Learning the ABCs of Emotional Maturity

Introduction: You’re reading Part 11 in a blog mini-series on Emotional Intelligence. I’ve developed this series from material in my book Soul Physicians

The ABCs of Emotional Maturity

Christians tend to be kindergartners when it comes to emotional maturity. That’s why we need to learn The ABCs of Emotional Maturity

  • A: How our emotions are of value to us.
  • B: How our emotions are of value to others.
  • C: How we can practice the hallmarks of emotional maturity.  

How Our Emotions Are of Value to Us: A God-Given Warning Light 

Emotions serve as God-given “dummy lights.” That flashing red light on our dash that says, “Hey, dummy, you’d better pop the hood ‘cause something is haywire underneath.” 

Emotions are our warning lights that say, “There’s something important going on inside, pop the hood of your heart and check it out.” Our emotions point to our goals, which in turn point to our beliefs. Emotions are a God-given means for discerning inner motivation and thinking. 

How Our Emotions Are of Value to Us: With Christ in the School of Emotions 

Often we’re afraid of our emotions because we do not understand what is natural. Mark 3:5 helps us because it describes the emotional life of Christ. “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” 

In this passage, we learn that Jesus experienced strong emotions. He experienced anger. This particular word for anger has the sense of “strong indignation and wrath.” He also experienced compassion which is “deep distress and grief.” Shouldn’t image bearers expect to experience strong emotions since Christ did? Don’t deny them. Don’t stuff them. Experience them. 

We also learn that Jesus experienced a full range of both “pleasant” and “painful” emotions. He felt anger and compassion simultaneously. “While being grieved he felt intense anger” (Mark 3:5, author’s paraphrase). We, too, should expect to go through a full range of both pleasant and painful emotions. The lack of intense emotions has nothing to do with emotional maturity. 

How Our Emotions Are of Value to Us: What to Do with Our Emotions

When an emotion “comes,” what do we “do” with it? 

First, admit it. Acknowledge to yourself and God what you are feeling. 

Second, identify it, label it accurately. “I’m hurt, angry, content, nervous, etc.” 

Third, courageously face and feel that emotion. This is not an academic exercise. It is deeply feeling what is going on inside. 

Fourth, always share with God what you are feeling (Hebrews 4:15-16). When you’re feeling an “illegitimate emotion” (hatred, etc.) confess it deeply, including confessing the goals and beliefs behind the feeling (1 John 1:8-2:2). When you’re feeling a “legitimate emotion” (joy, sorrow, etc.) share it fully (Hebrews 2:18). 

Fifth, use that emotion to probe and to examine your goals and beliefs. An acknowledged emotion functions as a clue to a spiritual malfunction just as an acknowledged physical symptom (i.e., a cancer warning sign) serves as a clue to a deeper physical problem.  

When do we probe? Even a good thing can be misused or overused. Should we constantly probe and become compulsively introspective? No. No one (no one in their right mind at least) checks under the hood of their car before every trip down to the grocery store. No, you check periodically, before long trips, and when the light comes on. 

The same is true with emotions. When the light of intense emotion flashes, then check your goals and beliefs. For most Christians, the problem is checking far too infrequently. We tend to be afraid of our emotions. Check periodically, and always check during times of extremely strong emotions. 

How Our Emotions Are of Value to Others

Jesus modeled a cardinal principle of emotional maturity when he purposely expressed his feelings to others in order to minister to them. The original language of Mark 3:5 is clear. “He chose to look around with angry glances, stopping at each one of them” (author’s paraphrase). 

Jesus made a volitional choice to express his emotional reaction. On what basis did Christ do so? On what basis should we do the same? I believe that we should express our feelings to others only when we can meet the following criteria: 

  • We can answer the question: “How will expressing my feelings increase the potential for the other person’s growth in Christ?”
  • We have previously established a strong relationship with the other person.
  • We believe the person has the emotional maturity to handle and benefit from our sharing.
  • We believe that sharing our feelings has the potential for healing the relationship.
  • We are under control enough to think through the previous criteria. Or stated another way, we can govern/manage the release of our emotions. 

The Rest of the Story

We’ve summarized the A and the B of the ABCs of Emotional Maturity. In our next post, we highlight the C: How we can practice the five hallmarks of emotional maturity. 

Join the Conversation

Of the emotional lessons in today’s post, which would you like to start putting into practice? How will you do that?

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