Why Do I Feel So Torn Within?

by Andy Wood on May 23, 2012

in Exploring the Possibilities, Five LV Laws, Gamblers, Insight, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Principle of Freedom

I know I’m not supposed to worry.


I know I should have more faith in God.


I know this should be an easy, clear decision.


I want to pursue this direction.


I long ago lost count of the number of times a counseling or coaching encounter started there.  Here’s what I know.  Here’s what I should be.  Here’s what I want.


These are the starting points of conversations about something we all encounter – core conflicts.

A core conflict is exactly what it sounds like – a sense that you are being pulled in two or more different directions.  And more than likely you’ve been there to some extent today.  Sometimes a core conflict is as common as deciding what’s for supper.  But sometimes it’s more a case of “Do I eat to live or live to eat?”

We navigate through core conflicts throughout the day, in big and small ways.  We make decisions based on values, convenience, love, passion, fear, and a host of other things.  And for the most part we make our choices, live with them, and live to see another day.

Sometimes, though, we arrive at a “but…”

Sometimes the core conflict creates a moral impasse, or a violation of conscience.  Sometimes it produces a lot of anxiety or guilt.  In fact, the biblical word for “anxiety” means “to be pulled in different directions.”

Sometimes it yanks at different ends of our hearts.  Ever feel caught between loving God and loving somebody?  Ever feel torn between telling the truth and protecting somebody’s feelings?  Or did you ever feel hung between safety and adventure, your past and your future, or status quo and status go?

The late Davey Jones and his Monkees friends once sang a song that expresses that a bit:

Look out, here comes tomorrow, that’s when I have to choose.
How I wish I could borrow someone else’s shoes.

One of the things I have found helpful in dealing with those high-intensity core conflicts is in recognizing where they come from.  Core conflicts are the result of urgency, uncertainty, or careless mental demands we place on ourselves or God.  If you can identify where this impasse of the soul comes from, maybe you can find the wisdom to triumphantly navigate through it.  Here are five sources to consider:

Unmet needs.

The urgency to address an unmet need can redefine what’s important or make you choose a path that’s contrary to your values.

I know a guy who just took a job.  Not a career.  A job.  And this after vowing he’d never work for “the man” or collect a corporate paycheck again.  This guy’s a self-starter who greatly prefers to work for himself.  But when his business went down and his bills went up, another desire kicked in – the desire to eat and provide for his family.

That’s a fairly benign situation because he can always go back to being his own boss when the economy improves.  But having an unmet need can also tempt you or drive you to make choices you never would otherwise.  How far would loneliness or financial desperation take you?  It’s easy to claim the high road when things are tolerable.  But the urgency of unmet needs can make fools of the rules.

Uncertain futures.

Many of our core conflicts come from the fact that we can’t accurately know and/or predict the future – yet we insist we should.

Remember King Saul in the Bible?  He was like Larry, Moe, and Curley all rolled up into one royal stooge.  In one of his better scenes, he whipped a bunch of Philistines.  They weren’t too happy about that, so they marshaled their forces and it was on.  Israelites went fleeing in all directions but Saul stayed to fight.

To be fair, I should point out that nobody in their right mind would ever want a Philistine angry with him, much less an entire army.  They were like ancient Klingons.  (If you don’t know what a Klingon is, never mind.)

Saul knew his only chance was the favor of the Lord.  But in those days, only Samuel the prophet/priest had that role, and Samuel was late to arrive.  (Unconfirmed rumor has it that he was stuck at the counter paying to check his bags).  So Saul, in order to feel safe, disobeyed God’s clearly-defined orders and offered a burnt offering himself.

Oh, that silly Saul!  Compromising himself in order to feel safe about the future.  We would never do something like that!

Would we?

Unrealistic Expectations

Many core conflicts arise because we tend to load ourselves down with expectations we can never live up to.  At the Servant Leadership Roundtable I attended recently, the discussion during one session was on burnout. The esteemed Dr. Paul Wong made a powerful statement:

The reason we burn out is because we expect to do the impossible.

And somewhere in our hearts, we’re haunted by those words, “I must.”

I know pastors who routinely hoist the entire emotional load of a church and its performance on their shoulders to carry alone.  I know other professionals who have no concept of limitations when it comes to time, abilities, or money.  I know many really busy people who are afraid to say “no” when someone asks them for help because they have the self-imposed expectation that they can respond to every need.

They can’t.  You can’t.  And it’s OK to say no.

Sometimes people aim those unrealistic expectations at something else.  Take the “perfect marriage” for example.  Or that dream job or career.  Or friendships.  Are you asking your marriage to do something it was never intended or is not capable of doing?  Are you expecting friendships or your career to fill holes they were never intended to fill?  If you’re not careful, your core conflict may escalate to a conflict with somebody else.

Unresolved Issues

Translate this “unhealed hurts” or “unresolved guilt.”  How many times have you faced a compelling future possibility, only to be dragged back into emotional caves of past hurts or mistakes?  Nothing will test your sense of forgiveness or grace more than reminders of an ugly past.

That’s why I’m grateful that when the New Testament church was born on the Day of Pentecost, its chief spokesman was the guiltiest guy in the upper room.  Peter forever stands as a model of what to do with a past issue.

I’ve seen a lot of wasted talent – even a few wasted callings – because somebody felt unworthy or was afraid of being hurt again.  Or worse, they were paralyzed, not by somebody else’s evils, but by their steadfast refusal to let it go and forgive.

Bad enough to waste your own life that way.  But I’ve seen parents foist their “fightings and fears, within, without” on their kids, and that’s wrong.  When you transfer your unresolved issues to a new generation, you’re sucking the life out of their future.

Unchangeable Circumstances

When we want to change something that can’t be changed, we have a problem.  First, of course, you need to make sure it’s actually unchangeable.  But if it is, then it’s important to learn the difference between acceptance and approval.  This is vitally important when the “unchangeable” is someone you love.

You.  Can’t.  Change.  Them.

Influence?  Of course.

Pray for?  Absolutely, since only God and their choices can actually make the change.

Love?  Absolutely, and unconditionally.  And that’s the rub.  We don’t understand how to love someone who makes choices we disapprove of.  And so we’re torn between loving the “sinner” and hating the “sin.”

This also applies to issues related to the past.  Unless you’re a liberal theologian, politician or historian, you can’t rewrite the past.  (A conservative would never do such a thing!)  You may not approve of past events – yours or somebody else’s.  But you can’t change them.

But when you insist that you have to fix somebody, change something, or undo what can’t be undone, you leave yourself trapped in a web of frustration, disappointment, and magical thinking.


When you feel torn within, I want to encourage you that there are solutions.  More on that later.  But it starts with understanding where the core conflicts come from in the first place.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33, NIV).


Adrienne Robinson May 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

Anxiously awaiting the “more on that later part”

Andy Wood May 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hi Adrienne,

Be watching Tuesday. 🙂

http://www.greenhavenga.org/ April 14, 2016 at 8:31 am

TYVM you’ve solved all my problems

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