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Emotional Wholeness involves recognizing your emotions, reading what they say before you react, and then responding to the world around you in a healthy + intentional way. 

In this video we discuss three important ideas about emotional health… and then we end with the three-point emotional wholeness checklist. 

I'll start with the three main ideas and then provide you with the checklist...

 

1. Emotional health is a vital component of total health.

Emotional health is a vital component of total health- yet it’s one that we often overlook (or don’t even own in ourselves). We may be unaware of emotional issues.

Peter Scazzero (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality) observes that many Christians walk through life with an under-developed emotional center. He reminds us, first of all, that we are multifaceted people- each of us having various components: 

  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Social / relational 
  • Emotional

Most of us readily identify with four of these areas. However, Scazzero confesses what a many of us could likely say about ourselves: “I had been taught the way to approach life was through fact, and feelings, in that order… [feelings were] dangerous and needed to be suppressed.” 

Whereas we don’t need to make permanent decisions based on temporary feelings we need to acknowledge our emotions were given to us by God.  

I remember a Gospel tract I saw when I was a kid. Gospel tracts are small brochures designed to tell people about Jesus. An entire page in the back of the religious pamphlet was designed to explain how we might not always feel “saved.”

The writer used a train to illustrate the point, making the analogy simple:

  • Facts are the engine. They pull the train (and us) where we need to go.
  • Faith is the coal car, the fuel. Faith provides life and “fire” to the facts.

Both of these are needed. Without facts the train won’t have an engine. Without faith that engine will never catch spark and do what it’s designed to do. 

There’s another component to the train, though, the caboose. Yes, the tract  suggested feelings are the final part of the train. 

“The train will run with or without the caboose,” the author explained. 

Think about it. What is the purpose of the caboose? I see trains all the time coasting through our neighborhood without one. 

But in life? 

Are feelings really unnecessary? Are our emotions unneeded

Now, I don’t know that the author of the brochure was making that argument. But, I do believe that’s where we’ve taken things. We need the facts; we need faith; we can take or leave the feelings.

 

2. Spiritual health often MASKS emotional unhealth.

If you look good spiritually, people assume you’re emotionally whole. You might not be. In fact, you might be outright destructive.

Here’s one of the reasons why: spiritual things look emotional. And, we’ve been taught that an emotional experience (i.e.,. goosebumps in church) is a sign of spirituality.

Maybe, maybe not.

And it’s hard to argue with someone who plays the trump card of “God told me,” isn’t it?

Plus, a lot of people who get involved in volunteerism, humanitarian causes, and- yes- even ministry do so in order to meet their own (often unseen) emotional needs.

If you’re emotionally unhealthy, you may use spiritual manipulation to get your way… and leave a path of destruction behind you. I know. I’ve been there, done it, and have the t-shirt.

Let me share this angle with you, too…

A lot of people speak against religion. I understand. Religion CAN BE reduced to rules and legalism and… control. That’s not emotionally healthy, either.

But the word religion means “reconnect.” God came to reconnect us to Himself AND to reconnect us to each other (in a healthy way) AND to reconnect us to our true selves.

It’s important to get this one right. 

Even if we don’t recognize it in ourselves, we can leave a wake of hurt behind us. And we can keep ourselves from experiencing true freedom and joy.

 

Tip: Find a support system now- before you need it

One of the most powerful things you can do for your overall health is to find a group of people who will journey with you. Now, I don’t mean a group of “fans” are “acquaintances” but- rather- truly deep friendships. The kind the Bible describes. The ones who sharpen you (Proverbs 27:17). The ones who can tell you what you don’t want to hear that you desperately NEED to hear (Proverbs 27:6). 

That last one is important. 

I meet people all the time who suggest they have a group of accountability parters who walk with them. People who tell them what they need to hear. Turns out, they often don’t. They have a group of friends who will tell them what they WANT to hear, but won’t challenge them when they need it the most.

Those friends confess, “Yes, I love ___________, and we’re friends, but our relationship won’t carry the weight of me telling them ____________.”

Generally, they say the friend will cut them off emotionally or relationally… or argue back against them.

That’s not a support system. The support system is designed to uphold us when we’re crashing- even when we don’t know we’re crashing.  

The truth is that we all have blind spots. I used to think I didn’t have any. But, by their very definition, blind spots are hidden places you can’t see. They’re obvious to everyone else- particularly to the people closest to you. But, they’re invisible to you EVEN AS THEY SIT IN PLAIN SITE.

And, our blind spots might hide hidden dangers OR they may hide hidden beauties we need to see. In other words, don’t think of accountability in the negative sense only- as a group of people telling us what NOT to do… think of accountability as a group of people empowering us to be all that we can be. 

That is, our support system may say, “Hey, watch out- you’re not seeing this right.”

Or, they might say, “Look, there’s something great about you here that you NEED to see. Let me remind you of it…”

 

3. There aren’t bad emotions and good emotions. Just healthy and unhealthy expressions of all of them.

Once we learn the emotions are thermometers- telling us the temperature around us, calling our attention to things... we’re better suited to deal with reality.

Many of us are taught- from a young age- to be afraid of the “bad” emotions. But, we shouldn’t be.

Throughout the New Testament we read truths like-

  • Jesus wept multiple times, including at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35) and even over the city of Jerusalem itself (see Luke 13:35, 19:41). 
  • Jesus became angry on several occasions. He overturned the money changers’ tables in the temple, after taking the time to make a whip to loosen the sacrificial animals (John 2:15, Matthew 21:12). He expressed His indignation when the disciples brushed the little children way from Him (Mark 10:14).
  • Jesus was distressed with the Pharisees (Mark 3:5).
  • Jesus was moved with compassion (Mark 6:34).
  • Jesus was full of joy through the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21).
  • Jesus was sorrowful and troubled (Matthew 26:37-38).
  • Jesus lingers even now, because the Lord is patient (2 Peter 3:9).

