Is There a Theology of Emotions? What Does God's Word Teach About Mental Health?
You may listen to the 12 minute audio right here on the website by clicking on the Pod Player for the episode title below.
*Find all episodes in this Season 2 Emotions Series as on the page list here - Emotions Series
We are beginning this new series now on Emotions, Mental Health, and the Gospel Life, and yes, there is a theology of emotions - at least there is one in development. There is a field of study called Practical Theology, of which Christian psychology and Christian counseling are subsets of the field.
So we are starting this series on Emotions. I've been working on what I've felt led to share; and I have come to realize that I need to be careful with my words. Some of the topics of this series are really best held in conversation back and forth, one or one, or in small group. It's not really best for me to be on one side of the internet and the reader or listener on the other - because too much could be mispoken or misunderstood.
The reason for this series topic is this:
The purpose of Gospel Life Learning is to provide resources to help others draw near to God, and share his nearness with others. That is the mission purpose of this ministry. Here is where the ministry and the topic of emotions comes together. When we are having difficulty with our emotions – and that can include both over-reacting to our emotions or denying or stuffing our emotions – either end of it – then that can create a barrier to our level of closeness with God, and difficulties with our emotions can cause us to be ineffective in being a representative of Christ and a true source of help and support or encouragement to those around us.
The next few topics are coming from two foundational statements:
1) Our emotions are given to us by God.
2) Emotions in and of themselves are neutral signals; and we are to handle and steward these signals well and in a way that honors God. In doing so, we also grow closer to God as we rely on his Spirit to guide us.
With that understanding, I am really just going to scratch the surface of this topic of emotions and the Bible, or psychology and Christian thought. I want to discuss it though, not so much for just thinking about it or pondering it. I have a very practical reason, and it's this:
So the first reason is that I hope to spread some awareness about how to identify when you, yourself, or when your loved ones, are having a mental health or emotional problem. Because when these types of problems go unidentified and unsupported, things typically get worse and not better on their own.
The second reason is that so many people have a misunderstanding of what counseling is or what therapy is or even what medications for depression or anxiety are available and what those medications do. There is so much help available, but people have all kinds of misconceptions about what that help is or what it looks like or what is involved; so they continue to suffer difficulties and setbacks and struggles in their lives, when they just need someone to come alongside them and give them some direction and counsel.
For example, I think a lot of people think that going to see a counselor or a therapist is going to be something like in the 1950's where they are lying on the couch and they have to tell all about every embarrassing thing or traumatic thing or hurtful thing that ever happened to them. But no! Psychoanalysis like that has been discredited and it is not evidenced based and that is not what happens at all.
Part of what I want to do with these blog teachings is inform you of some biblical perspectives of identifying and managing emotions, as well as informing you of resources that are available. Again, I am doing this because I have come to realize that many people live in constant patterns of low level distress, irritability, anger, or bitterness, anger, anxiety, or depression and sometimes they don't even know it. They don't even realize that there are supports available, or strategies that they could be implementing, to help them feel better, and live better. Many people don't even realize they have an emotional or mental health issue, because, it's just the way they have always been. And it was also the way their parents and sisters or brothers were too. I hear that a lot. “This is just how we are.” I just want to say – the way you are is broken, and you don't have to be broken. And I say that with all humility because the truth is – we are all broken and out of place in this world. I'm broken. I had a little emotional melt down earlier this week over some upcoming unknowns and potential changes in my life. I honestly didn't handle my emotions well at first – I started by expressing my angst to and towards another person (ok. It was my husband. Who else would it be?) But anyway, I started off handling my emotions wrong towards my husband – but I did catch myself after several minutes. Even though it was not a perfect implementation of emotional stewardship; I did catch myself and was able to pause and make some adjustments using some of the counseling and psychological tools that I have learned – so in the end I was able to realize where I had veered off course and was able to apologize and converse about what my real concerns and fears were. However, years ago – I would not have even realized that I was having a problem. I might have thought that someone else was causing a problem for me, and that I was fully justified for expressing myself in any manner in which what I needed to say needed to be said. See, I had a problem, and I didn't even know it.
Let me give you another example, which is actually quite common. If you experience feelings of just wishing you could escape or disappear; or even wishing for death in order to escape the stresses of your life – you likely have a clinical level of depression. Even if you just think about it in general terms but you know you would never take any action towards hurting yourself; you still have a thought issue that could be helped if you knew the best strategies or have a qualified coach or counselor to help you. It may be the way you have always been...going even way back to your childhood – but this person would still have a cognitive/behavioral condition that doesn't have to be that way. It can be helped. Psychologists would consider that type of thinking as low levels of suicidal ideation. It may not get better on its own; and you've been struggling and managing, and you don't realize that it's a condition and there are methods to help.
We have done a very, very poor job in our society in teaching people about what good mental health is; about when mental health problems start to creep in; and about ways to bolster our mental health and prevent problems. We don't teach resiliency, and for most people it's not something that is easily figured out on our own. Sometimes, if we notice our issues early enough, we can benefit from self-help reading or podcasts or workshops. Other times, when that is not enough to be effective and to maintain improvement, we need a coach or counselor to help us along.
Again, the vast majority of people, and yes – even the majority of Christians - don't even realize that they are living with a condition that is hampering their ability to live “abundantly” in spirit. When I say “abundantly” in the spirit; I mean living with more peace, joy, contentment, with a focus on the good things in their lives, as opposed to living in lower levels of irritability, resentment, sadness, or a generally “downcast soul.” Remember that when we are living and walking with the Spirit of Christ, we are able to have peace and contentment no matter the circumstances. Let's not forget Paul who said, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Then the next verse he says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” That is Phillipians 4:11-13, and yes, that is the context of the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That verse is taken out of context quite a bit and used in a manner as if to say, “I can rely on Christ to help me reach my own lofty goals!” However, in context, that is not what Paul is saying. He is saying, I have learned that by relying on the Spirit of Christ, right? - Because Paul did not have an in-person friendship with Jesus and never did. Paul was not one of the 12 disciples. He began walking with Jesus through the Spirit of Christ, just like we do. And Paul was saying I have learned that is the secret of being content no matter what is happening around me or to me. Pretty powerful stuff.
So I'm closing off now as this is just an introduction and I will have another post and audio up each week with more. In the meantime I want you to think about the most recent time you got really upset about something. A time when you either got angry, or were very irritable or aggravated, or just upset. Or as we used to say, a recent time when you were “ticked off.” Have something in mind for our next upcoming sessions or lessons - because you will have a chance to learn and develop a few strategies for those types of situations. In the mean time, remember James 4:8, when you draw near to God, he will draw near to you and in 2 Chronicles 6: The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth, looking for those whose hearts are turned towards Him, so that He may strongly support them.
*Find all episodes in this Season 2 Emotions Series as on the page list here - Emotions Series
If you would like to learn simple, practical ways to walk with God every single day, then you would really enjoy Closer to God: Simple Methods, Starting Today
If you need motivation to eat healthier or lose weight while also growing
closer to God, then you would enjoy Weight Loss for Christians, An
If you want to learn more deeply and fully about what Jesus taught, then you would enjoy He Called: 56 Daily Studies and Reflections with the Words of Christ.
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Author's other books can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/Sherry-Elaine-Evans