8 Principles for Emotional Health

As a church, we have always been strongly focused on making disciples of Jesus and maturing in spiritual growth. This, of course, is vital to the life of the church.

However, we have recently discovered that we have basically ignored our emotional and relational growth.

This has left us unbalanced.

Why are there so many of us in the church who are following Jesus, clearly gifted, trained in the Bible, yet acting like children or teenagers emotionally? Why are there so many of us who struggle with feelings of insecurity, frustration, or emotional fatigue?

When we are emotionally unhealthy the symptoms will appear in many ways:

If you can never say “I was wrong” or “ I am sorry.”

If you are constantly criticizing others.

If you feel as though God is always disappointed in you, and you are always living in fear that the “other shoe is going to drop.”

If you feel like the love you have in your life is never enough and people in relationships always disappoint you.

If who take every critique as a personal attack.

Why do so many of us, when we are hurt, turn to whining, complaining, distancing ourselves, blaming, or using sarcasm? Often times, if we are honest, we just act like little children who aren’t getting their way.

Phil 2v12-13 says, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

This can also be read, “At conversion believers receive a new identity, a new heart, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Then, life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, progressively maturing into the likeness of Christ.

Here are 8 principles for growing in emotional and relational health:

1. Emotions Are Important 

One of the first words we think of when it comes to emotional health is “emotion.”

Emotions are often the indicators that give us insight to the present state of our heart. They reveal both areas of need and strength, such as crying or anger. These are emotions we see from Jesus and his disciples.

Our emotions are something to pay attention to because they ultimately become the dictator of our behavior. We can safely assume that something is wrong.

So a question we would ask is where are you on the scale? Are you aware of your feelings and emotions? Or is it time to slow down, and listen?

2. Look Beneath The Surface 

Once we recognize our emotions are an important thing, we have to ask ourselves if there’s more going on underneath. Our lives are like an iceberg, most of what is happening exists beneath the surface. Emotions are just the tip.

Looking beneath the surface isn’t easy to do for lots of reasons. It takes time, or we are afraid of what’s there, but it’s the key to understanding what areas of our lives need growth and healing.

I am the type of person who is not usually aware of my emotions. I’m an extrovert… But this is something in which God wanted me to grow. I think I was often afraid to be quiet in solitude and listen to God. I was afraid of being condemned. But, pushing thru that fear, spending time in solitude listening to God, what I found was love!

Knowing we are deeply loved and accepted by the Father allows us to explore dark aspects of who we are.

Knowing God’s limitless grace gives us the courage to face the painful truth about ourselves.

Knowing what Jesus has done for me allows me to be myself because there is nothing left to prove.

Begin to recognize God’s unwavering love for you, and look beneath the surface.

3. Break The Power of The Past

Another component to moving forward has to do with our past.

Our past is effected by romantic relationships but it also includes our family history. This involves addictions, abuse, mental illness, the kind of home in which we were raised, and generational sins. These past experiences will directly affect our present ability to love Jesus and others.

Memories can haunt us.

We must allow God to take us back so he can heal our wounds. He wants to help us grieve and release us from pain.

Acknowledge the past, so that God could teach you how to live more faithfully in the present.

This can feel scary and overwhelming. As people who follow Jesus, we never go back to these memories alone. By the Spirit, the person of Jesus is with you. And because he is with you, you don’t have to be afraid. See yourself through his eyes and that will change everything.

4. Know Your Limits

Emotional health comes from knowing your limits. Basically, we must learn to say “no.”

Jesus lived within his limits. He didn’t perform miracles until age 30.

In the journey towards emotional health and Christ-likeness, this is one that has profoundly impacted me. I have come to learn that I don’t have to do everything that is asked of me by others. Not everything others think I should do is actually what God has for me.

I am learning to ask, “Has God given me grace for this?” This has changed so much about my emotional health and my ability to be present and effective in the things that I am clearly called to.

Often times I know I am off balance when I am: anxious, rushing and hurrying, not sleeping well, doing too many things and doing them poorly, restless and my mind is racing, not fully present with people, distracted, irritable in normal things like traffic or in line, and skimming on time with God.

Sound familiar? If that’s you, it’s a good indicator that you may need to re-evaluate the things to which you are saying, “Yes.”

The danger comes when we say yes but God has said no.

5. Embrace Grieving and Loss

These last few things are some of the hardest.

We all know that grief and loss are an unfortunate part of everyday life. And the scope of both are vast. Whether we’re talking about difficult transitions in life, unexpected loss, tragedy, or death most of us find that it’s easier to bury it, ignore it, or medicate, rather than embrace the feelings confronting us.

Embracing grief and loss at its core level is about paying attention to our pain.

We must be willing to confront it and wait for God to bring freedom, comfort, and relief.

This often feels overwhelming, if not impossible. But even Jesus needed to express the grief and loss in is own life. Jesus wept. Which means it’s possible and also necessary for us.

Learning to embrace grief and loss as a normal practice in our lives will move us to a place of greater emotional margin, and a place of honest and healthy vulnerability with Jesus and others.

6. Live in Brokenness and Vulnerability 

Brokenness and vulnerability are often hindered by the lie that if we don’t appear to have our life in order we will somehow be too much for people; too messy or too broken.

Or we believe that we won’t measure up in comparison to others. That by letting people in, and sharing honestly, we will appear to be an imposition or burden on those around us.

This can lead to anxiety and a curated version of ourselves.

Most of us deal with our brokenness in 3 ways:

1. We try to hide the pain, covering up all the cracks and frailty.

2. We become angry and bitter at ourselves or others.

3. Or like the majority of America, we run from it and medicate ourselves.

Look, the world says living in brokenness and vulnerability is weak and virtually impossible, but Jesus and his kingdom say the opposite.

Jesus has, and will always, call imperfect, broken people to live out of their weakness so that through their vulnerability and honesty, the world might see him.

7. Celebrate

Not every step is heavy, dark, and depressing.

There is also a time to celebrate!

All throughout the scriptures there were parties and celebrations. From the yearly celebration of passover, to the wedding party in Cana, we see that not only was this a part of Jesus’ life, but we learn that it is central to the life and health of God’s people.

This means we’ve got to practice celebrating. Even the little things.

Celebrate babies, and birthdays, anniversaries, and Fridays. Celebration cultivates gratitude and thankfulness. It reminds us of our good gifts, and from where those gifts come.

8. Live Incarnationally

The whole purpose of emotional health is to give us ways to continue to become more like Jesus. To live life as he lived.

Jesus is our example.

Jesus showed us incarnational living. God took on the flesh of humanity and sat with people, listened to people, and loved people. In the same way we want to be the kind of people who are not always talking about ourselves but have the emotional health to truly care and listen to others.

In the words of Scriptures “weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.”

These 8 principles for growing in emotional and relational health are a process.

I am still working on this stuff. I am still trying to stay within my limits. I am still working to regularly take time in the morning in solitude, looking beneath the surface, and listening to God.

Allow Jesus to help you discover emotional health.

These principles are based on the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero


Author: Gerald Griffin

Gerald Griffin is the Pastor of Missional Communities and Leadership with Bridgetown Church.