Avoiding the Eeyore-Tigger Syndrome; The Dangers of Making Emotional Decisions and How They Affect the World of Missions
“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.”
“An MTV executive boldly proclaimed that the channel is not linear, like normal television; we’re not dealing with plot and continuity, we’re dealing with emotion, which is an entirely new way to use the television set…The only people who can understand how to use that television set are the people who grew up with it…They…will accept almost everything over that screen. The MTV ‘community’ is a remarkably shallow culture based far more on fabricated, mass-mediated emotions and experiences than on tradition, logic, and reason.”
Dancing in the Dark by Q.J. Schultze p. 205
I really like movies where the bad guys get what’s coming to them. It gets me all fired up. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this movie before in previous articles, but nowhere is this concept most evident than in the movie Taken with Liam Neeson. And just so we’re clear, even though the movie is rated PG-13, this is not a debate about whether or not Christians should be watching these kinds of movies in the first place. We may cover that in a different article, but for now that’s off the table. All I’ll say about this is if you have a squeamish stomach, this movie is probably not for you.
In the movie, Liam Neeson’s daughter is kidnapped and held hostage. Neeson is former-military and could probably do irreparable harm to someone with his pinky finger. The whole rest of the movie is Neeson’s character tracking down the whole organization that kidnapped his daughter and exacting vengeance on each and every last one of them.
You know what puzzles me about unrealistic movies like this is that I get wrapped up in the story so intensely that I’m practically yelling at the TV rooting for a guy to torture and kill a bunch of thugs portrayed in a movie!
How does this happen? Emotions! Emotions are strong responses/feelings that have been created by a Good God. But if emotions are left unchecked, if they are allowed to rule our decisions, our hearts, our lives, then reason flies out the window.
Why is it so easy for me to root for a guy who, in real life, would land himself in jail in 2 seconds if he did even one of the torturous things he did to these hooligans? Because I compartmentalize reality from fiction, for one. But the main reason is that I’m so emotionally invested in the story and the characters, to the point where every ounce of me screams “Off with his head!” I completely lose the ability to think rationally and factually when emotions take over.
This is why I titled the article: Avoiding the Eeyore-Tigger Syndrome. It had nothing to do with how beloved these two characters are in the childhoods of so many of us who watched Winnie the Pooh. But we have to admit, both take emotions to the extremes. Eeyore so purposefully lives his life down in the dumps that it’s hard to even image what he would look like with a half of a smile on his face. The writers even made his voice and cadence slower to add this emotional effect. And Tigger, with his spring-loaded tail bouncing all over the place, seems like he has never had a bad day, thought, or feeling in his whole life! His voice fits his happy-go-lucky-ready-to-take-on-the-world demeanor. There’s no middle ground or balance when emotions take such a predominant place; happy or sad. A cartoon is one thing. Allowing emotions to have a field day in real life is something else entirely.
Timothy Keller sums up this dilemma brilliantly in His book Prayer. He calls all Christians to become “intelligent mystics.” Now, before you completely stop reading this article and call me a heretic for using the word “mystic,” let me explain what Dr. Keller means.
He explains that there seems to be some kind of a contentious argument going on between two kinds of Christians. On, say, the far-left side, we find believers who are searching for the next emotional high. The experience has to be emotive to keep their attention and to keep them believing that God is warm, loving, full of grace, a dear friend. And so, we see these folks always pining for an experience on their hearts to bring them closer to God. These Christians are on what Dr. Keller would call the “mystic” side.
But on the other side, the far-right side, let’s say, we have believers who are knowledge hounds. These folks spend thousands of hours and even more thousands of dollars to learn about theology proper, hermeneutics, homiletics, views on asymmetrical double predestination. You get the idea. These are the Christians that deal in gnosis soli (knowledge only/alone). In other words, big impressive words are their bread and butter, but they are stoic, starched, unable to connect their head to their heart. They may even go overtly heavy on the areas of sin, the wrath of God, His justice and His jealousy because these are big theological concepts that delve deeply into the “known” character of God.
So, what’s the key to unlock the secret to becoming a balanced-thinking and emotionally healthy believer? Both of these concepts from above have to be working together in tandem. We are to have knowledge of God; His Word, His attributes, His commands. But we are also called to have experiences on our hearts as well. In other words, we take what we’ve learned and studied and allow it to practically be worked out in our lives through the power of Holy Spirit (Phil 2:12-13). We don’t ignore our emotions, but instead, base them on knowledge. THAT is what makes a balanced believer in Jesus Christ (Col.1:27-29). This delicate balance also makes wise and biblical decision-makers.
