Sermon Podcast Audio
Emotional health is often the most neglected or under-valued kind of health. We put physical health on a pedestal because we’ll die without it; however, we die internally without emotional health. We can’t have healthy relationships and we can’t have healthy spirituality without it. It’s impossible to be relationally and spiritually mature without emotional maturity.
So in what ways do we neglect our emotional health? Emotional UNHEALTH, in it’s extremes, looks like two things. You likely fall much more on one side than the other.
1. You avoid emotion, suppress and stuff emotion, or
2. Your emotions determine your beliefs and behaviors
I am going to address both of these. Both keep us from experiencing abundant life and health internally, relationally, and spiritually.
We often avoid or stuff emotion. As good Midwesterners, (especially white folks!) part of Christian culture (especially BAPTISTS!) is “Don’t feel too much! At least don’t express it in public! And Certainly don’t feel bad emotions, like anger, sadness, and fear (unless you’re Dave Richards and Iowa State is losing a basketball game…)”
But God gave us emotions! He made us and he created our emotions and our ability to feel. And he made us in HIS image…God Himself FEELS! He has emotion—even expressed emotion. Here are a few examples:
In Genesis 1 God was pleased. He “saw that it was good” and that the creation of man and woman was “very good.” He was satisfied, pleased, and delighted.
Later in Genesis after the fall of man, God experienced grief.
The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.—Genesis 6:5
God experienced the emotion of love and kindness.
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I’ve drawn you with loving-kindness. —Jeremiah 31:3
God felt compassion and we see in scripture that was he “moved.”
When Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. —Matthew 9:36
He experienced intense sorrow. Before he was led to his death in Matthew 26 Jesus prayed in the garden:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” he cried out in distress and brutal honesty with the father, “if it’s possible take this cup from me!” —Matthew 26:38
He experienced anger. In Mark 3 when Jesus found a man who needed healing and the Pharisees were watching him to catch him doing something wrong, and it says:
Jesus looked around them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts. —Mark 3:5
In Matthew 21 when Jesus went into the temple and saw that it was being used by the money changers to take advantage of people financially, he called the temple a “den of robbers” and flipped over their tables and “drove them out…”
And we see Jesus experience incredible joy. In Luke 10 when the seventy-two returned from doing ministry and finally understood the authority they had in his name, it says that Jesus was joyful!
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. . .” —Luke 10:21
Emotional health begins with us living in the way God created us—in His image—with the gift of emotion, being free to feel and express and experience the full range of emotions.
BUT WHY? Why embrace emotion?
You should embrace emotion, because emotions are directly connected to your heart. And you give God (and others) access to your heart through real, expressed emotion. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality author Peter Scazarro says “Emotions are the language of the soul…they are the cry that gives the heart a voice.”
Your emotions are directly connected to your heart. If you refuse to feel, experience, and express—you’re denying God access to your heart and thus limiting the depth of relationship you can have with him.
You should embrace emotion because relationship requires the sharing of our hearts. It requires honesty and vulnerability about how we feel. We grow in relationship with God (and others) though honesty and vulnerability, by sharing our hearts and our feelings—our fears, sorrows, pain, and our joy.
Part of becoming WHOLE means embracing our emotions and making room for them.
When Emotions Determine Beliefs and Behaviors
The Psalms are full of emotion expressed and deeply felt. David was an emotional dude. He had no trouble feeling, expressing, and experiencing emotion fully in the moment. Check out Psalms 55, 69, and 102.
David is such a great example of emotional health. He is honest about his feelings and emotions. His psalms are almost always an outpouring of emotion, BUT THEN. . . there’s a transition point. David is real and raw with his emotions and experience but always resolved to know the truth about God. We find resolution to his needs and emotions in the psalms through the final stanzas where he says, “BUT GOD…”
This leads to my second point about being emotional unhealthy. Some of us don’t have the first problem of stuffing our emotions. We can express and experience and feel emotion deeply but we get stuck there. Our feelings and our emotions determine how we believe or behave.
What we see in the Psalms and in David is real emotion expressed, and then…a transition to God’s TRUTH, an ability to distinguish between feeling and fact, a transition to a greater truth of God’s reliability, his goodness, and his ability to heal, fix, and save.
Look at the transition points:
Let death take my enemies by surprise. Let them go down alive to the grave, for evil finds lodging among them….BUT I call to God, and the Lord saves me. —Psalm 55
I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me…BUT I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. —Psalm 69
My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass….BUT you O Lord, sit enthroned forever. —Psalm 102
Living in Emotional Health
Emotional health in relationship with God is having the ability to experience, feel, and express emotion, knowing that emotions are God given, and to also not let those emotions be your only reality. Instead GOD’S TRUTH is your reality.
Choosing to see your circumstances from God’s perspective, not simply based on your own feelings—this is what the pursuit of being whole and holy looks like for emotional health.
One of my favorite stories in scripture is a story of emotional health—of experiencing and expressing emotion AND knowing the greater reality of God’s truth.
It is the story of Jesus weeping with Mary over Lazarus’ death in John 11. When Mary calls for Jesus to come and heal her sick brother and Jesus waits before going, Lazarus dies before Jesus arrives on the scene. Mary is weeping and in response to her weeping and in response to seeing Lazarus, who he loved, dead—he wept! Jesus wept!!
And the crazy thing is, he knew the end of the story—he knew from the very beginning that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, but because of his hatred of sickness and death and because of his love for Mary and Lazarus and seeing the pain Mary was in, he wept with her.
He experienced incredible, intense emotion in the moment with her. He grieved—even though He knew the end of the story, the greater reality—the truth of God: that HE was indeed the resurrection and the life. And that’s what he ultimately gave Lazarus.
Some of you need to be vulnerable and raw, and let yourself experience emotion—crying over pain, grieving, experiencing anger or deep joy and celebration, because in those places of honesty and vulnerability, deeper relationship with God awaits!
And others of you need to press into the other side, or the second half of the psalms, experiencing the transition into the truth of God and the reality of God—not allowing the experience of your emotions be your only reality.
You can directly apply this teaching by joining one of our discipleship groups or Sunday school classes, or just come see us! Emotional health happens in community, in relationship with one another. We learn to be people who feel and embrace emotion fully, and who know the truth of God and the reality of His perspective.