Developing Emotional Muscles


If only I could remain more stable when hard situations blow into my life! I don’t want trials and hard stuff to pull the rug out from under my feet. I would like to be able to claim, like Apostle Paul, that although he went through some horrific times and was almost despairing, he was still able to keep on going.

8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.

(2 Cor. 1: 8)

There are people who go through the same events and some are shaken but still doing well, while others crumble and can barely continue to function. What makes the difference? How do I become someone who weathers well the storms that come?

When I purchase a bag of birdseed at Costco, it is a significant strain for me to get it out of the cart into my car. Last time, one of the workers came by and easily hefted it from my cart into my trunk. I then got into car and happily drove off to handle the rest of my day.

I want to have the emotional muscles and stamina to handle the ‘heavy’ stuff and be able to keep on trekking under heavy circumstances!

Several years back when pondering the importance of our ability to have intense emotions- regulate them, get back to a stable place and relate well with others- the concept of going to an emotional gym came to mind.

If I were to go to a gym to work on increasing my strength and start with the 50 pound weights, the weight would fall on me and I would be harmed. I would not receive benefit, but instead damage my muscles. I would bring trauma to myself. To truly gain strength, I must start realistically with where my tolerance level is and gradually work my way up to increased levels of weight.

Picking up a 10 pound weight once every 3 weeks also will not help me gain my desire. It takes consistent, constant, persistence in picking up weights that will strain me without harming me!

It is wise to go to different kinds of weights, and exercises so as to strengthen different muscle groups. The result will be overall increased strength for me as I engage in life.

There is great value in having a “gym buddy”, to helpfully “spot me” if I pick up a weight too great and it falls on me. A “gym buddy” to cheer me on. To cheer for the significance of my progress.

As my overall strength increases, one of the side benefits will be my increasingly remaining stable when the emotionally challenging situations arise.

Recently I was pondering what James wrote in his letter, chapter 1: 2-4, that has irritated me in the past.

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

My brain experienced a light clicking on regarding the ‘counting it joy’. Yes! What if we all went to the emotional gym and intentionally leaned into various situations where we would feel a strain in various types of emotionally challenging situations? We would be developing strength to handle what comes our way. We can grow trust in our “gym buddies”, including God, developing not only our individual strength, but our support system for when life is hard.

We can intentionally work on increasing the level of our capacity and endurance, along with relational resources, so that we ‘are not lacking’ when life’s trials hit us.  I am reminded of a friend whose young daughter has high anxiety and was wanting to back out of attending a class birthday party.  The mom decided to have her go, along with a phone call so as to call mom as needed.  And mom promised and followed through with a phone call to her after an hour of the beginning of the party.  The little one enjoyed the party while keeping the anxiety at a low level.

This morning I was gently staying present with a dear lady who has been crushed by life. I recognized how I did not need to get her to emotionally be at a different emotional place. I could be comfortable in staying at a slow pace. I did not need to add pressure on her, to push her to live beyond her level of transformation. To live past emotional capacity. I could offer my own emotional strength through my being unruffled by the weight of her trauma. My years of intentionally going to the emotional gym was giving me the ability to live out what Paul described in Colossians 1:24.

24 Now I am full of joy to be suffering for you. In my own body I am doing my share of what has to be done to make Christ’s sufferings complete. This is for His body which is the Church.

She is in need of tender companionship, someone to know and understand what she is experiencing. Someone to weep with her while she weeps. My entering into my own intentionally gauged suffering over the years has allowed me to join her. I can be a ‘step in’ for Jesus and allow my suffering, that is not overwhelming me, to become a resource for her.



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