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Emotions: The Key to Spiritual Healing

Drug companies make billions pushing drugs that mask our emotions. Millions of people now feel they can’t live without them. Yet, are we really better off? Is our quality of life enhanced? Is there a better way to treat emotional pain without drugs, which usually have a debilitating side effect? Perhaps the best question to ask is: Does God have a better idea?

 Psychology and psychiatry supposedly address the issues of the soul. Psychology means knowledge of the soul, while psychiatry means treatment of the soul. Webster’s says the soul has many metaphysical elements. These include 1: the immaterial essence; 2: the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings; and  3a: the moral and emotional nature of human beings; b : the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment; and c : our spiritual or moral force. Yet modern psychiatry ignores the deeper issues of our “soul” problems and usually only treats them in two ways: the intellectual approach uses cognitive therapy while the medical approach depends solely on drugs.

 Sadly, most churches don't do much better. Too often, we limit the salvation of the soul to its eternal dimension, that part which lives forever. Even when we do try to help people change their lives, most preaching and ministry is still only directed at two elements of the soul, the intellect and will. Churches and pastoral counselors offer people huge piles of words to affect their intellect, and deftly manipulate guilt to try and get people to make different and better choices. After a while, this seldom helps people truly change.

 Most Biblical scholars agree that the soul is tripartite, that it has a third element in addition to the intellect and the will. That crucial element is our emotions. After almost 30 years of working with clients, parishioners and those who attended my retreats, I have found that once emotional damage is healed and emotional issues are resolved, profound transformation occurs.

 Before I get into that, let’s address the issue of whether the soul is tripartite. Then let’s consider what can be done about emotions. Finally, I’d like to show you how we do that in Spiritual Therapy and Healing - both in individual treatment and at retreats. 

 Those who believe that the soul is comprised of three parts point to the nature of God and man as our pattern. The godhead is obviously a trinity that includes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise, man is made up of three parts - spirit, soul and body (I Thessalonians 5:23). It makes sense that the soul would also have three parts.

 Those who believe that emotions are an important component of the soul point to scriptures where the soul functions emotionally. Some examples? In Song of Songs 1:7 , the Shulamite maiden's soul loves. In II Samuel 5:8 David said his soul hated. And in Psalm 86:4, David’s soul rejoiced. Love, hatred and rejoicing are all powerful emotional expressions of the soul.

 In the scope of a small article I can only explain so much, but let’s say that our Waspish western mindset minimizes the importance and role of emotions. Too often, we stoically teach people to deny, suppress, endure and conquer their emotions rather than allowing our emotions to perform the wonderful functions for which God designed them. We are often so afraid of our feelings that we cringe at anything that could possibly cause us to express them in public. Even though the Bible tells us we are blessed if we mourn (Matthew 5:4) , misguided Christians sometimes even try to get people to celebrate at the funerals of loved ones! These are cultural tendencies, unfounded in any biblical doctrine, contrary to biblical teaching and examples. The Hebrews are a passionate people, the Bible filled with rich and varied emotion. We suppress emotions to our own detriment. Many times the effort to do so is merely thinly veiled human pride.

 At our retreats and in private sessions with clients, I teach people how our emotions should work by using the metaphor of frostbite. I used to play hockey on flooded vacant lots as a boy so I often stayed out in the cold way too long, oblivious to the dangers. When I came in, my feet and hands were often frozen numb. I learned that the best way to thaw them is not to plunge them into hot water, but rather start with lukewarm water, gradually raising it to warm, then hot. When you do that, the numbness briefly becomes pain before normal feelings are restored.

 Similar things happen to us emotionally. Trauma wounds us deeply, whether it is the death of a loved one, romantic heartbreak, abuse or even ‘just’ emotional neglect. But because “big girls and boys don’t cry”, we have been conditioned to hide and short circuit our feelings -- the very things that are supposed to help us resolve the hurt. Small children get hurt, scream like crazy, and like a passing squall, the trauma is soon over and immediately forgotten. Adults don't do that. And when our emotions can’t work for us, our feelings overload, shut down and the hurt place inside us grows numb. The feelings don't go away, they are virtually indelible. They are merely passed off to the body. If we continue to do this, we can’t have a rich emotional life. Our existence becomes humdrum, our life boring, our relationships dull and insipid.

 In order to feel again, we may turn to the excitement of an illicit affair, drugs, gambling, work addiction or our vice of choice. If our pain remains untreated, we may overeat or drink too much as we try in vain to shut off the hurt or feed the craving for love.

 Much like we did with frostbite, the solution is not to avoid the pain or further suppress the emotions but rather to reconnect with both. Pain releases chemicals that help us heal. Tears remove toxins from our very bodies. Ultimately, you can only heal what you can feel.

 In therapy and at Healing Retreats, we begin with a current problem with which the client is aware, then allow them to feel the feelings associated with it, and ride those feelings back to a deeper, more primal pain that almost always underlies the current situation; a pain that may have triggered a hot button reaction to it. When we do this, old memories surface; memories that were buried but not dead. They contained powerful emotions that surfaced in similar situations causing the client to replay the history they had tried to forget. I then encourage the client to feel all the pain that’s there and coach him or her into how to finally resolve the issues surrounding the buried event. When that is over, I pray for the Spirit to come and heal all the hurt. Usually a tingling sensation ensues that can last for many minutes as God lovingly heals that deep part of the soul that was bruised and wounded. The client feels exhilarated and freer than perhaps he or she has ever felt as an adult.

 Next, I debrief the client, helping him or her to forgive or embrace any resolutions or repentance necessary to keep them from being further damaged in the future. Usually, if the person was plagued by any compulsions or self-destructive patterns such as over eating, sexual addiction, or almost anything else, it simply drops off. I've seen people stop smoking immediately. Once the pain is properly healed, there is no more need for a painkiller. 

 You’ve heard me say it many times: Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, liberate the bruised and set the captives free. Becoming a new creature in Christ through our rebirth doesn’t instantly resolve all of our issues with original sin or the sins we commit or which others committed against us. Someone once said that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but he left it to His disciples to remove the bandages and grave cloths. It is a fitting analogy for His disciples today. Healing is a lifelong journey, a very real part of our ongoing sanctification. God clearly gave “gifts of healings” to His church (I Corinthians 12:9). Everyone is better off if we open and learn to use the wonderful healing gifts He’s given us. How He must hurt when He sees His people hurt because some of His children refuse to use what He has so generously given us.

 I believe it was Saint Augustine who said, "The glory of God is man fully alive". That glory shines more brightly through healthy Christians. It is a powerful magnet to draw the lost to God’s wonderful light. Let’s start using it.

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