I am, though embarrassed to admit it, a moody man. Something small can occur – say slow traffic, a printer malfunction, or a critical comment – and my insides churn. I feel suddenly thrown off-course. I cast about for direction. Sometimes, the mood can last for hours. It can worsen. When a mood sours, it can change the course of my day, causing procrastination, loss of connection with others, and the forfeiture of gratitude. Yes, my moods sometimes go unhealthy places.
I am, though I try to hide it, a moody man. I make a certain face to cover-up the churning. I purse my lips, shallow my breathing, and squint in concentration. The idea is to look stoic. But I am told that it looks more like I swallowed a pickle. I try to appear unmoved on the outside, but inside I am like a lava lamp – slow-moving lumps of fear and insecurity. When I can’t settle them down, I try to cover up them up with a secondary mood – I become irritable and angry. This is one of the unhealthy directions that my mood can go. I move to a second mood to try to adjust for the first.
If the first mood feels weak and powerless (like dealing with a printer malfunction or a critical comment), I try to cover it with a second mood that feels more like I have control (like irritability). Then I might try to cover the second mood (who wants to be perceived as irritable?) with a third mood of distant stoicism. But as you can see, this chain-reaction doesn’t go good places. My moods are driving me more and more hiding. It is a reactive stance.
Yes, I am moody man, often driven by my moods, though I don’t have to be. You hear that? I don’t have to be. This realization has come to me late in life. Moods are real, but I don’t have to be as ‘reactively moody’ as I let myself be. Yes, I suppose I am always in some sort of ‘mood’; that’s what it means to be an emotional being. But the big news is that I don’t have to stay reactive, as if the mood is in charge of me. I don’t have to stay in the initial phase that circumstances throw me. I can make choices about my mood. This profound truth can change the course of my morning, and then, morning by morning, it can change my life.
What am I trying to say? Answer: You can steer your mood.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to boil this process down to two steps. But if you try them, you will see that they are more faith than formula.
Name Your Mood. This sounds simple, but a reactive mood, like a steam locomotive, is hard to slow down enough to name it. But when you put a word to an emotion, it automatically slows things down and brings online the more proactive spiritual processes: faith, hope and love. When you name your reactive emotion, you will likely find it to be something like fear, shame or anger. Now, who do you want steering your life; fear or faith? Obvious choice when you ‘put it like that’. And that’s the point: Naming your mood helps you ‘put it like that’.
Make a Decision: This also slows down the runaway train. When you make a conscious decision (‘I am feeling________. Now, what will I do next?’) you are bringing online your God-given power to choose; you are making space for the Presence of God to inform your next step. You are recovering your freedom. Don’t worry at first if your conscious decision is the ‘exact right’ decision. Any conscious decision, even if not optimum, helps slow things down and makes space for God.
Here is the wisdom of the two simple steps. God has given you an ability to steer your mood to healthier places. You don’t have the power to change circumstances; you do have power to choose your response. Once you embrace this gift – then you are free. You can, by inviting God’s Presence, steer your moods to a more healthy life.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.