When we think about church sermon topics and series, emotional health may not be the first thing that springs to mind. Many feel that a topic as deep and complex as emotions would be better left to mental health professionals. Others believe that emotional health doesn’t impact their spiritual lives in a significant way and is more fit as a topic for self-help books than a sermon series. It’s my belief that conversations about emotional health in the church are necessary and long overdue.
Emotions were given to us by God, the creator of the universe who is perfect, deliberate, and intentional in everything he does. You are not a mistake, and your emotions aren’t either. Emotions are a gift and a valuable tool for us to utilize. When the church neglects to teach on this profound topic, Christians default to following the lead of the secular world to find insight and direction.
It often surprises me how very ill-equipped most of us are in this area; how little we know. Along with my own healing, I’ve had the privilege of walking with women on their emotional healing journey and it saddens me that so many of us had to fumble our way through this journey on our own, with little direction. The fallout can have a deep and lasting impact on ourselves and the people around us and can create a ripple effect for generations to come.
Emotions and emotional health are a deep, complex topic. The journey to emotional health can be very personal. But if there were just three things about emotions that I could share with you, it would be the following.
1. Emotions are an integral part of who we are.
God created us as physical, spiritual, and emotional beings. It’s common for us to try to isolate and compartmentalize, but God made it so that these three aspects of who we are work in tandem with one another. They influence and affect one another in many ways.
In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, author Peter Scazzero writes, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” When we think of emotional health in this light, we see that emotions aren’t something that can be ignored or given free reign. If we want to be everything God has called us to be, we must recognize that focusing on our emotional lives becomes more than just a nice idea; it becomes a necessity.
2. Emotions are a gift and tool from God
Confusion surrounds the topic of emotions. The words and phrases we use to discuss emotions are very telling. We speak about “handling” our emotions as though we were trying wrangle an out-of-control beast. We talk about “managing” emotions as if it were another line item to be checked off. Many people vacillate between ignoring and “stuffing” their emotions, or allowing their emotions to run unchecked. Neither option serves us well.
Our emotions are the gift of a God who desires good things for us; a God who calls and equips us. I believe our emotions are a blessing to be appreciated and a tool to be utilized in the calling he’s set out for us.
Brene Brown, a prolific writer, and speaker on the subject of emotional health likens emotions to indicator lights on a dashboard. They aren’t to be ignored, but neither are they meant to run our lives. They are tools to be used for our benefit and to the benefit of those around us.
Emotions point us in a direction. Positive emotions can draw us into deeper connection with others, encourage us to pursue our callings, care for others, and broaden our horizons. Negative emotions can signal a true danger or a misalignment in our understanding of God, Scripture, ourselves, or others.
3. Our Past Experiences Influence our Present Emotions
Our past relationships and experiences, particularly in childhood and adolescence, play a large part in the development of our current emotions. Even in healthy, stable, God-fearing families, a child’s every need cannot be met. The child learns coping mechanisms that often end up following them into adulthood.
For example, if not processed in a healthy way, a terrifying childhood experience with a dog can leave a person with a faulty “indicator light.” This person develops a lifelong fear of dogs. If the experience had been processed effectively, there would instead be a feeling of caution and respect that would benefit the individual. The lingering emotion of fear, so many years after the original event, indicates that there is an emotional wound that needs to be evaluated and addressed. Every emotion is valuable, but not every emotion can be taken at face value. Following our feelings back to their origins, and the exploration that follows is a key to emotional maturity and growth.
Using the Gift of Emotions
Understanding and using our emotions in a God-honoring way can seem like a monumental task. This process is a life-long journey unique to every individual. It starts with us recognizing the importance of emotional health and the impact emotionally healthy Christians have on those around them.
Thankfully, emotional growth and maturity is a topic that is gaining popularity in the church. With more conversations on emotions comes a broader range of resources. It’s becoming easier to gain ground in this area and receive the healing and restoration that God offers to us.
Psalm 147:3 tells us, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” As the hands and feet of Christ, we can only offer that which we ourselves have received. The Church has long been a beacon of hope and healing to the world. Let’s take back authority, lead the way, and move forward with confidence into what he has for us so that we can then offer the same healing to our loved ones and the world around us.
Author: Jennifer Nolen
Jennifer is a wife and mom of two sons. She and her husband, Ben, lead the Mission Coffee Team at Faith Community church and serve as small group leaders as well.