To Open My Emotional Toolbox

I bend down, reaching under a shelf.  I find the hidden handle of a heavy metal box.  It scrapes the floor as I pull it out into the light.  A latch un-clicks and the lid creaks open.  Layers of metal shapes lie inside.  Some look scuffed and worn.  Others shine new.

This?  This is my emotional tool box.  It’s a metaphor of sorts, but the tools inside are very real.  This is what I want to show you.

I am married to a tradesman.  His work shop is loaded with tools.  When I need to use his power drill, or find a certain size pliers, I go to the shop he carved out of our garage.  Looking among his tools, I see neither good tools nor bad tools.  I just see different ones.  They are different sizes and shapes.  Some are power tools and some hand tools.  I know what some of them do, and some of them I don’t.

So, years ago, when I went to counseling, I set out to understand why I act and react the way that I do.  It was naturally terrifying.  New concepts like boundaries and grief and self-care loomed strange and ominous.  I struck upon the idea of tools to give myself a point of reference.  After all, tools help.  Tools fix things.

Tools are also entirely amoral: that is, they are neither good nor bad.  They can be used correctly or incorrectly.  You can use the tool perfectly, but it may be the wrong tool for the job.  You can find a shiny new tool, only to put it in the toolbox and leave it there.  A tool is neither good nor bad on its own.  It’s a matter of how we use it, or don’t use it, that garners any results.

This is good news because we feel pretty bad when we need them.  Tools are needed in times of conflict or pain.  Say someone hurts my feelings without knowing it.   I feel hurt, angry and indignant.  So I dig in my toolbox to find the tool of forgiveness.  It’s a big awkward tool that feels strange in my angry hands.  So I use it once.  I take a few breaths, and tell myself that I forgive her.  There.  Done.  I put it back and shut the lid.  But later that night I tell my husband about it.  The anger spills right back out again.  The repair seems to have broken.  Surprised, I dig back in my toolbox to find forgiveness again.  I use it again, aghast that the first time didn’t take.  Over the next few days I find that I have to take it out multiple times and forgive that person as I get angry and hurt when I think about it.  I slowly realize that I need to practice with these tools on a regular basis.  I have to get used to the feel and heft of them in my hands.

Tools repair broken things, and build new things.  Likewise, these emotional tools both repair the hurts in my life, and build my life in the direction that brings me closer to the Lord and deeper in my relationships.

Whether or not I use these tools doesn’t touch my worth as a person.  My worth is fixed.  I am a beloved daughter of the King – same as you.  I am likewise a terrible person, full of selfishness and desperate for a savior – same as you.  So, as a dearly loved person, saved by God’s grace alone, I have a choice.  I can pick up these tools and practice using them.  Or I can leave them in the toolbox (which I may not even know I have) and bump along, confounded about what to do about all of this pain and conflict in my world.  I can try to be kind.  I can try to be giving to others, only to find that I resent them.  Shame clogs up my pipes and chokes out my voice.  What am I to do?

I cry out to the Lord, and open my toolbox.

These tools were meant to work in connection with God and his purposes.  They are addressed throughout the Bible.  Emotional Tools are tied up in the life we are given when Jesus saves us and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts.

“…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12-13

Let’s get this clear:  Tools don’t save us.  We use tools.  They don’t use us.  If our water pipes burst in an ice storm, we don’t look to a wrench to save us.  We shut off the water valve, and call a plumber: a professional wrencher.  Likewise, emotional tools will not save us.  That’s Jesus’s job.  After the saving is done, we are equipped with the tools and the training to take care of repairs and building projects, alongside God.  We have a part to play in our own lives, which feels like such a mercy to me!

As this is the central theme of my work, I will be introducing you to some of these tools through a series of blog posts.  We will pull out each tool,  look at it, and talk about what it does.

It’s worth it.  Though it’s scary to open up doors long shut, and fumble with unfamiliar emotional tools, it’s worth the breathing, healthy heart on the other side.

As I practice with my tools, I am building a life I want to live: as a wife, a mom, a friend, and a daughter of the King.  I know they can be useful to you too.

It is my joy and passion to share them with you.