In our journey toward flourishing, it is vital that we begin with humility before the Almighty and receive the unconditional love God has for us through Jesus Christ.
The Bible is full of encouragement toward maturity for believers (Ephesians 4; Phil. 3; Heb. 5-6). We discover that spiritual maturity is inseparable from emotional and relational maturity! How we act, feel and think about others and ourselves demonstrates whether we are making progress toward true adulthood. In my almost four decades of pastoral ministry I have met many senior citizens that were adolescents when it came to vital issues of emotional stability and relational integrity. Conversely, it is always encouraging seeing younger women and men display poise and thoughtfulness.
In our fallen world, both nature and nurture, our circumstances and responses to life all impact our development. In 21st century America, we are in a crisis of human identity and development. Over the past century, the transition for child to adult has gone from a few teen years to over a decade, with many 20-somethings commenting how hard “adulting” is! The breakdown of the traditional family and the lessening of religious loyalties has created a vacuum, with uncertainly about expectations. Add to this the gender confusion exacerbated by Western elites and we have a toxic psychosocial elixir paralyzing normal development.
Along with these moral and spiritual issues, people are coping with real emotional traumas. We have also seen an exponential increase in persons struggling with addictions. I am grateful for the insights of the mental health professionals that help us have compassion for others and ourselves. But the downside of our therapeutic society is that many make excuses exempting themselves from normal responsibilities.
Where do we start? Personal wholeness begins with affirming the eternal worth of every person, including ourselves. A positive self-image respects God’s handiwork and appreciates our limitations. We were designed to receive and give love in mutually enriching relationships. Fulfilling this divine plan requires a few focused actions on our part. First, we must learn gratitude and hopefulness. These are not always natural attitudes or activities (especially if we have been seriously rejected and/or victimized), but they please the Lord and foster emotional health. Second, we must ask God’s help and learn forgiveness. God in Christ has forgiven all our sins, yet we hold on to the offenses of others (and even our own mistakes) for years, sometimes decades. Forgiveness is not excusing, but extending the same grace to others that we have received from Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can learn the managing of our negative emotions, avoiding repression of valid feeling and ungodly indulgence.
With these foundations, we can take other strides toward wholeness, including learning how to love deeply and wisely, eschewing toxic relationships and offering ourselves unselfishly for the good of others, respecting the blessings and boundaries of different types of relationships. As we own our mental health, we will get more comfortable seeking help from our friends, counselors, ministers and others God places in our lives. Just as we need humility before the Lord, we need this same virtue so we know when to get personal and professional help. There is no disgrace is asking for assistance, from the prayers of saints to the insights of trusted ministers and therapists.
“Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6) Let’s not delay the decisions we can make toward our wholeness. We will please the Lord, encourage our family and friends and have more capacity for serving our broken world.