What image comes to your mind when you think of "taking a nose-dive?" Most of us probably think of an airplane--in fact, it was the number one answer of the people polled for the game show "Family Feud."
The dictionary defines a nose-dive as: 1) a very steep dive of an aircraft 2) a sudden, swift drop or plunge; a rapid decline.
My curiosity led me to ask the question: If you're in a nose-dive in a plane, what is the right way to respond? I read a pilot's response to this question and it intrigued me. He wrote: "Power to idle, level the wings, then bring the nose smoothly back to the horizon. Once back in controlled level flight, use power as needed."
I wonder how many of us experience an "emotional nose-dive" during or after the holidays? I have to be honest, I experienced a "sudden drop" myself this year. It was the first year that I can remember that neither of our daughters came home for Christmas. Although we saw them both at Thanksgiving, Christmas just wasn't the same. It was especially difficult because it was our grand baby's first Christmas! At four months old, she won't remember whether I was there or not, but I will!
Even though it was our decision not to make the trip to either daughter's location, I was surprised by my sadness on Christmas day and started second-guessing our decision! All the reasons we considered prior to making our decision seemed to fade away in the midst of my "nose-dive."
Another factor that contributed to my emotional plummeting was the death of someone very dear to me on December 23. My dear "spiritual mother", Dotty Stephenson, went home to be with the Lord on that day. Dotty was my 5th grade Sunday school teacher and has prayed for me for fifty years! Yes, since I was ten years old. She was the one I always called when I needed wisdom about my kids, ministry, or when I needed her faith-filled intercession. Every major speaking engagement over the last thirty years, was covered in prayer by my precious Dotty.
She suffered a massive stroke in October, leaving her paralyzed on one side of her body and bed-ridden. I saw her a few weeks before she went Home and verbalized aloud the cry of my heart: "What am I going to do without you?" Her wit could not be dampened even on her deathbed. "I'm not gone yet!" she said with a wry smile.
So, here's what I learned about pulling out of an "emotional nose-dive" around the holidays:
- Power down to idle: don't over-react or under-react. Take time to assess and think through your situation before acting. Recognize that you are at the controls and you need to "pull back" in order to respond appropriately to what is occurring.
Level the wings: stabilize your emotions. This does not mean to ignore or stuff your feelings, but it does mean to try to level them out. One of the best ways to do this is to journal, talk to a friend or spouse about what you're feeling, or sit down and do what David advised in Psalm 62:8; "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."
Bring nose smoothly back to the horizon: focus on a fixed point beyond yourself that can give you perspective. It might take the form of gratitude; verbalizing to God and others what you have genuinely been thankful for this season. It might involve looking beyond your immediate situation to the blessings that lie ahead. It might involve looking back at all the ways God has been faithful in your life and choosing to focus on His character, His Word and His promises.
So, that's what I learned to do this Christmas. I learned to stop and assess accurately where I was emotionally. I didn't deny my feelings, nor did I let them plummet me toward depression. I was able to allow myself to "idle" for awhile instead of powering through like I'm so prone to do. As a result, I was ready to reach out to others to help me stabilize my emotions. I got out my journal and poured out my heart to God and I told my husband and a few friends about the sadness I was experiencing. It helped so much to allow others to "hold" me in my sorrow. And finally, I was able to fix my eyes on the goodness of God for all He had provided. I enumerated the blessings of the last year, spent time rehearsing how much I loved and benefited from Dotty's spiritual motherhood in my life, and reveled in what God promises in His Word is "yet to be."
Maybe you can't relate to having an "emotional nose-dive" this time of year. If so, be grateful--but also be prepared. The trouble with "nose-dives" is they often catch us off guard and we spin out of control. Don't let that happen to you!