Our Emotional Health

 “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?....But I have trusted in your steadfast love."
Psalm 13:1a,5a
Emotions are an important part of being human. The question we run into is how should we understand our emotions and handle them in a healthy way? We don’t want to play on the emotions or downplay the emotions. We don’t want to make the emotions all-important, but we don’t want to make them unimportant either. How can we legitimize our emotions without being emotionally led? How can each of us live an emotionally healthy life? In Psalm 13, David models two critical aspects of emotional health: emotional honesty and emotional stability.

It's easy for us to think, “If I'm going to be emotionally healthy, then I've got to be honest with my emotions, but if I'm honest with how I'm feeling, then I can't be stable.” At the same time we can go to the other extreme and think, “To be emotionally healthy I've got to be stable, but if I'm trying to be stable then I cant be honest with how I'm feeling.” David shows us how to have both honesty and stability and why we need both to live an emotionally healthy life.

Emotional Honesty: In the animated hit movie, Inside Out, 11-year-old Riley moves from her hometown and is forced to take a journey towards emotional honesty. During the movie you’re taken into Riley’s head (her emotional control center), and her different emotions are personified as different characters named: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy. It shows how Joy is so busy trying to keep things happy and upbeat for Riley and trying to keep Sadness away from the controls, that both Sadness and Joy are lost in long-term memory land. Yet, what Joy comes to realize by reviewing some of Riley’s most happy memories, is that it was through the times of Riley expressing her sadness that her family and friends were there for her, which in turn led to her feeling better. Joy realizes that to help Riley, somehow she needs to get Sadness back into the control center. In other words, the only way for Riley to be healed is for Riley to be honest with how she’s really feeling about the move. In the first half of Psalm 13, you see David doing the same thing. David feels forsaken and abandoned by God, but instead of denying his emotions and pretending that everything is fine, he’s honest before God in prayer.

David avoids the ancient error of Stoicism. The Stoics taught that the emotions were part of the lower self and that in order to successfully go through life you needed to suppress your emotions. But that is to deny an important part of who we are as image bearers of God. Unfortunately, this error can creep into the church. The church can hinder people from experiencing emotional health because they can unintentionally create a community where a person can’t be emotionally honest. There needs to be an outlet for the emotions, because denying the emotions either leads a person to blow up or to break down. Being honest doesn’t mean being hurtful. That’s why Paul said, “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). There’s a difference between being abusive or manipulative with others and being honest with how you’re feeling. Just like there’s a difference between making your complaint to God, and complaining about God. Emotions aren’t intrinsically good or bad. They need to be processed and filtered and then brought honestly before God and others.

Emotional Stability: David is honest with his emotions, but we see towards the end of the Psalm that they are not going to rule him. In the second half of the Psalm, we see David experiencing emotional stability even though his situation hasn’t changed. Because David’s heart is clinging to the steadfast love of the Lord, he’s able to rejoice and sing. David avoids both Stoicism and emotionalism. His feelings are saying one thing and the truth is saying another, and he’s letting the truth win. Emotional stability is letting the truth be our highest authority, not our feelings. Because people’s emotions are tied to what their hearts trust in and are committed to, the way to find emotional stability is to be ultimately committed to something, and trust in something, that is unshakeable and unchangeable. This is what David found in the love of God. It is steadfast. Stable.

This is the love that finds its greatest demonstration in the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus both displays God’s love and the emotional health of Jesus. There on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me.” There’s the honesty. But he also said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” There’s the stability. And while in the Psalm, David felt forsaken; there on the cross Jesus was forsaken. He temporarily lost the Father’s embrace so that all who believe in him could be forgiven and always have it. Jesus died so that everyone who trusts in him could know that when God feels distant, he really isn’t, and when it feels like God has forsaken you, he really hasn’t. The Christian faith offers us the path to emotional health. It offers us the God of steadfast love and the Wonderful Counselor who we can be completely honest with and find lasting stability in.  
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