27 May 2016

Why Emotional Health Matters (Not Just Spiritual)

There are a lot important ways to take care of yourself.
We've all heard about the importance of regular exercise and eating healthy. The importance of regular self-care not only helps relieve stress, but is good to just relax and do things you enjoy.
For Christians, we believe the importance of a continual, growing relationship with God; nourishing it through prayer, service, worship, and reading the Bible.

Sometimes I think in the church there is an underlying message that your spiritual health is more important than your emotional health. No, not all the time. But for me, over the years I have encountered that mindset or people who firmly hold to that idea. Not to mention I think I used to have that perspective myself.

In my early 20's when I started getting back into my faith, I thought if I did more of the "spiritual stuff" I was a better Christian. Turns out that mindset just made me crabby and judgmental of other people. I was more about the constant doing, instead of being present. Around the same time, I was struggling emotionally. I found myself seeing doctors and talking about anxiety and depression (while at the same time couldn't explain or understand why I felt that way). I bounced around to a variety of different counselors as well as different medicines.

Over those years, there were messages I picked up about emotional health vs. spiritual health. Somehow I came to believe it was more important to be spiritual (or do all the spiritual things). People or counselors would imply or directly say to me that if I just "prayed more" or "did these spiritual practices" it would alleviate my emotional turmoil. That is always a lie.

Instead it masked the real issues I need to work through and drove me on to become a better, holier Christian by my own measure and striving. It left me drained, tired, confused, and frustrated.

Mental illness and emotional health are issues that touch many, many lives today. And while it has gotten better, the Church needs to continue (and get better at) being a voice for a balanced life where our spiritual health is as important as our emotional health. We humans are both body and soul, and the whole package matters greatly to God.

The way our emotions affect and interact with our spiritual life matter.

Hell I think everybody needs to go to counseling at some point in life. We ALL need it. Because we all have wounds, baggage, and brokenness that needs healing. Our emotional health affects and plays into our spiritual health. To prioritize one over the other is dangerous and risky.

In my life right now, my counselor is an incredible blessing to me. She is challenging and stretching me to grow and face wounds or issues that I have stuffed down. Coming out of a divorce is a good a time as any to face my "stuff."

When you do it with grace and kindness to yourself, it can be a deeply healing and life-giving experience. That is how it has been for me as I begin to move on with my life.

There are so many wonderful resources I have come across in the last few months that are helping me heal and grow my understanding of what emotionally healthy spirituality looks like:

  • THIS BOOK. Game changer. Eye Opening. Really dives into the reasons and understanding of why our emotional health matters and is important as our spiritual health. 

  • This and this book are ones I am actually currently working through with my counselor. It is helping me understand and process my divorce, but also look back and name/recognize things I never understood about myself. Pia Mellody (the author) is a gifted counselor and writer, I'd recommend any of her books or workbooks.

  • Boundaries. This book has helped me better understand relationships in my life, and learn a lot about myself. It has changed how I look at relationships, but especially how to handle unhealthy or unsafe ones.

Have you ever encountered this perspective from other people or the church?
Do you have other resources that help you stay emotionally and spiritually healthy?

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  1. Patty, thank you for this humbling and insightful post! I agree, there is definitely a tendency out there to think that focusing more on spiritual stuff will automatically erase any other problems or issues. In fact, I cringe when people will go off about something and then conclude that, "Well, I guess I just have to pray more." Uh, not exactly. Prayer is good, but we can't neglect our other emotional needs and healing! This doesn't entirely relate, but have you read one of Simcha Fisher's latest articles about self-care? I think it was in the National Catholic register. It's really good, and somewhat points to the importance of looking at the whole person and his or her needs.

    1. I have a friend who shirks at the thought of seeking counseling or medication or even talking to a doctor about what seems to be depression. She always comes back to that same idea, "I guess I need to pray more." So much anti-faith information is out there, and I can see why she hesitates. Thanks for sharing these resources.

  2. I totally agree. It seems like a tug of war between people who believe that emotions are basically a weakness that hinders spirituality and people (and a culture) that has basically made a religion out of emotional health. There is SO little talk about how the two support each other and need to both be nurtured. Thanks for talking about this in such a real and realistic way!

    1. Thanks Christina! I think avoiding it can make thins worse...having the discussion better hopefully lessens that tug-of-war mentality

  3. Oh honey, you are so right on! I would recommend Elizabeth Esther's Spiritual Sobriety. It's relatively new, and a really good book full of reminders for people who have been through this kind of thing.

    1. LOVE EE's first book, still have to get my hands on her newest copy:) Thanks for reminding me! ;-)


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