***WARNING, LONG POST***
Scripture of the Day
1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Emotional sobriety. Sensitivity. Trauma. What’s too much? What’s not enough? How do I deal with it? How do I help others deal with it? How do I teach my children to cope with it?
The importance of maturing to an emotionally sober state is everything to our well-being, and it is a process that we must all journey through. In 1 Peter 5:8, our adversary can come in many forms – trauma, abuse, PTSD, drug abuse, mental illness, or just unfinished business from the past that hasn’t been dealt with and cripples us to productive discernment. In fact, we can all rest assured that “whatever we don’t WORK out, we will ACT out”, and that – friends – is common to us all! However, there are some that have real challenges with adjusting emotionally so that they can make logical and reasonable decisions about life. For that reason, they may find it difficult practicing and applying this command to be “sober-minded”.
First, let me preface this by saying I am no one’s therapist. I am not licensed, and I have no educational background in mental health. I am simply a mother who has a child that suffers from mental health and is always seeking to understand HOW to parent her in a way that is loving, encouraging, empathetic, and honorable to our Lord and HIS power and ability. After reading several books about childhood trauma and its neurological, emotional, and social effects on development, I have learned that the emotional part of our brain is multi-layered and lies beneath the logical/reasoning part, which means there is a lot to work through before a person can reasonably respond. When mental illness is involved, there is a delay or stagnation in transforming emotional movement, which is detrimental to the process. Aware of this, learning to act instead of REacting is a day-by-day process that requires love, intention, discipline, and perseverance – for the caregiver as well as the individual.
Scott Breck, Mental Health Specialist defined mental health as “the commitment to reality at all costs.” Jesus puts it this way in Luke 14:28 – “For which one of you, when he wants to build a watchtower [for his guards], does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to finish it?” The problem is that all of us tune out at different aspects of the “all costs” part while some can’t handle the emotional commitment to “all costs”. Productive mental health necessarily means a commitment to truth in the way we see ourselves, our relationships, our careers, and more… DESPITE the costs. Many are not willing to sacrifice all and may ultimately find themselves responding like the Rich Young Ruler walking away “grieving and distressed” because it costs too much and the sacrifice was just too great (Matt 19:16-26). Without a commitment to reality at ALL costs, “dying to self” for the Christian becomes nearly impossible (Luke 9:23). It’s even more difficult for the Christian that has given way to allowing trauma, emotional baggage, or the like sabotage godly discernment. Emotions are needed and have a purpose. They are meant to inform us by compelling us to take action. They were never meant to dictate the way we live our lives. When emotions are not dealt with then they must go somewhere. Ultimately, they will end in places no matter how much one tries to stifle, bury, or ignore them, manifesting in unhealthy responses that may hurt us or those we love. How we choose where is a process.
Q: So how does one get better or how can we encourage someone that has challenges with emotional sobriety?
Because I am speaking from a place of personal experience as a parent and a friend to several that have some of these challenges, trust I am working through this myself through prayer, biblical guidance, and secular resources. If I may make (3) suggestions that the Lord continues to help our family work through as an encouragement to inspire emotional sobriety:
(1) Seek, first, to understand before criticism and judgment.
Trust me, I am still growing in this area! When our brains are not functioning at their best capacity, trauma triggers a fight, flight, or freeze response cementing emotional drunkeness. As a caregiver or person that cares for an individual going through this, many times listening is the BEST response without criticism and judgment. Frequently, medication or other psychological advances can assist in healing so a person can reach the logical/reasonable layer of the brain where the Word of God can then be shared and comfort received. As a caregiver or an encourager, we must be careful of the “spiritual bypass” trap. Remember, the emotional parts of our brains are multi-layered, and overtop lies the logical/reasoning layer, so quoting a Scripture to a person going through an episode may bounce right off them because they are not in a “reasoning” state of mind and not necessarily because he/she is faithless, but because they are not in a state where they have the ability to “reason” through a mindful response. Patience and compassion are key to overcoming episodes and loving them through the process of reaching the top layer. Gaining the expertise of a professional is most impactful.
(2) Encourage the person towards emotional sobriety by promoting emotional and biblical awareness during times of strength.
We are constantly working through this one. The soldier prepares for the battle, and so should we! As we work alongside trained professionals, there are still ways we can assist the process rather than hinder it. Communication is so key to healing. Practicing and enforcing healthy boundaries during times of strength help the individual prepare for times of weakness. Boundaries are in place to keep us and our loved ones safe. The Bible teaches “the things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Luke 18:27) but what does that look like in practice when you or the person you are encouraging is in a manic situation? God works through His Word definitely, but also through the church, therapists, friends, family, technology, and more! Since “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12), remaining spiritually grounded is of the utmost importance because it’s the WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD that has the ability to help one resist and stand firm against these evil forces (Eph 6:13). Psalm 19:7 – The law of the Lord is perfect (flawless), restoring and refreshing the soul; The statutes of the Lord are reliable and trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Without God, we are left to our own devices, which can be a potentially dangerous and a fatal place to be. An intentional conversation that frequently promotes awareness and biblical healing in a loving and encouraging way during times of strength must be consistent. Reflection on those equipping conversations during times of battle gives them and caregivers tools for the battle. Those suffering from emotional insobriety have a distorted view of life through the lens of an emotional firehose! It’s often uncontrolled, irregular, and manic, so reminding them of the tools they have at their disposal (God’s Word, Armor of God) may help gradually while God fights their battles!
(3) Spiritual maturity doesn’t necessarily mean emotional maturity.
Have you ever met a person that seemed spiritually put together, frequently quoting Scripture, but something about them was a bit off, and you couldn’t really put your finger on what it was? It is very possible for a person to SEEM spiritually mature, yet emotionally damaged where they are not able to respond to certain situations in healthy ways. What do I mean? It all goes back to the way our brains work and how they are wired. If emotions are multi-layered and buried under the one reasoning layer, then there are frequent challenges and delays toward logic and reason. Quoting a scripture during a traumatic episode, for some, has no power if their emotional state has been ignored, hidden, or criticized and responses are irrational, manic, and uncontrolled. Knowing this, helps caregivers step into empathy and compassion rather than criticism and judgment. Jesus said in Matt 9:12-13 “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” What does compassion look like when we are ministering to a mentally unstable episode or emotionally driven situation? How can you motivate them to seek professional help or calm down enough to get to a place of thinking ability? What does empathy look like when I may never understand what a walk in their shoes even looks like? What does love look like when they have reacted in a way that is dangerous and unsettling or even fatal?
Look, I don’t have all the answers. God knows I don’t. But these problems are surfacing more and more in our society and we must learn a better way to work through them with love and understanding (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Bottom line, we need to have a good balance of the Word, love, patience, compassion, and empathy when ministering to others. We won’t always get it right either. But we serve a God that is BIGGER than our mistakes!! May God bless us all in our endeavors as we extend the grace and mercy that has been so lavishly bestowed on us.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13
4 Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. 5 It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. 6 It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. 7 Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. 13 And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love….