Missionaries don’t have the luxury of making decisions based solely on their feelings. Why? Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, that’s why! Let me explain. When missionaries are trying to make plans to enter the mission field, what do you think would happen if their decision of WHERE to go was left up to their personal feelings? What if they pick someplace with beautiful weather all year round and have the ocean in their backyard, but pay no attention to the lost people group in that region? Sure, it might be adventurous and exhilarating for a couple of months. But so is a vacation. Basing such a significant life decision (ie. uprooting your house, your family, leaving parents, grandparents, friends, jobs, a home, a certain lifestyle) only on a FEELING is ludicrous. For starters, it just seems pretty illogical, not to mention very footloose and fancy-free. But even more significantly, it completely leaves out the most important person in the whole equation…GOD! He’s the whole reason we should and are able to do missions in the first place.
Within the context of this topic of missions and the dangers of making emotionally-based decisions there are a few important dangers to discuss. It can be very easy to take on a romanticized view of missions as “you and Jesus ride off into the sunset together doing the glamorous Kingdom work of missions to the outermost.”
I would largely contend that when we base many of life’s decisions solely from an emotional point, we make feeble attempts at controlling our own outcomes. Why are these attempts feeble? Because they are strictly horizontal and we were called, as believers IN Jesus Christ, to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17). This is the vertical relationship we get to have when we are IN Christ.
These are interesting times we live in now, especially for those called to missions right now. New missionaries are struggling as they go through training and support raising, trying to talk to churches about their ministry. They face challenges, it seems, at every corner. But what if the challenges, what if the sacrifices, what if the dreams were just because they wanted to FEEL something special? It can never be just a feeling. It must ultimately ALWAYS come back to thinking about the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Many of these missionaries have made decisions to leave a salaried position, sell their house, move their whole family in with their parents…thinking it would be just a few months before getting to their destination country. Now, due to COVID 19, which has caused border closings and significant visa issues, a few months has turned into a half-year. Some of these new missionaries may not get to go on the field till Spring of next year or longer. Missions ministry is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why thought and knowledge have to be a significant part of the process, along with experiencing a calling on one’s heart when deciding on where the Lord desires to call you. The Gospel is at stake. That’s why knowledge and emotion must work in tandem when making such life-altering decisions.
What do you think goes through these missionaries’ minds and hearts on a daily basis? What if they decided to focus only on emotionally charged decisions? Would they persevere and stay the course, even in some of the most difficult of times? Interesting questions to ponder, don’t you think?
So, why is it so important to talk about and thoroughly think through emotions? Because having emotion can be a wonderful gift from a truly loving God. Showing empathy, for example, to someone who has lost a loved one or experienced a failed relationship, or is moving half way around the world to plant a church, can be incredibly life-giving and beautifully redeeming for the person going through these. And yet, we must always bring the conversation back to the message of the gospel.
But as quickly as we can give credence to that, our world tells us to love ourselves, forgive ourselves, do what feels good in the moment, follow our hearts…and a hundred other self-help mantras that all have just one thing in common. Every last one of these self-help phrases are based solely on feelings, emotional responses as we are distracted by SELF.
It is for this reason that, as we desire to empathize with others, as we aspire to make responsible and reasonable decisions, as we embark on Gospel-centered missions to the ends of the earth, we MUST always trust in the sufficiency of God’s special revelation, His Word. Trusting in the holy, timeless, unchanging character of God’s Word to His people keeps us grounded, focused, and balanced in every area of life. And we must pray. Pray boldly, pray focused, pray without ceasing, pray unflinching, pray uncompromised! Our Lord loves and longs to be with us in this way.
We have to be people who are able to speak truth to ourselves. It is God who forgives, in Christ. I can’t forgive myself. I’m pretty sure no one ever had to tell me to love myself supremely or be self-focused. That’s already in my fallen nature at birth. How has “just follow your heart” become a “best counseling principle” in our society? And just so we’re clear, self-esteem is about as far away from a biblical principle as we can get. My worth is in Christ and what He has done on my behalf. Talking about high or low self-esteem still has one glaringly obvious problem…it’s still all about self. And guess what? It’s not about Clay Elliott. It’s about who I am and whose I am in Christ, the hope of glory!
So, praise the Lord today for giving you emotions. But in the next breath ask Him to give you wisdom and discernment to balance your emotions with truth that only He can give you. Hug a missionary today and then pray with them to make biblically informed wise decisions for future ministry. Do the same in your own life and watch how the Lord honors your faithfulness in this balance between emotions and knowledge.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving me emotions and making me in Your image. I ask that you give me discernment as I walk out my faith so my emotions don’t cloud what I know to be true in Your Word. Help me to be wise in the decisions I make, however great or small. Lord, through Holy Spirit I ask that You mold within me a wonderful, God-honoring balance between knowledge and emotions. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen!
Clayton J. Elliott, Kontaktmission USA
Director of Pastoral Ministries and Prayer