Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Emotionally Healthy Church, has written, “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” In the following weeks, we are going to be looking at six different areas of our lives as we seek to move toward emotional maturity. We will be looking beneath the surface, peeling back the layers of our lives as we submit the emotional part of our human nature to the lordship of Christ.**
LINKING THE GOSPEL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH
This process can be unsettling. Who wants to put his or her personality on the altar? King David once said, “I will not give God sacrifices that cost me nothing” (1 Chronicles 21:24). The honest journey inward will cost you something. So how do we find peace in the midst of this storm? How can this hard, costly transformation be part of the good news of Christ's gospel?
The bad news: We are more sinful than we care to believe. We must acknowledge this. If we don’t understand the depth of our ability to be broken – and dishonest about it – we will never seek, understand, or appreciate the salvation Christ has to offer.
The good news: God loves us more than we dare to believe. All of us are created in such a way that we bear his image; when we commit our lives to him, we also commit our identity to him. Our worth, value, goodness, acceptability, capability – it’s all grounded in the person and work of Christ, not in ourselves.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
If the fact that we are more sinful than we care to admit is the storm, the gospel is the anchor in the midst of the storm. This has to do with identity: if we are created in God’s image, and God gives us righteousness, and our hope and worth is found in Christ, what do we need to hide or fear? As we understand the freedom and foundation of a life surrendered to Christ, we begin to experience the freedom of honest introspection.
ACKNOWLEDGING OUR FEELINGS
God himself is an emotional being, and we are created in His image. The Bible attributes many emotions to God:
- deligh (Genesis 1:25, 31)
- grief (Psalm 78:40)
- anger (Deuteronomy 1:37)
- pleasure (1 Kings 3:10)
- joy (Zephaniah 3:17)
- pity (Judges 2:18)
- compassion (Lamentations 3:22)
- love (John 3:16)
- jealousy (Exodus 20:4-5)
The Bible describes Jesus’ emotional life in a equally all-encompassing way:
- He was greatly disturbed in spirit (John 11:33)
- He wept at the gravesite of Lazarus and over Jerusalem (John 11:33; Luke 19:41)
- He was angry with disciples (Mark 10:14)
- He was furious at the crass commercialism in the temple (John 2:13-17)
- He showed astonishment (Matthew 8:10
- He longed to be with his disciples (Luke 22:15)
- He was distressed (Mark 3:5)
- He had compassion for widows, lepers, and blind men (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13)
- Joy (Luke 10:21)
God has some emotions that we aren’t used to applauding – jealousy, anger, disturbed, grieving. Conclusion? The emotions themselves must not be the problem. It must have something to do with why we experience them or how we express them.
We need to honestly acknowledge our inner life - then study it with discernment. We can’t just feel and act (or react). Emotions are a gift from God, but not all the ways we experience them are healthy and holy. If we want to be disciples of Christ, our emotions must be submitted to His lordship as well. We must understand them and learn how to use them appropriately.
DOING HONEST INTROSPECTION
Sometimes we respond emotionally in ways we don’t understand. The easy solution is to ignore the deeper questions and just get through the situation. Of course, we will just hit that emotional storm again…and again... and again. We need to ask the right questions – in this case, the “why” question.
- Why am I always late (or early)?
- Why am I so devastated that Sally didn’t like what I said (0r why wasn’t I more bothered)?
- Why do I dread this particular meeting?
- Why do I panic when I think that I might cross paths with this person?
- Why do I feel so driven to succeed or be noticed?
- Why do I avoid confrontation (or constantly instigate it)?
- Why am I so rigid about answering social media promptly (or why do I avoid it constantly)?
- Why am I undone when my plans are altered? (or why do I resent people who make rigid plans)?
- Why do I think even the smallest criticism about something I do is an attack on my identity or character (or why do I want so badly to separate what I do from who I am)?
When we don’t know the answer to the “why” question, we won’t find ways to surrender this part of our life to Christ and begin a journey toward emotional healing and health. One why question may lead to another… but we keep peeling. Sometimes we don't need to stop and purposefully ask questions about ourself. Some we just need to pay attention to the observations we make about ourselves, even if it smarts a bit.
- I’m not very good at feelings. I’m more about doing.
- I prefer to think rather than feel.
- My feelings are just a blur; I can’t explain them.
- Sometimes my emotions cause a physical reaction.
- My emotions at times flood me and confuse me.
- Sometimes, TV commercials make me cry.
- I get depressed after doing X and I don’t know why.
- I have this overwhelming sense of being defective.
If these statements resonate with us, it’s a signal that we aren’t asking the ‘why’ question. God made us emotional beings – and we are ignoring that part of our nature . Subconsciously, we are making a decision: “Yes, God made me with emotions, and there is something fallen and damaged in me in this area, but I would rather remain broken than enter into the renewed life Christ has to offer.”
So how do we begin to face ourselves? We need to compare ourselves to Scripture, get the perspective of others, explore our interior life, and pay attention to the warning signs.
- Scripture: When is it healthy for me to be angry? Celebratory? Frustrated? Grieved? Sad? Happy? What does the Bible says about the circumstances I am in? Are they a big deal or not? How much emotion should I be investing? Is there a godly way to respond, and do my emotions match God’s design? “What does God think and therefore feel about this issue, and does my response match His?”
- Others: Get the opinion of trusted Christian friends. Do they agree that your response is godly in its reasons and appropriateness?
- Interior Life: Find silence; write or speak what you are feeling as a prayer to God. David gives a great model of what this looks like in Psalms. What he felt wasn't always pretty, but he was honest. He knew God could handle it.
- Signs: God has made us physical being in which our body, soul, and spirit are in some fashion connected. Sometimes our physical body’s reaction to situations – a knot in the stomach, a tension headache, teeth grinding, hands clenched, sweaty palms, neck tightening, foot tapping, or insomnia – might be a warning sign. Too much…back off…you need help with this situation.
EMBRACING DISCOMFORT AND VULNERABILITY
“Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality. Listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God… Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice… However, we often turn a deaf ear – through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our inner consciousness. In neglecting our emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes from brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.” - Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul
**This post (and the ones that follow) are a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.