Living an emotionally healthy life is incredibly freeing. Yet it is very difficult to do because we all grow up learning unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy emotions. Think of it like pieces of armor that we put on growing up, defense mechanisms, ways of handling conflict, how to treat other people, what we think about ourselves, others and God.
In order to get healthy here are a six guideposts that can help us all get healthier emotionally and live with freedom and joy. Many of these guideposts come from researcher, author and speaker Brene’ Brown.
Start pursuing an emotionally healthy life by cultivating the good and letting go of the bad.
Recently I challenged a group of guys I meet with to read through the book of Proverbs and identify their top ten. We all found that very challenging as there are so many great Proverbs. So here are my top ten:
If you can’t read through all the Proverbs take some time over the next several days and read these 10 and ask God to help you understand how they apply to you personally.
Reading is one of the most important things you can do to learn, grow and improve yourself. I love to read and I try to read one or two books a month. I also listen to pod casts, and audio books to keep feeding my mind good stuff. As a leader this is vital to keep stretching and pushing yourself to get better.
So over the next several months I plan on doing a lot of reading. I have carved out some extra time to allow for this by taking some vacation time and incorporating it into my regular work schedule.
Here are the books I am currently reading and several I plan on reading later:
Spiritual and Personal Growth:
Just for Fun:
I’ve been studying the idea of vulnerability and how that plays out in our relationships. Brene Brown has some incredible insights on this tough topic. Much of this post is based on her research.
One of the things that keeps us from being vulnerable is shame. Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgement. However when we introduce empathy, shame cannot grow. So in order to be open and vulnerable we need to be around people that are great at empathizing and we need to learn how to be empathetic with others. Learning how to be empathetic is one of the most powerful ways to improve your relationships.
In order to be empathetic we need to be able to see the world as others see it. This is all about perspective, being able to take the perspective of another person and not our own. It’s being able to listen to someone and not interject our own experience but to really what to hear it from them. It’s not one upping the person by sharing what you did or how you messed up. It’s being able to realize that our lens of life and our experiences are different than others and being OK with that.
Empathy also requires that we are nonjudgmental. Most of us are judgmental and we are usually judgmental in areas where we are vulnerable to shame. We tend to judge people that are worse than we are so that we feel better about ourselves. We do that because we are looking for validation that at least I’m not as bad as so and so.
Empathy is not our default or natural mode, it’s a skill that must be worked on and developed in order for this to happen naturally. Empathy is usually very subtle, it can be just a knowing look or going to be with someone in a time of crisis instead of calling to express sympathy.
When we empathize with someone, we go to that dark place with them, we don’t flip on the lights and try to cheer them up and fix the problem or make light of the situation. It’s like walking up to your friend that is in a hole and going down into the hole with them, but knowing how to get back out of the hole because it’s not your hole. Sympathy is walking up to the hole and asking what happened. When they tell you, you express that your sorry to hear that, that’s a terrible thing. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help. There is a big difference.
When we empathize with someone, we are creating a safe environment for people to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is one of the most accurate measures of a persons courage. To be vulnerable takes bravery, because it is walking into uncertainty, it’s taking a risk and it’s exposing your emotions. It takes courage because the reality is you can get hurt when you do this with someone that is not able to empathize or keep things confidential.
However if you live in secrecy, and silence you might feel safe, but are most likely miserable. When we are vulnerable we are our true self. We are showing that we are imperfect, messed up, awkward and goofy. The greatest relationships are the ones where you can be all of that and the person loves you even more.
So if your looking to improve your relationships, first learn how to empathize better with the people around you. Work on those skills of listening and trying to understand their perspective. Don’t try to fix them or the situation, but let them know we can do this together. Then work at being vulnerable with the people in your life. Expose yourself emotionally by being honest about your struggles and your shame. When we do that there is incredible freedom and life when we push past our fear.
One of my favorite books is found in the Bible in the Old Testament. It’s the book of Nehemiah. It’s a story about a man that led a movement to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, a city that had been destroyed and in ruins for many years.
The reason I like this story so much is because it demonstrates how much can be done when a person works hard and involves God.
