Emotionally Driven…

Fake crying… I was sitting on an airplane earlier this week and I heard it. The little girl behind me was doing a good job getting her mother very worked up and very stressed out. I could tell she was trying to do so, but I wasn’t sure at first what it was she really wanted. Now, I have practice recognizing fake crying – one of my daughters is very good at it as well. But I generally don’t fall for it. I mean, I am kind-of a softie: the kids can get me to drag on the bedtime routine and I fall for it. “Mommy, can I tell you one more thing…?” Nevertheless, I have little tolerance for the fake crying. I often try to reason with my daughter when she does it. I know, reasoning with 4-5 year olds is limited, but I try anyway. Jeremiah agrees it is good to talk to our kids with real, complex thoughts, but he continues to think that I often try too hard…and he is right.

Anyway, so I keep using the refrain “now, remember that we want to help you and take care of you. But if you use fake crying, then it makes it harder for us to believe you when you really need help. Like the story about “The Wolf who Cried Boy” that we read at the library…” (Yes, you read that right; it was a twist on the normal story). Or I use another refrain “Sweet girl, we really want to practice speaking truth in all things, even the little things, because it builds trust, and leads to blessings in relationships.” Or another refrain: “Do you want people to do that to you? Let’s treat people how we want to be treated…”

Funny, right? When we say these things to children who are emotionally driven and in-the-moment focused. Logic doesn’t really sink in when emotional or reactive reasoning is going on. But perhaps if I keep repeating it, she will remember someday. And she does. They all do. But it usually feels like someday doesn’t come soon enough…

Well, a matter of minutes later, I see what the girl on the airplane wanted – she wanted attention; she wanted control.  After her mom got up with her, she was happily walking up and down the aisle, singing to herself, with her mom trailing behind, the amused ‘isn’t my daughter cute’ look on her face.

I can’t help but think about how we adults also fall prey to reactive reasoning (and/or emotional manipulation…) to get what we want, even if it means treading on someone else in the process. I tend to assume that with kids, it is not malicious—they are just no-holds-barred-self-serving. It is sinful, but not malicious. That is probably often true with adults too—but we bear more responsibility, and should seek to put others’ interests above our own.

What can reactive reasoning look like for adults?  I am no expert, but here are some of my musings. I think sometimes it can be the look that says, “how dare you criticize and offend me,” instead of humbling ourselves and recognizing the kernel of truth in the criticism. It might be assuming someone was objectively wrong for saying something that we don’t like (offending me/us), instead of assuming the best, believing the person has the right to express his/herself, and seeking to understand where he/she might be coming from. It is pouting or avoiding another person, trying to make her feel guilty, instead of being honest and letting her know that her choice hurt you. It is getting angry and blaming others for the consequences of our own mistakes.

Now, this can show up in face-to-face relationships (I have in fact done it to Jeremiah in various ways). But it can also show up in the digital realm (e.g., scary political pontificating and bashing on Facebook). It can also occur across racial, cultural, ideological or even theological lines, as Christen Cleveland so aptly points out in her book Disunity in Christ.

The problem is that if we are using reactive reasoning, it feels threatening when someone tries to break into our reactive reasoning with logic, so we can react by belittling or marginalizing him or her instead of listening and seeking to understand. My daughter does this quite well. When I try to place logic into her moments of emotional frenzy–such as giving her wisdom about how to make a better choice next time, she often gets the steel-like look on her face that indicates she is either going “all bad” on herself, or getting ready to kick or hit anyone who comes near her.

Unfortunately, we can’t overcome this way of thinking by just trying to. Our pride and selfishness go too deep. We need help! We need the Lord to help us. We need the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit in us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. I always tell my kids to “Ask God for help when you are frustrated, so you can remember to use respectful words instead of your body.” But we (both kids and adults) need help to even remember to ask. What a pickle.

I think it starts with choosing humility. Following Christ’s example. Christena Cleveland mentions a statement from the movie Music Within in her book, said by a disabled person when talking about how to help people care about the disabled. He says “You don’t need to change how they see [differently abled] people. You need to change how they see themselves.” Disunity in Christ, p97. Now I haven’t seen the movie, but it is a powerful thought; one that is really tied to the heart of the gospel. Instead of always trying to blame others for our pain, or trying to feel better about ourselves by devaluing others, we need to see ourselves as we truly are.  To value Christ’s sacrifice, we have to see our need for it. Jesus says he came to heal the sick; we have to know we are sick. We have to know that our reactive reasoning is coming out of our brokenness, not out of the other person’s actions.

I turn to God’s word to help me remember who I am and just how much help I need.  Romans 5:8 says: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There is no room for pride. Pride just leads us back to the law, which we cannot measure up to, and which enslaves us in guilt. But if I compare and put others down to boost myself, that is what I am doing; it doesn’t lead to happiness, and there is a deep rooted guilt that we then try to suppress if we refuse to confess it. That is not what God wants for us. Galatians 4:9 says: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

As in many cases, coming back to the Greatest commandments as Christ taught them also helps. When we “Love God” with our whole selves, by focusing on him, we can’t help but see ourselves more accurately. When we see ourselves more accurately, recognizing that we have tremendous value because of who we are in Christ, not because of our own greatness, then we will “love others” better. It will overflow out of us, and we will want to understand and care for others, no longer defensively trying to draw lines around ourselves.

I am thankful that “in Christ,” I am a “new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17). He is still doing the work in me, and I have a long way to go, but I praise Him that HE is the one at work. So I can say with the Psalmist “the Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps 27:1).

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