Moderator’s column: Emotionally healthy spirituality

Some years ago, I went to a Peter Scazzero seminar. He said something that has stayed with me: “You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.

“Spiritual maturity is holistic; it involves the mind, heart, will, spirit and body.”

Much of my early training in ministry emphasised an intellectual maturity, growing in thinking and understanding; read lots of books, write smart essays and you will slowly get there. I soon discovered the poverty  of this narrow-minded focus.

I began to realise that John Calvin was right when he wrote, “Our wisdom consists of almost entirely two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

In other words, we need to know ourselves that we may know God. Augustine prayed, “Grant Lord that I may know myself that I may know thee.”In the early days of my faith development I was taught that feelings  are unreliable and not to be trusted. They go up and down like a yoyo and therefore they are the last thing we should be attending to.

Daniel Golemen, author of Emotional Intelligence, defines emotions as, “Referring to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act.”

By this, I think he means that God created human beings to feel a wide range of emotions; anger, sadness, fear, enjoyment, love, surprise, disgust and remorse. We are foolish if we ignore our emotions, for God is a  God who feels – and has made us to feel.

In Genesis 6 the Lord grieved, in Exodus 20 God is jealous, in Isaiah 42 God cries out, in Jeremiah 31 God is angry. Moreover, we see the fullest expression of spiritual maturity in Jesus who wept, was overwhelmed  with sorrow and was full of joy – not of course all at the same time.

The call of discipleship includes experiencing our feelings, reflecting on our feelings and thoughtfully responding to our feelings under the lordship of Christ. God can speak to us through a knot in the stomach, a  rush of adrenaline, intuition or an intense emotion. The reality is that often our bodies know our feelings before our minds.

One of the challenges we have is to be honest with our feelings, honest before God and ourselves.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, used to speak of the importance of maintaining a balance between our reason (intellect) and feelings (heart). Being emotionally healthy is about having a core  commitment to do God’s will, follow Scripture and seek wise counsel. The issue is not that we blindly follow our feelings, but that we acknowledge our feelings and learn from them as we seek to be the person God  wants us to be.

The Christian calling is not just a call to care for our neighbour, but also in healthy ways to care for ourself. We cannot be authentically Christian without this. My prayer for the church is for a    community of emotionally mature believers.

Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA

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