Have you ever fallen into the trap of the Scarlett O’Hara syndrome? I have observed many people adopting it as a coping strategy. It seems highly favored by us. It certainly feels evident and right at the moment of pain or pressure. For me it was a pattern that began early in childhood. Here is an excerpt that describes it from the book I wrote a few years back. See if you can relate:
There were shadowy sides to me that I preferred not to acknowledge and certain events I preferred not to dwell upon. In lieu of actually being shown what to do with the dark side of one’s life, in the absence of a wise and understanding spiritual guide who can help you carry your unwanted parts to God and show you how to release them, I had no better plan than to ignore and repress them. I suspect this is most folks’ fallback position and it was admirably expressed in film by Scarlett O’Hara when she said, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
We all know of course that that tomorrow never comes, except when it is too late for well-considered action, though it is far easier to recognize the danger of delay when viewing someone else’s life. No one delights in this technique better than the prince of darkness himself who makes good use of whatever we don’t bring to the light. I’m not making an excuse for myself in saying this. The devil didn’t make me do it, but I have to say he did make it appear sensible and attractive as a coping strategy!
This approach to problems is most assuredly not a successful strategy for real life! It didn’t even work out well in the fantasy world of Miss O’Hara. If we want to live as freely as little children, all the stuff we push down or push away will get in the way. By the way, the lost freedom of childhood is the true way of the new life that Jesus actually commands us to rediscover (see Keys to the Kingdom).
Unquestionably, there are times when we have to push emotional reactions down or very disturbing thoughts away in order to meet the need of the moment. I call this first response, “stuffing your emotions in the garbage can.” It is a big improvement over dumping them on the people around you (which only makes the situation worse). You can beat your pride down and stuff your feelings. It won’t kill you. It will instead, bring to death some unhealthy part of you that really doesn’t belong in you, now that Jesus is in you. So, stifling the unsavory outbursts of our fallen nature is a spiritually healthy thing to do.
The unhealthy part is trying to keep a lid on the garbage. Do that and it will begin to stink in inside of you for sure! Leave it festering long enough and, eventually, stuff will want to explode. We were never meant to keep our negative emotions buried inside ourselves. The desired way to deal with our emotional reactions is to carry all of our stuff to the Lord and dump it on Him. He wants us to do this!
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 ESV
If we don’t deal with it, if we stay pressure packed with negative feelings, watch out! Time and time again I have seen the Lord send the “garbage truck” of adverse circumstances into people’s lives (my own included). Oh, it will pick you up, turn you upside down and shake the living daylights out of you until all the garbage you have been holding on to has been released! Towards the end of any trial I find myself saying, “Lord, I don’t care about any of that stuff! Just get me out of this jamb and I’ll be happy just to be Your lamb!”
It certainly does help to talk things over with a friend, but only if we want them to talk us out of our feelings, not further into them. Otherwise, we risk smearing them with our garbage to no one’s benefit. Jesus will send us friends to try to help us with our feelings, but the best way of all is learning to carry everything that goes off inside of us to the Lord directly.
Scarlett O’Hara wasn’t looking to the Lord, but that’s not who we are. We know that we have a constant Friend in Jesus. We can talk over anything with Him. We can cast any burden on Him. We can stay surrendered and await His lead for how to deal with stuff once we have committed it to Him.
We are actually commanded to carry every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) and that certainly includes those pesky thoughts of the heart and mind that keep reminding us of unfinished emotional business we are still holding deep inside. Some of us have been carrying around unresolved emotional issues for 20, 30 even 50 or more years (see Strongholds)!
Let’s learn the Lord’s way of capturing thoughts that are trying to rob us of peace and joy and carry them captive to Christ—instead of being made captive to the enemy by them. It’s time to say goodbye to the Scarlett O’Hara inside us!