I’m Not Okay, Is That Okay?

“How are you doing?” How many times have you been asked that this week? What was your response? If you are like most people, it was probably, “Just fine, how about you?” But what if you weren’t fine? In fact, what if you were sad, angry, depressed, anxious or felt terrible physically? The sad reality is that too many Christians think they are not allowed to not be “okay” all the time.

Emotions Are God Given
The reality is that emotions are part of who you are just like your genetics and thoughts. God designs them for a purpose in your life. The proof of God’s design and purpose for emotions is Jesus himself. He came as the second Adam, the perfect man, and he had emotions. He got angry at the moneychangers in the temple, he grieved at the tomb of Lazarus, he was moved with compassion as he saw the needs of people, and he was sorrowful unto death in the garden. Yet in all his emotional experiences he never sinned. Therefore the problem is not emotions themselves but rather what we do with them.

One of Satan’s tactics is to take what God has created and intended for good and pervert it in some way. Think of some of the good purposes of emotion. It is how you feel compassion and empathy for others. It is how you rejoice in the Lord, show godly sorrow over your sin, and express love and worship to him. In your relationships there is the desire to express love to those you truly care about as well as the need to grieve life’s losses. Life and relationships would be pretty bland without the ability to express emotions. God never told us not to be angry but to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4.26). The problem is not the emotion but what you do with the emotion.

Emotions Need To Be Processed
All emotions need to be felt, acknowledged and processed. You process emotions by talking or writing about them. This is why a good support group of family and friends can be so helpful, as it gives you someone to process with. Your support group needs to be a place with good listeners, an absence of judgmental spirits, and confidentiality. You will only truly process with those whom you trust and whom you feel genuinely care about you. Counseling is another great way to process, along with keeping a journal.

The steps of processing include identifying the emotion. Identify what is causing the emotion; is it a person or life circumstance? In some cases the emotion can have a chemical or physical cause. When a person is sick or fatigued they will have fewer emotional reserves. Hormones as well as genetics can make a person more prone to anxiety or depression. This is why it is wise to first rule these physical causes out. Once you have acknowledged and identified the emotion, the final step is to decide how to properly process it. For example, if the emotion is anger towards another person, you swearing at them is not a good coping skill. Hopefully, when you were a child, your parents taught you a proper way to express and process your anger. If not, you might find yourself taking an anger management class as an adult because of the legal or relational consequences of your anger.

A Broken World
This is a world broken by sin. Sin and injustice affected you in negative ways as you grew up. Defense mechanisms are what you developed in order to survive the effects of these emotions. What you eventually learn is that defense mechanisms don’t work in adult relationships. Emotionally healthy people have learned to feel the negative emotion, and to sit with it while they decide the correct way to process it.

The point is that emotions themselves are not wrong. It is what is done with the emotion that can take you off course. Many Christians feel it is a sin to be anxious, depressed, angry or worried. They feel that if they are not emotionally okay all the time, they are failing God and are inferior Christians. So they wear a mask at work, church and anywhere in public. The one place that the mask is usually not worn is in the home. Children and other family members can then see the lack of authenticity as hypocrisy, often adding guilt to the person struggling with the emotion.

Remember that God did not say that everything in the world was good. He said that, “All things work together for good” (Romans 8.28-29). God uses all things to conform us into Christ-likeness. It is okay to not always be okay. The goal is to not get stuck in or satisfied with your state of emotional turmoil. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you are struggling and allow God to use your emotions to accomplish his purpose in your life.

Dr. John can be reached at [email protected].

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