Learning about emotions can heal both mind and soul
For twenty-five years I was a forward-looking General Medical Practitioner [GP], pioneering counselling and family therapy in primary care settings. I organised a neighbourhood befriending scheme drawn from the pastoral visiting teams of all the local churches. My wife Marian, also a GP with her professional name Langford, and I were joint Observers for the Pentecostal Churches of the British Isles on the Churches Council for Health and Healing. We were involved in the charismatic movement's ‘Christians in Caring Professions’ (CiCP). On top of all this, for twenty years we ran our home with helpers as an extended Christian family, an extension of our church life, taking in people recovering from various life crises while they sought spiritual and mental healing with a range of church and secular agencies. In all these settings we were exploring, with God, how the medical model of healing and the Church’s approach to spiritual healing related to each other. A book telling the story is available from www.emotionallogicshop.com called "Building Bridges of Grace: The strength and resilience of an emotionally intelligent Church".
So, given this background, I have a question for you. Why do most Christians worry that their emotions separate them from God, and, as a result, often become afraid to be honest with each other? It seems strange when we proclaim ours is a God of love, who walked – and walks now – among our humanity, full of grace to forgive and of Truth for us to stand firmly upon.
It may be, as we discovered, because each of us struggles at some level to reconcile two vastly different ways of seeing health and healing. Marian and I have managed to untangle these over time, largely because of the way we saw life unfold daily in the prayer-soaked household community of our extended Christian Family. We came to see that the medical model seeks healing FROM PROBLEMS, while in God's healing Family the Christian model of healing is healing INTO WHOLENESS.
Wholeness is not an individual state, surprisingly. It is a communion; it is a quality of shared living, as if in a growing family with the perfect Dad and an older brother who we can love and respect and feel safe with. A whole person is incomplete alone.
Cure and healing are different
Healing from problems, and healing into wholeness, are completely compatible, but they should not be confused with each other. To distinguish them clearly, I shall talk about ‘cure from problems’, and reserve the greater term 'healing' for the personal growth and development needed for each of us to join the shared life of family or community, of fellowship.
Jesus asks each of us even now, is it easier to forgive, or to heal? In God's kingdom the two are closely related. Healing mentally and physically can follow forgiveness of others or self, because our physical wellbeing is also socially affected - by stress, or by its opposite - a sense of belonging. That is why the shared meal is so important for community or family life. A fully healed church or family will not only have found ways to reconcile the tensions within, but then also to reach out for the healing of others by welcoming in strangers and nomads, widows and spiritual orphans. These will, of course, forever seem to disrupt an established way of life with by their unpredictability. That is why Church life, and personal development within families, is a continuous movement of healing, in which there may be moments also of prayerfully curative intervention.
And here we come to the crunch. The methods of curing from problems, and healing into wholeness, are different. In the Church, however, we commonly confuse them. We try to overcome everything with curative spiritual approaches that are aimed at freeing the individual from problems. There is a whole pastoral theology concerned with ‘cure of souls’, taking away the problem of sin by sacraments, or by ministry with prayerful declarations of faith. I am NOT speaking badly of these long-established and genuinely curative spiritual approaches. I am saying that this is only half the story. Without the other half, the Church may always be recurrently sick, relying on interventions for cure.
The problem I see looming now is that NHS clinical psychology has, in its search for cures for mental illness, become very ‘cognitive’. It is focused on the brain of the individual, and so is far less concerned or equipped to heal the broken heart and the broken community. The Church is at risk of following in its footsteps. Did God create by intelligent design (a cognitive picture of God), or does the living God create and sustain and restore life now by love (a heart picture of God)?
