Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.] –John 14:27, Amplified Bible
Imagine as a child you are given a coat. It’s not an attractive coat but it meets your needs at the time. Now imagine as an adult you are still wearing the same coat but you’ve now come to believe it is your actual skin. Since the coat no longer fits, it doesn’t meet your needs the way it did when you were young. Unfortunately, instead of being something you can take off, it is something that you believe is an unchangeable part of you.
In the same way, we develop ways of coping or responding as we go through various life experiences, often things we’ve endured from childhood. Those ways of coping worked well for us as children, but as adults, they are no longer effective and may even be destructive in some way. So why do we hold onto them? Because we’ve come to believe those patterns of coping are actually who we are, not something we can learn to change. We may have come to believe being hot-tempered, depressed, highly emotional or anxious are who God created us to be, and therefore we can do nothing to change those characteristics. I want to caution us, however, about taking on ill-fitting ways of coping and embracing them as unchangeable parts of ourselves. For example, some believe one of their spiritual gifts is being highly sensitive and “feeling others’ feelings”. They believe God made them to be so compassionate that they are drawn into others’ emotions. I would strongly suggest that this is not a spiritual gift from God, but a sign of poor boundaries. We can have discernment about what is going on with another person and we can have empathy for their pain; but discernment and empathy are not the same thing as actually feeling others’ feelings for them. In other words, I can cry with you, but I cannot cry for you. I can encourage, comfort, and support you on your journey but you are still the one who has to walk it; I can’t walk it for you. The Bible says we will know a tree by the fruit it produces (Luke 6:44). The fruit of “feeling others’ feelings” is that I am constantly in emotional distress. I am never at peace, but rather am in torment and anguish most of the time because I’m so busy feeling everyone else’s pain. Notice in John 14:27, Jesus did not say, “torment, anguish, and emotional distress do I leave you”. He said He leaves us with peace. Any pattern of coping I participate in that robs me of peace is probably not from God. We must be so aware of how our enemy twists truth in order to keep us in bondage and steal our peace!
Similarly, being “hot-tempered” simply means I need to identify the root(s) of my anger and learn to handle frustrations in a healthier way; it does not mean I am doomed to always be an angry person. The same is true for anxiety—just because I developed a bad habit of worrying doesn’t mean God created me to be a worrier. We may struggle with these things, but they do not have to define who we are. God can heal these areas of brokenness if we are willing to do the deep work it requires to dig out the roots of the problem, and allow God to redefine who we are in Him. Let us not allow ourselves to be conned by the enemy into holding onto a coat that no longer fits. What worked in the past to help us survive will not work as an adult. We must recognize when we are wearing an old coat and be willing to trade it for one that fits us now. God has a new coat ready for us; we only need to be willing to make the trade with Him.