Check Engine Lights
How to Listen to Your Early Warning System
The check engine light on my 20 year old Honda is an amazing piece of technology. When my car magically senses something is wrong it turns on the check engine light alerting me that something needs attention. What’s even more amazing is, if I simply count the number of flashes of this tiny light hidden behind a secret flap on the passenger floor board my car will tell me exactly which part needs to be fixed. A ten minute ride to the parts store, another ten minutes under the hood and its like I’m driving a new car again.
As I pondered the marvels of Japanese technology I realized that people come with their own check engine lights. They are called emotions. Emotions, or feelings, are simply the tools we’ve been given by God to know when something needs attention. Consider the similarities between physical pain and emotional pain.
The physical feeling of pain alerts us when we’ve left our hand on the hot stove and we should move it to avoid permanent damage. Even though we don’t like the pain in our hand, it is a manageable and temporary condition that prevents us from greater harm. Emotional pain operates in the same fashion. When we have our feelings hurt, it is usually a sign that something important to our soul has been compromised. Even though we don’t like feeling bad, if we ignore it, our personal, spiritual or relational lives may become even more damaged.
What are your check engine lights telling you? Have you been angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, lonely, exhausted, or discouraged lately? Is there stuff in your life that needs some attention but you’ve been “pushing through it” only to see it compromise your personal life, your family, or your ministry? Cutting the wires to the check engine light doesn’t mean the problems go away.
I know that asking for help is not easy. The most common thing I hear from pastors is, “Paul, I can’t share this stuff with anyone. I’m the one who’s supposed to help other people with their problems.”
Yes, as a pastor in a helping profession you have made yourself available to care for those in need. But that does not disqualify you from asking for and seeking out help when your own difficulties start to become overwhelming. As a counselor, and fellow helping-professional, I am encouraged to seek out help and support through supervision so my “stuff” doesn’t start to compromise my ability to help guide and direct my clients.
If you think it is time to stop ignoring the check engine lights and bring your life in for routine maintenance here are some helpful tips:
- Start with someone outside your immediate circle of influence. This provides a more objective perspective as well as a level of confidentiality that makes it easier to talk about the hard stuff.
- Find someone that has experience or specializes in the issues you may be dealing with. If you’re not sure what those issues are, then a general assessment can be made to help you get connected with the right people.
- Give it some time. Unlike cars, we don’t have broken parts that can simply be replaced. Getting healthy takes time, energy, and investment.
One last thought…Have you ever wondered what healthy looks like? Next time I’ll share with you what things I look for that tells me when my clients are strong and healthy.
If you have any questions about what you’ve read or topics you’d like to see covered in one of these articles, please email Paul at Paul@PaulElmore.com