For some months now I’ve been musing on a section from the book Joy Starts Here, by Dr. Wilder, Ed Khouri, Chris Coursey, and Shelia Sutton. The more I’ve mused on these paragraphs, the more interesting these points have become and the more convinced I am that they are vitally important—but little known. So in order to do these points justice, I will quote some of them here and then share my joyful musings.
“The solution of Western culture (for living a victorious Christian life) the last 400 years is that we should make better choices by thinking better thoughts.” (After emotions were brought into the picture more recently) “The new load for our thinking and choices is that if we choose our thoughts carefully, we will control the emotions that run our brain and body system. Thoughts and choices become the solution to controlling emotions. . .” “While this sounds good, and our choices do affect us, our identities are not formed by choices but by the bonds we experience. Who we share mutual mind states with and who we love will shape our choices more than the other way around. Attachments are at the center of our identities. . . Try to change the character of how young adults eat by telling them to think more about nutrition and make better choices. But watch what happens when they begin to fall in love and attach to someone and we will see thoughts, feelings, and choices changing in a hurry. . . The brain is much more concerned about who we love than what we think. . . The emotional control center is heavily influenced by joy and shalom that grow from attachment and relationship.”
At this time two events have been the catalyst for my musings on “who we love will shape our choices more than right thinking.” For the last year I have been helping a teenager work through some issues that arose from being in the wrong crowd of friends, and right now I am preparing for a parenting workshop. In helping the teenager I have mostly spent time getting her and going out to dinner, talking, and doing something fun. It seems to me that Jesus led me in this rather strange style of counseling, and I truly believe it is this relational approach of being in joy (being glad to be with her regardless of her feelings or circumstances) that has helped her the most. Yes, we went through painful feelings. Yes, we did Immanuel prayer. Yes, we looked at truth. Yes, we talked about life and maturity. Yes, she had to work through some difficulties with her parents. But most of the year our “sessions” were spent eating together, talking, and “shopping.” Her choices improved because of joy and love—Jesus’, mine, and her parents’.
So back to the points above from JSH: The wrong crowd my teenage friend wanted to be with was a big part of her issues. After a while, her parents and I had to wait and watch as she came to the end of “loving” that crowd and found a better way. Grounding and consequences helped. Knowing that Jesus and others loved her helped. But until her “love” changed, her choices continued to fluctuate. I am glad to report at this time, that she has found another “love” that fits so much better with who she really is. The love of the new crowd has greatly changed her heart attitude and her choices.
So from a parenting standpoint, I have been musing about the importance of joy and shalom in the home—the importance of truly being glad to be with others even when their behavior stinks or they are upset. Teenagers are supposed to be working on their group identity in order to become their own person and believe what they believe for themselves. It’s imperative that our children know how much Jesus loves them and that He is Real. It’s imperative that they know we love them as they work through their struggles and failures so that eventually they will make ‘good’ choices because they love ‘good’ people.
In light of this different way to look at thoughts and choices, let’s encourage one another to spend more time working on the love angle than on the thinking and choosing angles. And making choices based on whom we love works for adults, too. When we truly know and love Jesus, we will want to make better choices.
For comprehensive help for the teen years, check out my parenting book, Handbook to Joy-Filled Parenting. It’s on amazon.