Here are three simple life lessons from the story of Nehemiah, I hope you will take the time to read his story:
Nehemiah’s story is amazing and well worth reading. Read it here – Nehemiah
Meditation has a different meaning to different people. For some it’s emptying your mind and focusing on yourself, for others it is focusing on a higher power or something they think is good. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and so what I meditate on is God’s Word or the Bible. For me this is one of the most powerful and helpful things I have ever done. There is now a lot of scientific proof that meditating on good things like Scripture actually renews and changes our brains. Brain science shows us the benefits of this focused thinking. The Bible talks about renewing your mind and taking your thoughts captive. God designed our brains to be able to be changed depending on what it takes in. The mind controls the brain and can make positive or negative changes.
To me meditation is considering and pondering a part of Scripture, a story in the Bible or a chapter or even sometimes a few words or one word. What I try to do is pick something to focus on and then read through it 10-15 times in different ways. I’ll read it silently several times, then out loud, then with a different emphasis on certain words and sometimes even adding my name. Then I think about or ponder what I read. I will then bring it back up a different times of the day for just a few moments.
The Bible talks about the power of meditation in Psalm 1:1-3 it says this: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-whatever they do prospers.”
Did you catch that? Biblical meditation is so powerful that God promises that everything you do will prosper if you meditate on His Word day and night. That may sound a bit intimidating or too hard to do. For me meditating day and night does not mean 24/7 it means that in those times where I’m idle, waiting, resting, driving or by myself I need to meditate on God’s Word. Those are the times that I am most tempted or that my thoughts are most likely to be negative or sinful. So in those moments if I’m able to chew on a Biblical idea or a story from the Bible I can renew my mind and gain incredible strength, encouragement and hope.
Meditation is similar to a cow chewing the cud or rumination, which means to chew, swallow then regurgitate and chew again. A cow does this several times to get all the nutrition out of the food and to digest it in a healthy way. Biblical meditation is similar, in that we take it into our minds ponder it and then keep bringing it back up and chewing some more.
I have started on a 21 day journey leading up to Christmas Eve of meditating daily on a Scripture and reading through a document of Biblical Truth Statements. It will only be about 7-10 minutes a day, but I believe God will use that time to strengthen my mind and nourish my soul in a powerful life-changing way. The Scripture I have chosen is one I memorized 15 years ago. It’s 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and the earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and Yours it is to be exalted as Head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In your hands are power and might; in Your hands it is to make great and to give strength to all.”
I want to encourage you to pick a Scripture or two and meditate on it over the next 21 days. Chew on it over and over again and pull out all the nourishment you can get. Then pick another Scripture and do it again for another 21 days and then do it one more time. If you can do that for 63 days in a row, it will be habit and you will be able to continue to meditate on God’s Word day and night for the rest of your life.
One of my heroes is Nehemiah. His story is found in the Bible and it’s loaded with leadership and spiritual principles. Nehemiah was a Jewish man living in Persia after the Persian empire had taken over Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish people. Slowly over a 90 year period the Jewish people were traveling the 800 miles back to Jerusalem and were trying to rebuild that great city.
Nehemiah had an important and prestigious job as the cup bearer to the king. He found out that the rebuilding process in Jerusalem was not going well and they were struggling to make it. Mainly it was because the walls around the city had been torn down and that left them vulnerable to the people around them. Nehemiah had a great concern about the walls of his beloved city. The rest of the story is how he went about rebuilding the walls.
Here are some of my takeaways:
Wall rebuilding then…. Wall rebuilding now:
Ancient walls served many purposes. They offered Protection, Security, and reflected the strength of the people.
Likewise, today the walls of spiritual disciplines that we build around our lives are vital for our Protection and for building our relationship with God.
We need to examine the condition of our walls.
Are some gates open for the enemy to slip in?
Has neglect allowed a loose piece of stone or mortar to become a hole or a gap?
Have weeds of compromise overrun certain sections until those toppled walls have become a main entrance for sin?
If your walls are in need of repair lets take a look at some principles from Nehemiah.
First: Develop a genuine concern for the condition of the walls.
Is it a burden on your heart? We must have a genuine concern for the condition of our spiritual lives. If spiritual growth is not important it will take a back seat to all the more important stuff in our lives. The spiritual walls we have in our lives keep us focused on the best things and growing in our trust of God.
Second: Express direct prayer for guidance and protection.