Gifts and fruit of Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is active not only by curative interventions gifted into ‘our’ world, but also by forming from within each person’s heart the loving character of Christ, so that our lives bear fruit FOR OTHERS. Your inner transfiguration and mine benefits the wholesome community of all GOD’S kingdom. The other half of this whole story concerns how people who have known a measure of cure then have to learn how to preserve their new-found freedom in a new way of living with others. After cure, they heal into a lifestyle that must preserve the cure, even when pressured and stressed by a socially corrupting neighbourhood, or family, or school, or workplace. Unhealthy levels of stress can sap the benefit of cure
Marian and I had found, however, that understanding the GODLY purposes of unpleasant emotions can build community in an extended household. EMOTIONAL HONESTY then reduced stress. People felt more connected and heard. Perhaps the same could be true to restore a church? People grew stronger in our home, and later in the whole community of our church, when they understood that their unpleasant emotions did not separate them from God or each other, but led to reconciliation if openly discussed, so that the underlying values could be named. Self-respect and empathy increased. Anxiety, depression and loneliness decreased.
Living in a healing community is a deeply emotional process
Barriers to relationship commonly arise from hidden grief. Forgiveness is one way to restore from grief, and we developed 'Emotional Logic' as a way to break forgiveness into small, practical, achievable steps using lifelong learning methods - as preparation for prayer or therapy. Many people associate grief only with bereavement, or with a trauma that has spoilt life. I have been surprised how few make the connection between love itself and grieving. Love, Godly love, is made known both as joy, on gathering together, and equally as grief on separation, brokenness or misunderstanding. The many unpleasant emotions of grieving– shock, anxious denial, anger, guilty self-questioning, yearning, riskiness, depression, sadness – all arise also with daily setbacks and disappointments. They arise as people’s valued connections, their many loves, get challenged during times of change.
Emotions all affect the body’s chemistry, and so can deeply affect physical and mental health if they accumulate. Unpleasant though they are, grief emotions are God-given and are in-built AS PART OF LOVE. They are there to move us in unusual ways to re-connect with others when change has pushed us out of a comfort zone. Moving in grief constructively, with learned insight, can eventually restore relationship, so that joy is thus restored to love. To learn how our unpleasant emotions each have useful purposes to this goal is liberating and empowering. It can lead to praise of God as people grow stronger together, through adjusting better to their traumas.
When these powerful emotions get twisted into ‘whirlpools of emotion’, however, people lose this insight into their emotional world, and disconnect socially from other people. Their thoughts run away with them, and inner tension builds up into states that can be diagnosed as common mental illnesses. Healing, not cure, from this type of inner distress, tension or confusion happens by acknwledging that God's kingdom includes the EMOTIONAL DYNAMICS OF GRIEF. Our Father in heaven grieves for us, and for the lost world he so loves! People feel heard when their emotions are acknowledged; and that is true for our heavenly Father and our immanent older Brother in Christ also. When we learn to be emotionally honest with each other and with God, we shall KNOW that we belong… Together we are stronger.
Emotions are not problems; they are part of God's solution.
Emotion is you ‘shaping up’ physically for action or withdrawal in the shared world. E-motion = energy in motion. Learning 'Emotional Logic' is a way to bring your reasoning and your emotions into a creative partnership that moves your adjustment process along in partnership with others constructively. Some innovative card-sorting tools enable you to map your emotional landscape (your inscape) in a way that you can share with a tutor, or a partner or friend, so to gain better insight safely into the emotional roots of each other’s reactions. They open up informed conversations that can start to resolve relational tensions anywhere – home, church, school, work, neighbourhood, and nation.
You will also find it easier to see how Jesus’ emotional intelligence appears in scripture, so that the humanity of our loving, wise God becomes even more accessible. It is there in the ways he shares his truth IN GRACE, with the blind, the trapped, and the broken-hearted.
You can learn how to use these tools free of charge on the Internet, and arrange to learn from a tutor for a fee how to move life along. Self-harming behaviour, recurring depressions, mood swings, anxiety and panics... Perhaps these are not mental illnesses, but grief in a society that has forgotten that people grieve, and has lost the language skills to turn that emotion to its Godly useful purposes for growth and healing? Anything that you learn from the web, however, you will need to put into practice in learning groups with others, in church home groups, in friendships or with work colleagues, or it will remain just cognitive, and never heal the heart of the problem.
Login at www.eltcollege.com to re-learn this deeper way to heal. The method is called Emotional Logic – but be warned… It will change you from within. It will enable you to talk differently from your heart with others. You will never be the same again. Do you want to be healed?