Unhealthiness is rampant in our social and political discourse. I am not referring to physical health, as many of us are fully invested in eating healthy and exercising. Nor am I referring to intellectual health, because we love being “woke” and enlightening others about the social injustices that plague our world today. Even in regards to mental health, I have heard countless people speak on the value of addressing trauma and developing self-care practices to help cope with difficulties. The unhealthiness that I am referring to is something that impacts varying aspects of our lives, including our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. If left unchecked, emotional unhealthiness can damage other parts of our health long term, including our physical, social, and spiritual health.
In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature, author Peter Scazzero emphasizes emotional health as key to spiritual maturity. In particular, he speaks of being conscious of one’s feelings, understanding one’s self (including triggers and weaknesses), and being vulnerable as key components of good emotional health. Unfortunately, so many of us dismiss feelings and emotions as irrational aspects of who we are. Furthermore, often times in many churches, we are told that our emotional feelings of depression, doubt, and fear, are sinful thoughts that can be solved simply through Scripture and prayer. In our public discourse, we are taught to demonize people who think and act differently from us and rather than merely disagree with and challenge others, we resort to becoming disagreeable beings. Our aversion to naming our feelings and emotions and our antagonistic nature toward others is a sign of emotional immaturity, which only makes us more emotionally unhealthy.
So many of us are ardent believers and followers of Christ who are called to be advocates and prophets in a world baptized into the sins of apartheid, slavery, and imperialism. Yet, no matter how sincere our hearts, how sharp our minds, and how zealous our actions, without attention to and intention toward our emotional health, so many of our good works and thoughts can be filled with bitterness, destructive perfectionism, and emotional coldness.
There are three crucial tips to moving toward emotional maturity and healthiness that can result in a deeper spiritual maturity, that will in return result in more committed and whole prophetic kingdom work.
Observe daily offices and the Sabbath
Since I was a teenager, I have consistently practiced morning devotionals that include Scripture, meditation, and prayer as a way to connect with God. What I have found, however, is that while morning devotionals are necessary and essential, it is easy to go throughout the rest of my day forgetting about God, and letting the difficulties and frustrations of my day consume me. This is true particularly with my work around racial equity. This year, I learned of the practice of observing daily office, which I learned from the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and has been practiced by monks and other Christians for centuries. The daily office consists of intentional times throughout the day where you spend time with God, even if it is for a few minutes. The purpose of these daily offices, which can consist of Scripture, prayer, or just silence, is to reground yourself with God and invite Him into different parts and aspects of your day. In reading the Psalms, you read King David sharing with God his feelings and difficulties in different aspects of his daily life. Along with that, having a day of rest allows you to let go and rest before God, which will positively impact your spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health. Learning to invite and witness God in varying aspects of your life will help provide and allow emotional healthiness in the midst of difficult work.
Remember that character matters
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, late author Stephen Covey writes about the transition from the character ethic in the 19th century to the personality ethic in the 20th century. In particular, Covey speaks about how in the 20th century, American society became more impressed and in love with the charismatic personality in leadership and rather than having expectations for good character and decision-making in a potential leader, many people became more demanding of those who exhibited exciting and motivational personalities. It is easy, in an extroverted society, to be more moved and motivated to consume personalities that appeal to people’s hearts and minds externally with powerful world play and engaging gestures.
While personal appearance and style has some value, without an emphasis on character they are superficial. In other words, it is essential, in order to be fully spiritually mature and emotionally healthy, that you are working on building your character and how you behave internally. Furthermore, it is essential that you are always seeking to grow and develop, not just for the purpose of improving your image or your knowledge, but improving your behavior and character. So many leaders of God have fallen and been corrupted and many of them had never really focused on improving their character, including upholding integrity, sexual morality, being a good listener, and handling conflict healthily. Without character, you can fool others with great energy and moving passion, but inside you will remain corrupted and broken.
Disagree without being disagreeable
Conflict is inevitable as people are complex beings. Yet so often, we treat disagreement of ideas and handling of events as grounds to disassociate and disfellowship with one another. While there are certainly healthy reasons to break ties and end relationships, it is also important, in many cases, to be able to maintain a passion and dedication to a cause, an idea, or a perspective while still loving and valuing the stance and position of a brother or sister in Christ, or a respected opponent. Rather than seeking to be fully disagreeable with someone, to the point of not wanting any fellowship or discussion, we must learn to healthily disagree.
Emotional health is an important part of our existence that must be attended to, treated, and cared for. So often, we pride ourselves on caring for the emotions and conditions of others through our activism, service, and organizing work while ignoring and undermining the state of our own emotional health. In the midst of doing important work that God has called us to do, we remain bitter, morally flawed, and disconnected with God because we mask our faith solely through our social justice work.
As a person who has been called by God through my vocation to engage in social justice and service work, I have been convicted of the emotional immaturities and gaps in my own life, including my lack of focus and investment in prayer, my unrepentant character flaws, and my insistence on internally demonizing and shunning people who I deem to be enemies. Over the past few years, God has exposed my emotional pitfalls. Through Scripture, sermons, other testimonies, and prayer, I have begun working toward better emotional health and maturity that will only enhance the work I do for social justice and service toward others. Without good emotional health, the good work we do can be empty and incomplete, lacking the true conviction and presence of the Holy Spirit. The work we do for others should look and feel different from the well-intentioned service work in our broader society because of the conscious Presence of God in our lives and how that impacts the way we engage.
Jonathan Holmes is a Christian who has advocated for racial justice in Chicago for over two years. He has written about the intersection of race, class and Christian faith for multiple magazines and is an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction. Follow Jonathan on LinkedIn and on Twitter.