Dark times can subtly creep upon us. Sometimes Satan is merely the one who capitalizes on other things happening with us. When I say dark times I don’t mean sickness, although that’s certainly nothing to be happy about; I don’t mean attack by an enemy. I simply mean unexpected emotional hardship in response to life experiences. It’s our own hearts taking us by surprise.
I’ve always referred to this as the ‘human element’. The phrase is rudimentary, lacking eloquence, and in need of explanation. Let me share two stories from my life to help you see what I mean.
Story 1: The Summer Burn-Out
I went to college in Oklahoma, so I didn’t often return home on the East Coast during holidays and summers. Instead, I would remain on campus and work. The school year had ended and my routine remained largely the same besides no study and working full-time to care for myself. I was to begin my junior year that fall and take some long-awaited major courses. But by the time classes started I was mentally fatigued, having never rested. By the end of that semester, my grades plummeted and I nearly failed two important courses.
Story 2: The Derailed Trainman
I once worked as a railroad conductor. One sunny day after our last move before returning to the hub, my engineer and I were halted. I had been secretly watched by an official and hassled for a trivial infraction; the fallout caused a very serious error minutes later. It landed both of us out of work on a 10-month probation that ruined me financially. I lost everything and had to rely on others. Outwardly I seemed fine, but I was emotionally devastated by my loss. When the time came to return to the job, I resigned despite offers of help from family.
From Stasis to Chaos
When I speak of the human element, I’m talking about unanticipated disconsolation, depression, or vices resultant of continual emotional wear or emotionally depleting events or results. It is elicited by both positive and negative experiences. One day life is swell—the family is fine, work is good, money is flowing, dreams are coming true; but the next moment we are emotionally blindsided and don’t know why.
It is the response of the heart that is atypical. Pain hurts and you cried; you were elated by your success—but there was more that was incited.
I speak of the subtle trajectories of the heart, the unexpected drawings and cravings certain experiences arouse and that point back to emotional flaws or deficiencies needing special attention. This is a poignant matter in our driven, innovative culture where we suppose we can continually be on the go and have every experience without proper solace and emotional reflection and repair; it only leads to breakdown.
We cannot always calculate how we will react to our experiences. There is no autopilot for our emotions; they change and must be managed. Have you ever been happy for a friend’s success and then for weeks battled your own feelings of failure? Have we not all observed the successful business person or celebrity, a rising star but a life spinning out of control. They cope with their success by drinking, through addictions and riotous living, and even suicide.
How we deal with life events, the good and bad, is plethora and accomplished in healthy and unhealthy ways. Importantly, we should closely monitor how certain experiences stimulate our emotional needs and carefully plan our responses. Being unaware or not fully honest about serious inner issues is risky.
And before you give me a gospel spiel, I understand what it means to live in the Spirit, to have strong faith, and to make Christ Lord of every part of me. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that godly folk wrestle with their emotions and become depressed. If you need evidence, the biggest book in the Bible is full of people who have shared these very stories and watched God bring them back from the brink. Our emotional reaction is one thing; a mindful and godly response is another—but we can have emotional struggles.
I offer no quips or solutions. I just think it’s important to know that the events of our lives affect us in more ways than are apparent, emotionally so; and that being attentive to our souls and how we handle life matters is vital to our emotional well-being—Christian or not.