In the counseling field we talk about emotional health with our clients often. It is usually one of the goals of a successful therapeutic process: achieving improved emotional health. As a therapist, I am open to discussing spiritual beliefs with my clients when they feel safe to broach the subject. A personal spiritual journey is a private matter, but can be influential on our value systems and global perspectives. I welcome the opportunity to openly discuss spirituality in sessions. What then, is emotionally healthy spirituality?
Simply stated, it is the integration of emotional health and spiritual maturity.
In 2009, our family was reeling from the Great Recession. We had purchased our family home at the top of the housing bubble and simultaneous to the market crashing, I received a pink slip from the school district where I worked. Everything we had saved and accumulated was imploding while our future was looking bleak. My friend said, “Your problem is that you perceive that your challenges are beyond God’s reach.”
She was right. God, as I knew Him at that time, wasn’t big enough to handle our problems. I needed a reality check. Thus, began my season of deeper internal work to look at my past, to mature spiritually, and to look at more closely at the causes and conditions of my behavioral reactions. Overall, if I was going to deepen my relationship with God and wholeheartedly surrender to His leading, I had to do some serious work on my internal system to become “right-sized”.
There are key components to emotionally healthy spirituality: looking to our past, being mindful in our present, and performing only for an audience of One.
In looking to our past, we can revisit some of those old behaviors that had once helped us successfully navigate prickly emotional situations, but seem to no longer be effective at managing dysregulated emotions. For example, a toddler throws herself to the floor in a fit, after repeatedly being told no, in order to get the candy bar he wants at the grocery store check-out line. Over time, if this strategy continues to bring about a desired outcome, a person can appear physically mature but still throw an emotional tantrum resembling the one displayed by a toddler. It takes courage and perseverance to question our true motives “and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”(2 Cor. 10:5). By doing such, we can consciously discard behaviors that interfere with living and loving well, have more freedom of choice in emotionally charged exchanges and remain true to our authentic selves.
There is a familiar phrase in recovery circles: “One Day at a Time.” The intent for the recovering person is to stay present in this period of 24 hours, or to become more mindful of this day. It is not helpful to get too far ahead of today. “Future-tripping”, creates anxiety because we become prone to solve problems that have been created, and exist only, in our imagination. The Bible speaks to this principle in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.“ Alternatively, if we ruminate over past betrayals, hurts, and rejections, we can get stuck in a victim mentality. (See previous paragraph for help in looking to our past).
Finally, “performing for an audience of One”. What this means is that one need only make choices to glorify and please Our Father in Heaven. In building our relationship with God, one can be more mindful of His guidance, or to stay still in His presence. He will lead, and we must make ourselves available to hear from Him. We find trouble when we make decisions based on what we assume other people would want us to say or do. Also, we experience low level anxiety when we choose to respond to life from a behind a mask because we lose our connection to God and His very special plan for us since we’ve become preoccupied with “keeping up appearances”, “keeping up an act”, and “keeping up with the Kardashians”!
In Luke 5, Peter finds his fishing expeditions to be consistently fruitless. In his faithful trust, Peter allows Jesus to lead his fishing excursions to unfamiliar grounds….out in the deep waters (Luke 5:4). The essence is that with Jesus in the lead, there would be an abundant boon. After surrendering to Jesus’ leadership, Jesus takes the fishermen out to deeper waters where the fish may be plentiful but the journey there may be treacherous. With Jesus in the lead, and our emotional health allowing for us to be “teachable”, and not “defensive”, Jesus can take us out in the deep and we will be buoyed by His grace, mercy, and strength.