Nehemiah started 800 miles away in prayer before the Lord. Prayer tends to be an afterthought many times. It should be the first thing we do. Get into the habit of acting on your burdens only after you have given them a firm foundation in prayer. Prayer is a privilege and God is available at all times. We have access to the only one that controls everything.
Third: Face the situation honestly and with determination until the task is finished.
If we are upfront and honest about a problem we usually can get more of a commitment from the people around us. An honest appraisal of your own spiritual walls will help you stay determined to fill the gaps. We all know were we tend to struggle and where we are allowing things to influence us in a negative way. If your unsure then ask the people that are closest to you for honest feedback.
Fourth: Recognize that we cannot correct the condition alone.
No amount of experience can overcome sin’s power to crumble our walls. It is only when we are willing to live in dependence on God that we have the power to fix and build the spiritual walls we need for survival. If we are serious about making changes in our spiritual lives then allowing other people to speak into our lives is vital. Pray for someone that can hold you accountable by asking tough questions and then pray for courage to be open and honest.
Breezes instead of wind gusts usually knock us down. We get lulled into neglecting our walls. We drift from God and allow other things to take priority in our lives. Slowly we stray away and can find ourselves lost, stuck or alone.
Pray for God’s help in recognizing those subtle breezes in your life that are causing you to drift into moral compromises.
What area of your spiritual wall needs repairs or strengthened?
Are you faithful in all areas of your life? At work, At home, At play?
Take some time soon to think about the condition of your own walls and then follow Nehemiahs example and rebuild them as needed.
Recently I ran races on back to back weekends. First it was a race called Rough & Rugged which was a 5k cross country, trail, mud kind of race. I finished but was exhausted and struggled along the way. Then the next weekend I ran a 10k on a flat course. Again I finished but struggled and had to reach deep to keep pushing myself. After I finished that second race I made the comment that these races are much harder when you don’t train properly.
You see I had been running once a twice a week in preparation for both of these races. I also did nothing between the two races and I felt it on race day. I know this because at one time I did train hard and went into similar races in much better physical condition. I ran better times and felt better after the races. The preparation I put in made a difference on race day. I was both mentally and physically ready. That was not the case with these last two races.
It is similar in our spiritual lives, when we are staying connected to God and feeding our minds the truth, it is much easier to recognize lies and deal with the difficulties of life. It’s the things we do day in and day out that prepare us for those big moments in life and those small moments that make a big difference. Those crucial conversations, the big decisions, the temptation that comes out of no where or the unexpected tragedy. When we are not training spiritually those things can knock us down and take us out.
So here are some spiritual exercises we can all do to keep fit both spiritually and emotionally.
I encourage you to pick one or two of the areas I mentioned and start incorporating it into your everyday life. If you do all of those on a regular basis you will grow and become more fit spiritually.
What if you received a letter with a return address of Christ: The Universe? We may be afraid, concerned, excited or all of the above. In any case I am sure we would be riveted to the text of this letter. We need to be riveted to the text of the letter Christ wrote through John to the church of Laodicea in Rev. 3:14-22.
It is intensely personal and highly relevant to our search for intimacy. It could have been written to us. Near the end of the letter there is a compelling invitation:
“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my father. That’s my gift to the conquerors! Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.” Revelation 3:20-22 (Msg.)
Although many times we have taken this passage as being about salvation, the context dictates that it’s actually about a relationship with Christ for those who have already come to know Him.
Christ is standing at the door of our hearts, knocking. The metaphor is powerful. It means that Christ is intentionally, aggressively, passionately pursuing us. There are no qualifiers here. He isn’t speaking to a few select people, but to all the Laodiceans: the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those with disabilities and those that are forgotten. Christ portrays Himself as intentionally pursuing intimacy with us.
If Christ makes Himself so accessible, why is it that we don’t open the door? There are at least three reasons for our hesitation:
The First Reason: Fear
Though God does pursue us and though Christ is there knocking, some of us may be afraid to open the door. Many of us have longed for intimacy in human relationships-with our father, mother, or someone else- only to find that our hopes for intimacy were not only dashed and broken but that as we made ourselves vulnerable, we were wounded in the process. We are afraid. We just don’t know if we can trust again.
