Is my emotional health one of God's primary concerns?

Emotions are both interesting and puzzling. By design, as those who have been created in the image of God, the Lord has fashioned us in such a way as to give us emotions and the capacity to feel empathy and sympathy. Admittedly, I have sometimes wondered if life would be a little simpler if we weren't as emotional as we are. But the capacity for emotional expression truly is a gift from God that can serve to reflect His compassionate heart.

How emotionally expressive are you? Would you like to be more emotional or less emotional? Several years ago, I was speaking with a friend who doesn't like to express his emotions. In fact, he does his best not to convey emotion unless he is absolutely forced to. In the midst of discussing why this was, it started to become clear to me that he was emotionally damaged. Because of the harsh environment he once lived in, he considered emotions to be a dangerous facet of human expression, so he tried his best to avoid them.

What about you? Would you consider yourself emotionally healthy or emotionally damaged? Do you think the Lord wants you to express your emotions or keep them under wraps? How can our emotions serve as a reflection of the heart of Christ?

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
— John 11:28-37, ESV

I. Jesus expressed emotion in a healthy manner

The more I read the gospels, the more likable Jesus becomes to me. Throughout the gospels, He gives us glimpses of how to love, lead, teach, celebrate, and show compassion. In John 11, Jesus also shows us how to grieve. It would be hard to read this account from the Gospel of John without feeling some sense of emotion.

What kind of emotions do you tend to experience when someone you love passes away? When I was in eighth grade, I got into the habit of keeping a journal. I would write out a recap of my day, most nights of the week. That February, my grandfather passed away, and I can still remember the journal entry I wrote that evening. I don't remember everything I said, but I do remember the fact that after I finished writing it, I noticed that the ink was smearing on the page because I was writing through tears that kept dripping from my face.

John's gospel tells us about some of Christ's close friends during His earthly ministry. It appears He had a strong friendship with three siblings; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus became ill, and when the sisters sent word of his illness to Jesus, they referred to Lazarus as, "he whom you love."

So Jesus went to the village of Bethany to be with these siblings. By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in a tomb for four days. There was much grieving, and people from all around had come to help console the grieving sisters. And even though Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from death, He grieved and wept with them as well. Why?

Scripture tells us that God grieves. He grieves with compassion toward us. He grieves over the effects of our rebellion against Him. He grieves over the natural and supernatural consequences of our sin. And in this portion of Scripture, we can see Jesus weeping because He loved this family and was grieved by their sorrow. Moments later, He raised Lazarus from death, but before there would be celebration, Jesus mourned with those who mourned.

This is a healthy expression of grief, and a moment in time we can certainly learn from.

II. It isn't wise to deny yourself the freedom to express emotion

O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
— Psalm 3:1-4, ESV

When you take the risk to love someone, you also take the risk to be hurt by them. I'm rarely hurt by people I don't have a relationship with. I'm frequently hurt by those I have welcomed into my life. I'm sure if you took a quick assessment of those who have broken your heart most severely, you would probably be able to create a list of family members or friends you allowed to become as close as family.

Psalm 3 is an emotionally expressive psalm. It's a psalm written by an emotionally hurting father regarding the rebellious deeds of his son, whom he loved. David wrote this psalm when he was fleeing from his son, Absalom, who was attempting to overthrow his leadership. David loved his son. He even tried to protect his son's life, knowing that Absalom's men wouldn't have hesitated to take his. In the midst of this painful ordeal, David tells us that he cried out loud to the Lord, and the Lord answered him. He didn't deny himself the freedom to express emotion, and he felt particularly safe to express it to God.

Have you ever observed what happens to a person when they won't let themself express emotion? In many respects, they can start to drive themself crazy. It's like they begin living in a pretend world, and instead of giving themself the freedom to utilize healthy emotional outlets, their grief starts to come out in maladaptive ways. Sometimes it looks like anger. Sometimes it looks like fake happiness. Often it is expressed in either extreme busy-ness or extreme lethargy. That's why it isn't wise to deny ourselves the freedom to express emotion when it needs to be expressed.

Several years ago, I learned that a friend from my youth had passed away. Tragically, he had committed suicide, and I was working at our church when I received the news. I was stunned, but I made the decision to drive several hours to be at the viewing a few days later. Not surprisingly, his family was in great pain, but they were trying their best to hold it all together. Then, as I walked up to my friend's dad, he lost it. I hugged him, he put his head on my shoulder, and wept for what felt like several minutes. I could tell that was something he needed to express, and I'm glad the Lord prompted him to do so. It's healthy and wise to give ourselves that kind of permission.

III. Balance your emotions with an accurate understanding of your nature

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
— Jeremiah 17:9, ESV

Because we struggle with sin, we're sometimes prone to go to extremes. Instead of expressing emotion in a balanced and healthy way, we are often prone to become over-expressive or over-reliant on our emotions. Sometimes, we make the mistake of trusting our own emotions more than we trust the word of God.

We all know people who consistently get themselves in trouble because the decisions they make in life are primarily guided by how they feel in any given moment. In those moments, Scripture isn't consulted, logic isn't factored in, and advice isn't sought. The end result is chaos and regret.

The moment we trusted in Christ, we were given a new nature. It's a nature that doesn't sin. It's a nature that listens to the voice of the Holy Spirit. But, for the time being, we also have our old nature. Our old nature loves to sin. Our old nature tries to ignore the voice of God. Our old nature is not healthy, nor can it be trusted.

In the book of Jeremiah, we're reminded that the Lord blesses those who trust in Him. We're also taught that those who trust their own hearts are setting themselves up for failure because our hearts, apart from Christ, are desperately sick and can easily deceive us.

I was listening to the radio the other day while driving with my family, and a Sheryl Crow song came on that said, "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad." What do you think about that counsel? Or what about the classic Roxette song that advised us to, "Listen to your heart, there's nothing else you can do." Based on what we know about our old nature, is that good advice?

Emotionally healthy Christians have a biblical understanding of their nature, and they balance their emotions with that understanding.

IV. Emotional transparency can be a powerful tool in Christ's hands

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed.  Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
— Luke 8:34-39, ESV

Among the people Jesus healed and helped, there were some who were considered "impossible cases" by the crowds of observers. One of those seemingly impossible cases was a demon-possessed man who lived in the region of the Gerasenes. This man typically wore no clothes and he lived among the tombs. When people would try to bind the man with shackles, he would break the chains and escape. But when Jesus sailed to the region, He cast many demons out of the man and healed him.

As word spread about what Jesus did, people came to see Him. To their surprise, they saw the formerly demon-possessed man peacefully sitting at Christ's feet, fully clothed, and in his right mind. Seeing this man healed clearly convinced this crowd that Jesus had great spiritual power, but that also seemed to terrify them just as much, if not more, than experiencing the man when he was possessed. So they asked Jesus to leave, and the man Jesus healed begged to go with Him. But Jesus gave that man a mission. His job was to remain in his home area and testify to the goodness of God. The man listened and we're told that he went throughout the whole city, unashamedly telling others what Jesus had done for him.

What has Jesus done for us, and how transparent are we willing to be to make His goodness and kindness known? I'm grateful to be able to tell you that He has rescued me from allegiance to my old idols of worldliness. He has given me hope beyond my circumstances, joy in the midst of my trials, comfort when I'm feeling grieved, and company when I'm feeling alone. He's also gradually given me confidence during the course of my life to express that openly, whereas at one time I would have been hesitant to do so and fearful of being labeled a fanatic. But as the man Jesus healed in Luke 8 demonstrated, emotional transparency can be a powerful tool in Christ's hands.

Few people have had the privilege to preach the gospel to as many people as Billy Graham. Why do you suppose so many people were willing to listen to him speak about Jesus during the course of his life? I believe that a big part of what made him credible was his willingness to be emotionally transparent. Graham once said, "The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' or 'Help me.'" Again, I believe emotional transparency can be a helpful tool in Christ's hands.

Just as Christ can empower us to be spiritually and physically healthy, so too can He make us emotionally healthy. Our capacity for emotion demonstrates the fact that we were created in His image, and He regularly uses our capacity for emotion to testify to His heart and glorify His name.

© John Stange, 2019