Revive Our Hearts Weekend Podcast

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Lonely Christmas

Episode notes:

These series make up today's Revive Our Hearts Weekend program:

"How to Control Runaway Emotions"

"Practical Counsel on Singleness"

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Dannah Gresh: Carolyn McCulley says that times of loneliness and pain may be an invitation from God.

Carolyn McCulley: Sometimes the Lord designs desert periods in your life to draw you away from other distractions so that you can commune with Him. In a sense, He’s inviting you through your loneliness into a deeper fellowship with Him.

Dannah: We’ll talk loneliness, emotions and how it all fits with Christmas today.

Welcome to Revive Our Hearts Weekend, I’m Dannah Gresh.

Christmas is a time when we feel big feelings. Our emotions are often a little bit “extra.” The holidays are said to be the most wonderful time of the year. If you're like me, I do love the lights and the music, but it can also be the most stressful time of the year. 

There are year-end projects at work. I’m feeling it at Revive Our Hearts and True Girl. I’m pretty much exhausted, frankly. And how many Christmas parties have you already gone to already? Me, I’m up to five—three of which I hosted! And if I'm honest, I don't have the gift of Christmas giving, so I'm still looking for those perfect Christmas presents. 

With the to-do list a mile long, the anxiety grows and grows and grows. (Just ask my husband, Bob, about it. He has to talk me through a to-do list or two every December!) Maybe you feel frazzled or stressed? Of course, I'm not saying there's not happiness in there, but for so many there is also a lot of sadness. Unfortunately, all those feelings can all swirl together at Christmas and get bigger and bigger! Holiday emotions are sometimes hard to wrangle.

A young woman asked Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about feelings. She says she’s been driven by them in her relationships, and in how she lives her life. While she is trying to give them over to God, she finds it hard because we live in a culture that says, “Do what you feel.” Here’s Nancy’s advice to her . . . and maybe to you.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I think you’re just illustrating that this is a challenge at every season of life. I don’t know that that gets easier except I will say this: The last year and a half my life has been a lot more dictated by my feelings than I would like to admit. So sometimes I feel like I’m a teenager again acting fourteen. The year I was twelve I cried the whole year for no reason at all. And I’ve kind of been that way the last year, to tell you the truth.

But here’s what I do know that I didn’t understand then, and that is the power of the truth. I also understand now better than I did then that feelings are not bad. They’re a gift from the Lord. He made us emotional creatures. Imagine if you could never feel joy or pain or sorrow or ecstasy. That’s a gift to be able to feel those things.

But feelings make a terrible master and invariably make bad choices and end up, if nothing else, on a roller coaster swayed with every circumstance—bad news or good news. In our ministry we get letters that say, “We love your ministry.” If you take those too seriously, if you get too ecstatic over those, then you get really bummed by the ones that come and say, “You make me mad.” We get those, too.

So if you let things outside of you or even inside of you dictate your responses, if you let your feelings dictate your responses, you’re going to at best live an unstable life. I think all of us know what it is at times to be emotionally unstable. I really do believe in the power of the truth to stabilize us and the power of the Word. I don’t mean that in some weird or mystical way or some inaccessible way. The power of the Word to stabilize, to tether our hearts.

I find that the times that my emotions are most out of line and out of control—I call them rogue emotions and rogue thoughts, bucking bronco style—are often times when I really have not been meditating on the Word, bringing every thought in captivity to the obedience of Christ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians (see 10:5). Scripture memory is something that has been hugely helpful to me in tempering those emotions and leveling them, in making them know who’s boss. And it’s not just me; it’s that the Lord is boss. So I’m learning to counsel my heart according to the truth.

Now I will confess that at times even over this last year there have been a lot of changes in my life and in our ministry. At times (I’ve talked with other women who have had similar experiences), I feel like I just can’t get these emotions under control. I just can’t think right. But even that is thinking wrong because the fact is by God’s grace I can think right. Really, what it comes down to is I don’t want to think right, right now. I want to be mad or resentful, or I don’t want to do the work it takes to see my emotions brought under the control of the Spirit.

I know sometimes you’re just tired, and you think this is just hard. But grace—God gives grace when we cry out to Him and we say, “Lord I can’t do this. I don’t even want to read Your Word. I don’t want to memorize Scripture. I don't want to pray.” It’s not like I’m proud to say that, but just be honest with God and say, “I need You. I need You to give me the desire. I need You to give me the power to discipline my flesh, to bring these emotions and thoughts under the control of Your Holy Spirit.”

