During the American Civil War, the Confederate Navy filled Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico with mines, which at the time were called “torpedoes.” As flag officer David Glasgow Farragut led the Union’s fleet of 18 ships into the bay, he issued one of history’s most memorable orders:
“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
The tactic succeeded. Only one ship was lost, and the last Confederate stronghold on the Gulf of Mexico fell to Union control. (And Farragut was made admiral of the U.S. Navy and honored with two postage stamps.) It’s also a good strategy for our emotions:
Damn the emotions! Full speed ahead!
Don’t deny emotions
I’m certainly not denying that my life is a mine-filled sea of emotions. I regularly struggle with clinical depression, so there are days I just want to go below deck and hide in the hull. But I’m not alone. I have plenty of company with the psalmists of the Bible. One-third of all psalms are known as “laments.”
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief (Psalm 22:1-2 NLT).
O God, why have you rejected us so long?
Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture? (Psalm 74:1).
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted (Psalm 77:2).
Don’t deify emotions
The psalmists certainly didn’t deny their emotions, but neither did that make their emotions their god. Inevitably, the psalms above are followed by a psalm of praise:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams (Psalm 23:1-2)
We thank you, O God!
We give thanks because you are near.
People everywhere tell of your wonderful deeds (Psalm 75:1).
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders (Psalm 78:4).
Saint Paul sums up these “bi-polar” extremes of emotions:
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Do defy emotions
Emotions are fickle feelings that may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, a subconscious reaction to an event in the past or present, or something we ate the night before. Emotions are real, but they are not reality. (That’s good! You may want to write that down and post in on the bathroom mirror!)
So, I find myself paraphrasing Admiral Farragut’s order: “Damn the emotions! Full speed ahead!”
And most days, I’m successful—with prayer, persistence and Prozac—in navigating the emotional mines floating in my life. I can’t deny them, but I also refuse to deify them. They are not my God, but bio-chemicals, sub-conscious reactions or, perhaps, the pizza I ate before bed.
Full speed ahead!
Copyright © 2011 James N. Watkins
1. Do not deny depression. If you have symptoms lasting more than two weeks, see your family doctor. I’ve certainly been helped by anti-depressants, but it took trying five or six different meds before I found one with maximum benefits and minimum side effects.
2. I’m not talking about physical ailments that do prevent us from doing those things we wish to do or must do. Right now (July 2011), I must have picked up a nasty bug on my Denver flight. I’m getting some work done propped up in the recliner with my laptop, but after about two hours, I’m completely depleted and it’s back to bed.
3. And if emotions are causing incapacitation, I trust you find the help needed and with Admiral Farragut, defiantly shout, “Damn the emotions! Full speed ahead!” Either way, you’re in my prayers!