Becoming Unscrewed

I love swivel chairs.

I really do.  They provide back support, stability, comfort, and entertainment all in one piece of imaginative design.   Swivel chairs components include such standard equipment as the 5-armed chair base with low-grade wheels–the seat cushion that elevates and deflates like a piston in slow motion–the broad (or narrow) seat cushion–and the wide back rest with a piece of iron drilled into its back.  Simplicity itself.  And this wonderful simplicity is undergirded by a plethora of nuts, bolts….and screws.

One very slow morning last month, I got to see what my swivel chair was made of…literally.  My chair had been squeakier than usual, groaning louder every time I adjusted my position.  I tried to ignore the chair’s protests and focused on the conversation with my co-worker, who we’ll call Ivy.  We were on the random topic of emotions.  I was just at the point of saying what an emotional basketcase I was in highschool when I stood to readjust myself in the chair once more.  As my weight hit the chair, I heard something metal hit the floor.  I felt myself pitched forward as my co-worker shouted:  “Stop!  It’s broken!”

The seat cushion nearly fell off as I jumped to my feet.  Ivy pointed at the thick screw under my chair, laughing.  In a few minutes, with the help of my pocket knife and Ivy’s Leatherman, we had repaired the unscrewed swivel chair.  (Fortunately we were the only ones there.)  Once the chair was standing upright again and we had stopped laughing, I started thinking about the appropriateness of the chair’s actions with our conversation.

Emotions are like swivel chairs…in a very elementary sort of way.  You go up and you go down.  But normally you stay within a certain range of visible change.  There are levers to push you up and down.  (Maybe you have a certain person in your life whose entrance or exit in your day causes an emotional boost or drop.)  And holding the levers onto the chair are a mass of nuts, bolts, and screws.  And while none of us have a metal appparatus to contain our emotions (unless you’re the Tin Man), we do have habits to prevent our emotions from getting out of control.  Maybe you count to 100 before answering your child lest you lose your temper.  Maybe you clam up and suppress all your anger until you can get alone with your journal and pour your frustrations out in a long, single stream of ink.

None of us wants our emotions too visible.  Swivel chairs that fall apart are really too tacky for our tastes, aren’t they?  But emotions are funny things.  And they’re also fickle masters.  No one relishes the thought of being ruled by emotions…but we often find ourselves in that state.  When things go wrong, we get ourselves rattled in situations where we can normally rearrange ourselves so as not to hear the squeaky screws.  Often we never really learn how to manage our emotions.  It’s all or nothing for a lot of people.  So we ignore the creaking nuts, the groaning wheels, and the worn out accessories to the point when the slightest movement destroys the illusion of our functional swivel chair.   Emotions spiral out of control.  And we’re left hoping no else sees.

Have I found the solution for this predicament?  Afraid not.  I have a feeling that it takes a lifetime to fully understand how to manage emotions.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to run around rattling like an old swivel chair and littering the path of my life with destroyed screws, ratty seat cushions, and mangled wheels.  The best option seems to be preventative measures.  Tightening the bolt when it starts squeaking instead of having to turn the chair upside down and taking a makeshift screwdriver to it.

I’ve been reading Persuasion by Jane Austen lately and it astonishes me how much self-control the heroine Anne Elliott has.  Throughout nearly the whole book, Anne is thrust into situations where most people would feel angry, embarrassed, or resentful.  But she is forgiving and though she feels great pain and anguish, keeps controversial feelings to herself.  Maybe we should be more like her.

And beyond all philosophizing, I know that I can always pray about my emotions to God.  Some people think that praying is only for big situations–moving, jobs, cancer, marriage.  But prayer is just talking to God.  And the Bible says many times in the Psalms that God listens to His people.  Jesus provided a way for me to pray to God with no intermediary but Himself.  And if the psalmist could cry aloud with the sorrow and turmoil in his own soul, I know God will hear me when I cry as I am His child, flawed as I am, because of Jesus.  And if the reason God saved me was to bring Him glory, I’m sure He wants how I react emotionally to please Him too.  That’s why I’ll pray about how I handle my emotions.

As for actual swivel chairs, I’m considering carrying a screwdriver in my purse at all time.

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