Thomas Keating, in his book INTIMACY WITH GOD, speaks to this problem:
The Christian’s spiritual path is based on a deepening trust in God. It is trust that first allows us to take that initial leap into the dark, to encounter God at deeper levels of ourselves. And it is trust that guides the intimate refashioning of our being, the transformation of our pain, woundedness, and unconscious motivation into the person that God intended us to be.
Because trust is so important, our spiritual journey may be blocked if we carry negative attitudes toward God from early childhood. If we are afraid of God or see God as an angry father-figure, a suspicious policeman, or a harsh judge, it will be hard to develop enthusiasm, or even an interest , in the journey.
We need to pray , “Lord I want to trust You, Help me to trust you. We need to grasp the truth that God will not disappoint us. He will not abuse us. He will not use us. No one who as ever trusted God and moved toward intimacy has ever ultimately been disappointed – ever.
The Second Reason: Self-Sufficiency
Some of us have the same problem that the Laodiceans had. They were neither hot nor cold, but luke-warm. They were rich and had no material needs, so they thought they didn’t need God. They relied on what they consumed from the material world in order to satisfy, sustain, and secure themselves. Many of us don’t think it is so bad to be self-sufficient, it’s not like being self-centered or self-serving. But it is a big issue to God. Christ said to the Laodiceans that though they had all the stuff, comforts, companions, commodities, they were wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
Wow. God wants us to be rich in the right ways. He wants to fill our lives with truly valuable treasures. He wants us to have His peace, comfort, presence, and power.
The Third Reason: Discontentment
“More. If there is a single word that summarizes American hopes and obsessions, that’s it. More success. More luxuries and gizmos. We live for more-for our next raise, our next house; and the things we already have, however wonderful they are, tend to pale in comparison with the things we might still get.” Laurence Shames
There is that ever-present craving for all that is more, bigger, or better.
He goes on to say this:
“During the past decade, many people came to believe there didn’t have to be a purpose. The mechanism didn’t require it. Consumption kept workers working, which kept the paychecks coming, which kept the people spending, which kept inventors inventing and investors investing, which meant there was more to consume. The system, properly understood, was independent of values and needed no philosophy to prop it up. It was a perfect circle, complete in itself-and empty in the middle.
The Biblical word for satisfaction is the word contentment. We are called to be content with what we have since we have God-and He is fully sufficient. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever want something or that we don’t enjoy a purchase here and there. It means that we are not controlled by the passion to consume. Having Him, we have it all. Anything extra is a bonus.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13 that he had learned both how to have plenty and how to have little and in both cases to be content. Contentment is not just a reflected in our relationship to things. We can be discontent with our spouse, our job, our place in life, our education, or a long list of other things. Sometimes discontentment can motivate us to righteousness or a zealous commitment to God. This is a healthy kind of discontentment. The kind of discontentment, however, that seeks personal satisfaction and security in “just one more thing, one more experience, one more friendship.” Leads to the emptiness and aloneness.
When we hear Him knocking, it is the trusting, God-sufficient, contented heart that hurries to answer. Opening the door generates the pleasure of experiencing His promise, “I will come right in and have supper with you.”
Recently I had a conversation with some people that attend and volunteer at the church that I work at. As we talked about some of the conversations they had at work and in the community, I heard several times that many of the people they talk to about church say “Oh you go to That Church”. Now I’m guessing that the comment comes from people that are either already going to a church or grew up in church. The reason I say that is because people that are familiar with church tend to have a picture of what a church should be like. I know that I had those same thoughts when I first heard about NewPointe over 17 years ago. I questioned why they did certain things and why they didn’t do certain things. But then I tried it and was changed forever, my picture of church was wrecked in a good way.
When a church comes along that doesn’t line up with our picture of the church we grew up with or currently attend, we will question the validity of that church. Most people’s natural tendency is to poke fun or shoot holes in something they don’t understand.
I actually love that people would say you go to “That Church”. That means that we are getting noticed and people are actually talking about church, maybe in a way that they have not talked before. It leads to spiritual conversations and gets people thinking. There is no perfect church, because there are no perfect people. As a church leader I don’t claim to know it all or have the best way of doing things. I want to create a place where people can connect with God and other people.
So here are some things I love about That Church, otherwise known as NewPointe Community Church: