaii.” Courtney lived her days looking forward to Chuck’s retirement and their future travels.

Twenty-five years passed.

About a year after Chuck retired, Courtney and I met for lunch. I was surprised that this normally vibrant woman appeared so sad. Her eyes lacked their normal sparkle, and she seemed to be only going through the motions of living. As I gently probed, she resisted sharing any heartaches or difficulties. But I couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right with my friend. Finally, at the end of our lunch, I said, “I’ve known you for years, and I just have to say I don’t know what’s going on, but something seems different.”

She thanked me for my concern and assured me everything was fine.

For weeks after that lunch, Courtney kept popping into my mind. Each time I prayed for her, asking for God’s peace and healing for whatever was plaguing her.

Six months later Courtney and I met for lunch again. As soon as I saw her I noticed the sparkle had returned to her eyes. She was full of life again.

“What happened? You look dramatically different from six months ago,” I said.

With a sheepish smile Courtney told me that after our lunch she began praying, asking God to show her what was bothering her. Over several weeks, God revealed the issue. “Chuck had always promised when he retired we would see the world,” she said. “But now that he’s retired he’s consumed with volunteer work and consulting. Oh, we travel some, but nothing like I thought we would.” Her voice faded as she glanced down at the table. “That’s when the truth hit me,” she said. “Chuck will always be busy, and I’m not ever going to be traveling extensively.

“As I prayed, journaled, and read Scripture, God kept bringing me back to Romans 12:2: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ God showed me that there was nothing wrong with my dreams, but unless I changed and renewed my mind, I would continue to be sad and bitter.”

“But Chuck promised you those trips!” I blurted. “You waited all your life for those vacations. He needs to take you.”

“Georgia, he’s not going to change,” Courtney said with conviction. “And I’m certainly not divorcing him over this issue. I love Chuck. He’s a good man. As hard as it was, I had to let go of what for me were unrealistic expectations. That was the only way I could be free to embrace new dreams.”
I was speechless. I knew surrendering her desires to travel, especially after all those years of waiting, had to be tough. But I couldn’t deny the difference in her. She really was a new person who was excited about her future.

It’s amazing how many people identify with Courtney’s struggle.

Unless we are paying attention, we too can get tangled up with our unfulfilled desires. There is nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams. Courtney’s desires were reasonable and valid. As her story illustrates, however, some of our tightly held but unrealized or unrealistic longings set us up for disappointment, anger, and despair. And these emotions, if not handled well, will negatively impact our relationships and lives.

I’m not suggesting that it’s unrealistic to expect people to follow through on their promises or to be honest and respectful. What I am suggesting is that we need to be self-aware and understand that some of our relational problems might be caused by our refusal to reevaluate our desires in light of the people we are dealing with and to make sure they have not become demands.

In the book of James we are warned that our desirescan battle within us and become demands, which then create conflict and can finally lead to disconnections with people. He wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2).

John Stringer, a former pastor of mine, described how this principle of “a desire gone bad” is frequently acted out in our relationships:

I desire…
      I need you to…
            I expect you to…
                        I demand that you…
                                    If you fail to do fulfill my desire I will punish you by either withdrawing from you or attacking you.

Notice that we are moving further away from a positive relationship and further away from handling our emotions in a healthy biblical manner. As a result we’re generating more emotional trash that we’ll eventually have to deal with.

To reverse this negative movement we want to:

  • Recognize when a desire has become something we believe we need
  • Grieve the loss of what can’t be or might never be
  • Embrace the reality of our current situation

It is only when we are able to let go of those desires that we have confused with true needs that we are free to live with our wants and dreams without demanding that God or others fulfill them.

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