Monday, November 15, 2010

Emotional Health, Part I

This is Part I of a two-part post on emotional health based on a paper that I wrote:

The book of Psalms is comprised of 150 chapters written by at least six authors and divided into five sections, or books. Within the book of Psalms we get a glimpse into the emotional and spiritual health and maturity of the authors. We see raw emotion, questioning of God, lamenting his absence, and rejoicing over his eventual victory. Warren Wiersbe writes that the Psalms reveal about the authors "their faith and doubts, their victories and failures, and their hopes for the glorious future God has promised."

A further and deeper glimpse at the Psalms allows us to see that the emotions expressed by the writers show the nature of the relationship that these writers had with God, and how these emotions played out within that relationship. We can draw lessons out from them in how we pursue lives of emotional maturity and successful spiritual leadership.

There are a number of Psalms that could be looked at to really get a good glimpse into the author's emotional state. I chose to look at Psalms 6, 22, and 42. Two of these were written by David, the King of Israel. David had his fair share of difficulty and heartache in his life. Some of it was self-induced, like his indiscretions with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband. Other difficulties, like King Saul's hatred of him, had nothing to do with anything that he had done other than to respond to God's call. A read through these Psalms will give you a glimpse into some of these strong emotional times that the authors experienced.

It seems that in the past, there was an emphasis for people, especially leaders, to ignore their emotions and to let their actions be guided by rational thought. To be emotional was to be flawed, imperfect, and no way for leaders to act. Within these Psalms, we see a contrary depiction of emotional maturity and spiritual leadership.

Openness to our emotions is the beginning of emotional maturity and successful spiritual leadership. The Psalmist in all three of the Psalms above is honest about the emotions that he has been experiencing. He is unashamed to speak of the tears that he has shed within his bed. He is sapped of his strength to the point of being incapacitated. It is essential to identify our emotions in order that we can rightly deal with them. Unattended, our emotions, especially negative ones, will not simply go away, but they will fester and build to the point of a catastrophic release which would be completely unhealthy. The psalmist allows his emotions to be seen and also identifies them, using words like anguish, downcast, and agony.

Peter Scazzero says that it is common, "to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly." For some reason, we have found a need within the church to hide our emotions and feelings, but the psalmist shows us that we need to be honest about them. Scazzero says we are not to blindly follow our feelings, but to acknowledge them as "part of the way God communicates to us." Emotions don't get in the way of rational thought, but they help to shape it and actually make us smarter.

From a leadership perspective, an honest display of emotion can be helpful as well. Mark McCloskey considers emotional realism as a key principle for effective leadership. As leaders, people will be watching us and will see the way that we handle emotion. If we refuse to even acknowledge that emotion, it can be detrimental to our leadership effectiveness. We need to acknowledge our situation, embrace it, and move through it, realizing that we are being observed by others.

We also see that the psalmist acts in humility as he comes before the Lord and seeks grace and mercy. In Psalm 6:1, he writes, "O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath." The psalmist understands that there are consequences for sin and instead of passing blame to someone else, he owns it and appeals to the Lord for mercy.

Part II...............Coming Soon!

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