Also, I think at those times when our emotions are really out of control, we can tend to get isolated. Now maybe some people do it differently. But for me, I tend more to withdraw. In a sense, I have a very public life. When I’m struggling the most, I don’t really want to be exposed, so I tend sometimes to isolate myself and withdraw.

That’s really dangerous. You need to make sure somebody knows where your heart is, and that you have friends that are saying, “How is your heart?” and that you’re being honest with them. Because if they’re good friends, they’ll help you get to the Word. They’ll help you get to the truth. I don’t mean that in any harsh or quick fix way but to say, “I know this is hard.” I find myself being helped in recent months in my own emotional tirades, struggles at times, if I will get out of myself and be ministering into other people’s lives who are having their own struggles, I find that I often counsel myself.

I had an email exchange with one of our staff a few weeks ago, and it’s not somebody that I work closely with, but I just said, “How are you doing?”

She said, “I’m really struggling.” I hadn’t been in her life. I didn’t really know what the issues were.

So I said, “Do you want to talk?”

The next morning she called me up. We were out walking, talking. I don’t know if it was any help to her—we actually spent about four hours together that day—but it was a huge help to me because everything I told her was stuff I needed to hear, and I hope I was able to be an encouragement to her as well. Emotions are wild things

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I think the quickness that so many in our culture have to medicate runaway emotions has really been in some cases to our detriment. I’m not making any big statements about medication except to say that if our first recourse is to medicate and in some cases that may be helpful, very needed. But if that’s our default I think it’s very possible that we miss out on some of what God wants us to experience.

If David, who probably today would be by some considered bipolar or manic depressive; if he had had available in his day some of the drugs that we have today, we might never have had the Psalms because so many of them were written out of his desperation and his loneliness, his fear, his anger, his being in distress. But it’s so neat to see how in time he gets to the core truth of God.

I’m not saying that if you have God then you’re always going to feel good because we all know that’s not true. It’s a fallen world. I’m not saying that if there are helps available that can regulate us in some ways that that might not be a useful tool, but it’s just a tool. If the objective is to not ever feel bad, there are ways to make sure you don’t ever feel pain. But they may not be the best way because out of pain can come incredible beauty and grace and strength and healing and hope and means to help other people in pain.

So those emotions, they’re tricky. I don’t have it figured out by any means. But those are some of the ways that I process some of that to get back to truth.

Listen to the entire episode, "How to Control Runaway Emotions."

Dannah: Emotions are tricky. Do you believe what you’re feeling? How do you combat it? I think Nancy gave us some solid advice. Go to the Word. Get your nose in that Bible, and ask God to help you walk through whatever you are facing.

We talked about the rat race of the Christmas holidays earlier and how it adds to some of this churning inside of us. So, have you thought about slowing down a little during this busy season? To see what’s really going on around you, maybe consider that sometimes the most wonderful time of the year isn’t always so wonderful for everyone. There are some ladies in your neighborhood or church congregation or  . . . maybe it’s you. 

You show up to the Christmas gatherings by yourself and have been for years, you go home to silence. Or maybe this is the first Christmas you are facing since the death of your spouse or child. Perhaps this is the second year after the divorce, but the first year he has the kids for Christmas day, and you’re just dreading the morning. 

The holidays can magnify what may have seemed like a smallish feeling that you thought God was handling quite nicely.

My friend Carolyn McCulley has had what some might consider lonely Christmas seasons, and she wonders if God allowed certain moments of loneliness so she can experience something from the perspective of another person.

Here’s Carolyn talking with Nancy about how God turned her losses and disappointments into blessings. 

Carolyn: Specifically, I can remember a few years ago when I didn’t have any plans for Christmas, and it was working out so that my family couldn’t get together until the afternoon. I have this vision of Christmas morning still from being a little kid—you come bounding down the steps, and there’s piles of presents with your name on them, and you can’t wait to rip through it.

The idea of waking up by myself on Christmas morning with nothing to do until the afternoon was a weird seismic shift. I’d become that aunt who was the afternoon person now, and I thought, “How lonely.”

At first I really sank into a little pity party, to be honest. Then I realized, because I’d always had something to do Christmas morning, I’d never thought about all the people who don’t.

So that experience of loneliness, the Lord helped to change my perspective. I thought, “Well, I’m not going to sit around. I’m going to find out who else has also shifted to afternoon status, and we’ll have a brunch.” And it turned out to be one of my favorite Christmas events; we had such a good time.

