2014 started in a very morbid fashion for me I spent a whole day imagining my own funeral. Now it’s not really as bad as it sounds what I was actually attempting to do was, live my life on purpose and “Begin with the End in Mind” which is actually the 2nd Habit from Stephen Coveys book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. During this exercise I imagined what I would like each significant person in my life to say about me at my funeral and worked backwards to develop a life plan to make it happen. This is going to be something that takes a huge amount of effort but these people in my life, my beautiful Wife, my crazy amazing boys, friends, families, those I work with and those I lead, etc are absolutely worth some intentionality and effort on my behalf. This process could certainly be a blog post in it’s own right but what stood out to me and the focus for what I want to share with you now is that it’s all good and well to “have a plan” but if you’re emotionally unwell or drained then you will lack the energy to be your best to those who you love the most and I have certainly lived in that camp from time to time.
So let me say this right from the start, I am not an authority on this subject at all, I am simply learning all I can so that I have the emotional strength to reach the potential which God has placed in my life.
I’ll tell a story which I believe illustrates this point really well, I will tell it in general terms even though it has happened to many others in exactly the same way. It’s my observation about another Minister I know he was the Senior Leader of His Church, well loved and respected, a man of Character and incredible skill doing great things both in his church and also his community, did I mention that he is a great communicator. Dr Ian Jagleman would say that this man was functioning as a lvl 5 leader (Top of the charts in Christian circles) and yet even though he had made it in both his career and his calling he is no longer serving in this role. He has been sidelined not because he stole church funds, or had a moral fallout but because he was let down by an unseen, intangible area which every human being has called emotions” They had become unhealthy and so caused him and so many other good hearted, selfless people to leave what they love doing.
This leads to the question how do our emotions become unhealthy and honestly this is not something which I really know the answer to at this point in time, I can tell you that it’s not external circumstances, problems or lack of money. These things certainly can help us to feel good in a moment but the pleasure, in my opinion, is only temporary. This becomes really clear when you travel to countries filled with people who have plenty of horrific external circumstances, more problems than they know what to do with and only make a couple of bucks a day. One such nation is Indonesia and I have been fortunate enough to travel there to support the work of Aid Indonesia in particular The House of Hope. www.aidindonesia.org.au Many children now live in safety despite previously having their entire lives turned upside down, now they walk around with a huge smile on their face. When you walk through the local villages, even though they don’t have much in the way of possessions they have a measure of happiness greater or equal to those of us in the West, who have so much more in comparison. I am learning to believe that it is our reaction to our problems that have the ability to either weaken or strengthen our emotional resilience not these other pressures.
I’m reading a blog by Dr Vin Tran who posted a brilliant and yet simple tool on how to help with depression and anxiety it’s called “Vinnie’s Toolbox”
First let me explain why I think it’s brilliant in the world I live in (Church) and then I will go through and explain it in my words with a slight Christian bent.
Ok so I’m about to make a big statement, possibly one I could regret and yet I have found it to be mostly true and that is that “Churches seem to a breeding ground for emotionally unhealthy people” and this is coming from someone who loves the Church and is planing on giving the rest of my life to serving it’s mission. It’s worth saying here that I believe there is also no other place on earth that can bring redemption, provide hope and restore many hurt, broken people like the Church, it truly is as Bill Hybels says “The hope of the world”
Now here is why I think it’s true, because a problem is normally formed when a value we hold is crossed and in Church circles our value system runs deep, especially when you add to the psyche that this is a value endorsed by God Himself and so this deep value is crossed and all of a sudden we have a problem. This is where Vinnie’s Toolbox comes in, I made a diagram to make it easier to follow or you can read Vinnies blog here, www.epsychconnect.com
Firstly we acknowledge that we all have problems, this is something that we cant change or control. All through history people have had problems and so long as we are still on this earth we will continue to have problems, to avoid depression and anxiety we have a few options when confronted with this reality.
On the vertical axis we can either run or fight. In my mind if we run then it doesn’t say much about a persons commitment to their core values and you will only be able to do this for so long before you begin to feel trapped or resentful to those around you and while no one may know how you really feel externally, internally you will experience conflict. The other option is to fight, but this will cause inner turmoil and long term, that is no way to live. Fighting every battle, getting annoyed every time one of your core values is violated. For those of us in ministry this happens almost daily, in fact multiple times a day, so think of the long term impacts on not only your mental health but your physical health also, this is where people can run into adrenal fatigue as a result of excess stress.
This horizontal axis shows us an emotionally safe way to respond to our problems, the first one is to accept the reality of the problem you are dealing with. So imagine that your children aren’t listening to you and no matter how many times you yell at them they wont clean their room. So you go in at night to tuck them in and as you do it happens… you step on an extremely sharp piece of lego from the pit of hell it’s self. Obviously yelling and screaming hasn’t worked at this point so you can either passively run or you can yell louder, neither of these are going to help your emotional health as a parent, trust me! You value that your child’s room has a clean floor so your next step is to accept the current reality, but if you leave it there then I promise you that your feet will feel the wrath of the lego thorn soon enough. The next step is hard for so many people and yet it is a real key to improving your emotional intelligence, you need to be assertive and you need to do it without running and without getting angry. Don’t say nothing then complain behind their back, don’t be passive aggressive using humor or sideways comments which skirt around the issue cowardly but in love go to the person let them know why you have an issue and what the value is behind it. Sure there are some people who wont be able to respond the way you would hope but it is far better than not living authentically based on your core values (what you believe) and for the Christian our core values should be able to be challenged based on the authority of the scriptures, Gods Words gets the final say.
Where to from here?
Maybe you don’t even know what your real values are, I’d suggest a good place to start would be to sit down in a quiet place, if you believe in God you could pray and ask for guidance. Then begin to write the core values that you are aware of such as, I believe that people should be spoken to with dignity, I value honesty and productivity etc the other which would be really helpful would be to add to this list each time you find yourself with a problem, ask yourself why am I so annoyed, what about this do I actually own, what is my real value here and quickly write it down in an Evernote file or something similar.
The other thing I’d say is, while running and fighting with those around us will only cause trouble both you and for the other person, we can run to God and share our anger with Him and ask that He heals our broken heart. So give yourself grace, breathe, enjoy life and work to make this year your most emotionally healthy year yet. You can’t control all your circumstances but you can control your reaction’s and learn to be emotionally healthy by speaking up in a loving way.