In God (Jesus is God) we see the full range of emotions- even the ones we typically consider to be “bad” or “taboo” ones- expressed in a healthy way.

Leif Heitland, a Bible teacher, locked-on to this notion of God’s feelings. He writes, 

“I often ask God to share His emotions with me because I know He is an emotional God- full of compassion, joy, and many other feelings.”

Sometimes these feelings are “negative.” We become broken for other people, as we see them dealing with pain.

Sometimes we become broken for ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve broken down and cried as I’ve worked my way through my story- as I saw the hurt done to me, as I saw the pain I inflicted on my wife and family, as I realized how much I have exposed my children to spiritual and real danger.

There aren’t “bad” emotions, in other words. Our emotions communicate the temperature of our soul to us. And, since we're created in God’s image, we should expect to experience the same emotions Jesus did. 

Solomon tells us, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Notice both extremes of the emotional scale are present.

Paul acknowledged that we grieve, but “we do not grieve as those who who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). That is, the emotion is present- even if we express it in a different way than others.

I’ve been confused about emotions. I thought they could be dangerous- that we could be deceived or led astray by them. And that we should never rely on our feelings. To say it another way, “You shouldn’t let the caboose pull the train.”

Maybe there’s some accuracy to that. But the truth is that faith can lead us astray, too, if that faith rests on the wrong thing. Facts- if they’re the wrong facts- can derail us, too.

(This is one of the huge reasons I advocate walking in close relationship with others- people to whom you grant authority to challenge you and uphold you at the same time. They can help you explore your emotions, as well as insure you’re listening to what they say without making poor decisions based on them.)

For years I wanted to run from emotions rather than running towards them. It seemed safer, easier. Yet the way towards health and healing is actually to move straight into the emotions rather than trying to navigate around them.

You see, pain isn’t the enemy emotionally anymore than it is physically. Most of us do our best to avoid emotional pain. We bury it. We explain it away.

Think about the need for physical pain, though…

A few years ago, our son Judah broke his arm. He tripped on the playground, landed awkwardly as he tried to catch himself, and his forearm snapped in half. Every kid and teacher on the playground actually heard it. 

The break was so complete that he had to hold the “broken off” part in place lest it just dangle. The physical wound was obvious.

About a year later our daughter Mini fell from the zip line in our backyard. She was shaken up a bit, so we took her inside and let her take a warm bath.  

An hour or two later, she complained of pain in her wrist. It looked fine- no dangling loose like Judah’s left arm- but the pain persisted. We took her to the emergency room and learned she had a small sprain- all because of the pain. Or, to say it another way, if she didn’t experience the pain we wouldn’t have known about the sprain. 

In the same way that physical pain alerts us to the notion that something isn't quite right in our body, emotional pain reveals the truth about our soul. Emotional wounds tell us that something’s not quite right.

As Brennan Manning writes (See Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child, Kindle version- location 1348), 

“Whether positive or negative, feelings put us in touch with our true selves. They are neither good nor bad. They are simply the truth of what is going on within us.”

Another author reminds us ) Christa Black Gifford, Heart Made Whole, Kindle version- location 567), 

“The Hebrew & Greek words for heart are used almost 1,000 times in Scripture, making it the most anthropological term in the Bible. Your heart is such a big deal to God that He writes about it more than anything else- more than sin, more than works, more than obedience, even more than love. And according to God, the heart designed actually determines the course of your life.”

“The Hebrew word for heart is lebab, meaning the center of all physical and spiritual life- your core where your feelings, will, and intellect reside. The New Testament word for heart, cardia, means thoughts or feelings (mind) and is also defined as the middle. In our modern culture we have often reduced the heart down to a feeling factory.”

Notice that last statement- that we’ve wrongly reduced the heart to a feeling factory. The truth is that the heart is intimately connected to all of life. The words we say are birthed in our hearts (Proverbs 10:11, Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45). Our heart reveals the motives others may not see in our actions (Proverbs 24:12). The things we do- our actions- originate in the heart (Mark 7:21).

The Scripture shows me that God can be found in our emotions. And that seeking the Kingdom often involves not simply doing things out in the world but also in doing the tough, deep work of the soul. That means exploring what’s happening inside- and uncovering why.

 

My emotional wholeness checklist

That said, here’s an easy way to test your emotional wholeness. Here’s the goal, anyway… this is what I'm trying to do every time I "experience" something I want to react to.

First, recognize the emotions you experience. Remember, there aren’t good emotions or bad emotions- just emotions. The more of them we can recognize, the better we can tell the temperature around us.

Second, realize what your emotions are telling you- without reacting to them. In the same way physical sensations of pain and pleasure alert us to what’s happening in our body, emotional joy and pain- and everything else- tell us the climate of our soul.

If you can learn to recognize the emotion and the read what it’s saying WITHOUT first reacting… you’re light years ahead of 99% of the people in the world around you

(Remember, Jesus experienced the “good” emotions and the “bad” emotions, but He responded in healthy ways with all of them. 

Third, finally, respond in a healthy way. After taking in what you sense, and after getting clarity on how you should respond (with intentionality, whatever that response happens to be), then move forward with clarity and humility. 

In the end, this one is important. Our emotions are one of the “parts” of our whole. And, like a chain, we’ll only be as strong as the weakest link. A more emotionally whole you is a far healthier you- in every area. 

Emotional Wholeness involves recognizing your emotions, reading what they say before you react, and then responding to the world around you in a healthy + intentional way. 

I know. Way easier said than done. Especially, because… well… our emotions are involved, right?

 


 

Books referenced in this talk- 

Also…

See the following podcast episodes: 

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