Nancy: Let’s just stay on loneliness here for a minute because I think it’s something every human being relates to. How have seasons of loneliness impacted your relationship with the Lord?

Carolyn: I once heard a pastor describe loneliness as being a desert period. Sometimes the Lord designs desert periods in your life to draw you away from other distractions so that you can commune with Him. In a sense, He’s inviting you through your loneliness into a deeper fellowship with Him.

The first time I heard that point, I didn’t really appreciate it, to be honest. I didn’t want to go through desert periods. I wanted my demands and my desires to be fulfilled when I wanted them to be fulfilled.

But I have found there is sweetness in those lonely periods at times because it forces you to say, “Why am I so restless? What is going on in my heart? What am I thinking? Where are my expectations?” It forces you to stop and think, and that should direct our focus to the Lord. Sometimes it also directs our focus to other people, like I mentioned with the Christmas idea.

When you experience loneliness, I think it makes you more empathetic to other people. It gives you an opportunity to think, “What is going on in that person’s life, and how can I minister to them?” especially when you think about loneliness as being a surplus of time.

We often feel that way, like, “I have all this excess time, how do I fill it?” I’m by myself a lot, but it can be also a resource where God is pointing out to you that you have this time. He’s got a purpose for it, and you should seek Him as to what He wants you to do with it.

Loneliness can also be just a form of suffering that is real. It’s part of living in a fallen world. Those are times where, I think, if we’re willing to be vulnerable with those that we’re closest to and in our relationships at work and at school and at church and just to ask for time. “Could you come over and spend time with me?”

I think it’s so easy to fall into the pool of self-pity. “Nobody calls me. Nobody emails me. Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.” (sounds of laughter) And, in fact, in some ways, all of us are lonely in many relationships.

I was surprised talking to a friend of mine who had married a man who was just considered to be a wonderful catch. Everybody was so happy for her, and she had lived in a household where nearly all the women got engaged and married at the same time. So they all got to do this thing together.

Well, what happened was that, within the first year, most of her friends got pregnant and moved on to mommy status, and she felt very lonely as a new wife. She felt like, “All my prior female relationships have shifted. I can’t expect my husband to fulfill every aspect of my relationships, my relational needs”

She realized that, though she was very happy with her husband, she was so surprised to find out that she was still lonely, that there was an aspect of relationships with other women that she missed. I was surprised to hear that from her because I thought, “Well, you got the thing. You got the ring. You got the man. You got the marriage.”

But there are seasons of loneliness that can come upon us in many different stages, and they can be a surprise. It drew her to the point of saying to the Lord, “What have You designed in this? What can I learn from You? Am I not spending enough time ministering to my husband? Am I too focused on myself?” All sorts of questions.

But I was surprised to hear, there she was, newly married, and seemingly so happy. She was a shiny, happy person from the outside, yet she was lonely, too. It surprised me, and it made me think, “I should be reaching out more to my newly married friends.” It is an adjustment, and as much as they’re happy to be married, there’s a whole switch sometimes.

Nancy: As you think about the future, I know your heart’s desire is that the Lord would bring marriage into your life.

Carolyn: Yes.

Nancy: Do you ever let your mind go, like, long term, to think, “What if He doesn’t? What if in God’s providence this doesn’t happen?” Do you think about the older-age loneliness issues, and do you let yourself go there at all?

Carolyn: I wouldn’t have imagined when I was in my twenties that it would be possible to be single and in your forties and not be completely undone. If you’d asked me in my twenties what my life would be like now, I would be, like, “No! Please, God, anything but that!” I would have had no concept that there is a certain grace that is supplied that really is sufficient.

I would have had no concept in my thirties that I would say to you that my forties have been more fun, that I’ve had more opportunities to serve, that I’ve had more fulfilling friendships and relationships, even a few with guys, and that I’ve experienced something of God’s grace that I didn’t know when I was younger.

So it surprises me to know how fulfilling life is now. I wouldn’t have anticipated it when I was younger. That gives me faith for thinking I should not be too concerned about the future because God’s Word says He’s going to provide, and that the best is yet to come anyway, and it’s not in this life.

So even as we fall apart to some degree as we get older, it really is a benefit because it forces us to think about God and His glory is the only glory that is unalterable. I think that’s a challenge actually of mid-life—realizing you’re not youthful anymore and being, like, “What’s up with these lines? What are these gray hairs? What’s going on?”

There can be a bereavement that comes with that, a temptation in thinking, like, “Oh, the expiration date that’s on my forehead has gone by.” (laughter) I’ve just seen Him be so faithful to so many people that, actually, the longer I live, the more hope I have, actually, which is strange. It’s not necessarily just hope in marriage, but that might be because I’m permanently an optimist in thinking, “One of these days, my walker and I, and my bridesmaids in their wheelchairs, we’ll get down that aisle. We’ll get married!” (laughter) But it’s really more hope in a good God because I’ve seen Him answer so many prayers, not this particular one, but so many of them, and it makes me grateful.

I think also that living a little longer makes me see how much hurt there is in life, how many great needs there are. It makes me more grateful just for what I do have. You realize how much, due to both sin and just living in a fallen world, how much hurt and disappointment exists in every season of life, and how blessed you can be in certain seasons that you wouldn’t have expected.

Listen to the entire episode, "Singleness and Unselfishness." This comes from the series, "Practical Counsel on Singleness."

Dannah: Some good advice from Carolyn McCulley. 

Christmas season can magnify disappointments and pain in life. I want to maybe suggest that you spend some time outside of your pain. Not that you’re putting it on the shelf and acting fake, but maybe commit a random act of kindness for someone else who is in need:

  • Take a night, if you have kids leave them with someone you trust and go to coffee with a good friend who also needs some cheer. 
  • Sign up to work in a soup kitchen next weekend and help others who have different needs. 
  • Leave a candy cane for your mail carrier. 
  • Invite random friends over for soup and games. 

These may be random acts of love and kindness, but one: this will get you out of your thoughts of self. And two: remember Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Your love for others will show Jesus to a weary world.

Let’s talk about that love, because that’s the theme for the fourth weekend of Advent.

Since Thanksgiving we’ve spent time at the end of each episode on Revive Our Hearts Weekend talking about Advent, and we’ve lit the candles of the advent wreath. The first candle was hope—Jesus is our hope! Then we lit the candle for peace—He brings us peace! Then joy—His presence produces joy! Today we’re going to light the fourth candle—love.

Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

As we read in Luke 2:11, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

We are getting closer to the day of Christmas, don't you feel the excitement building? Jesus set aside His place in heaven and came to earth. Why? Because of love . . . His great love for us. 

John 1 starting at verse 14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

And how can we talk about His love without reciting John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." 

And that is true love in the purest form.

Father, thank You that your plan from the beginning was to love us, to love us so greatly You sent Your Son, to be born as a baby, to grow and teach us how to love, and then die on the cross for our sins. Thank You, Lord.

We have a list of Scriptures that help us think of the love He brings this season for you. Those Scriptures can be found on our website ReviveOurHearts.com/weekend. Look for today’s episode, “Lonely Christmas.”

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As we continue to think about the great love God has for us, remember who shared that love with you, how you came to know the deep, deep love of Jesus has for you. When you financially give to Revive Our Hearts, you are helping us share the love of God with women in your neighborhood and women all over the world.

Did you know that Revive Our Hearts is now being translated into Portuguese? It is. And it’s so exciting to see what God has in store for us this year.

This December at year end some generous friends have graciously chosen to match every gift given this month. So when you give to Revive Our Hearts in December, your financial gift will be doubled.

Won’t you give and help us reach our goal of $2.8 million dollars so we can continue sharing the love of God with women around the world. You can do so by calling 1–800–569–5959, or go to ReviveOurHearts.com/weekend and click on today’s episode. It’s called “Lonely Christmas.” 

Next week is Christmas, and I know there’s gotta be some excitement that is building in you. I’m excited to just slow down and be with my whole family. Last year, circumstances did not allow us to gather. I remember standing outside my parent’s house on Christmas day—most of the windows in that great big house were dark. We sang carols to my parents to brighten the night! This year, Lord willing, if you look in those windows, you’ll see the entire family busy, busy, busy with the work of loving each other!

Speaking of work, our elves have been hard at work and we have a very special episode just for you next week. Music. Twinkle lights. The reading of the Christmas Story. Hot Chocolate, oh, let's be honest, the hot chocolate is for me. I hope you’ll join me for some Christmasy fun.

Thanks for listening today. 

Thanks to our team: Phil Krause, Dylan Weibel, Rebekah Krause, Justin Converse, Michelle Hill, and for Revive Our Hearts Weekend, I’m Dannah Gresh

Revive Our Hearts calling women to freedom, fullness and fruitfulness in Christ.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.

About the Host

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

About the Guest

Carolyn McCulley

Carolyn McCulley

Carolyn McCulley is the author of three books and a frequent conference speaker. She is also the founder of Citygate Films, where she works as a documentary director and editor.