A few years ago I met a woman who had been an Adventist for many years. She came to my church to visit her niece. She looked very smart and sang well. After worship we had a short conversation. She told me, “I lost my husband several months ago. We went to bed together the previous night, but when I woke up, I found him lifeless next to me. After the funeral service was over, I felt anxious every night, afraid that someone might come and take my life.” A few months after I met her, I heard that she had succumbed to dementia.
Discovering My Emotional Health Needs
For more than 30 years I have been a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I have faith and a passion for the gospel; I have led people to Christ and served God’s people. Believing God’s Word and living by faith are at the center of my life. As I reflect on my years of service, I see that most of my sermons have been about faith. In my pastoral counseling I’ve talked about faith. I believe faith should be applied to all aspects of life. But this led me to ignore and suppress my deepest emotions.
My spouse is a dutiful woman. She has a thoughtful character and relates well with others. As a pastor’s wife she carries quite a heavy burden, and she has managed it with a good spirit. There were times, in the past, that I yelled and expressed anger toward her in private. After the fact, I would realize there was no reason to behave that way. Yet while I apologized to her, the guilt would not disappear, because I thought that if I had enough faith in Jesus, I would never have mistreated her. At the time, I did not realize that I had unhealthy emotions that had not been addressed. I thought that faith and emotional health were the same thing. So if I had a strong faith, then I would not feel anger, anxiety, depression, disappointment, and frustration. If I felt those emotions, then I thought that it meant that I did not have a strong faith.
My doctoral degree is in family ministry. My dissertation was entitled “Prevention and Education for Domestic Violence.” While studying domestic violence, I researched physical and emotional abuse in intimate relationships. At the same time, I looked at myself and found that I was emotionally abusive to my lovely wife. I yelled at her, ignored her, and violated her space. I was surprised to find that I was an emotionally unhealthy spouse and pastor, even though I believed myself to be a pastor with a solid faith in Jesus.
Discovering Wholistic Biblical Health
Emotional responses to difficulties are found in the Bible. Fear is the first emotional response to a negative situation mentioned in the Bible. Adam ate the fruit prohibited by God and hid from God because of fear (Gen. 3:10). After Adam experienced it, fear became a common emotion in the human experience. Job, a man of faith, expressed his emotional struggle: “sighing,” “groans,” “[fear],” “[dread],” “no peace,” “no quietness,” “no rest,” “only turmoil” (Job 3:24-26, NIV). Moses became so overwhelmed that he asked to God kill him because “the burden” of leading the complaining Israelites was “too heavy” for him (Num. 11:14).
As God’s creation, human beings respond to negative events with emotions: fear, anxiety, anger, disappointment, depression, regret, and guilt, for example. Emotions are natural responses arising from deep within, but when those emotions are left unaddressed, they lead to an unhealthy emotional state. Eventually they will give us mental diseases, such as anxiety and depression. It is important to take care of our emotional health.
Paul writes, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23, NIV). There is a trinity for health: physical, spiritual, and emotional—three elements, distinct but closely intertwined. Just as faithful Christians can lose their physical health, they can lose their emotional health, too.
I have come to understand that often when I, or other sincere church members, demonstrate unacceptable manners, it is because of unhealthy emotions that have not been addressed.
Starting the Emotionally Comforting Ministry
Peter Scazzero sums it up well when he writes, “Christian spirituality, without an integration of emotional health, can be deadly—to yourself, your relationship with God, and the people around you.”*
After studying counseling psychology, I became a nationally certified and licensed professional counselor. My church, Santa Maria Korean Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted in 2022 to establish a Center for International Mental Health Evangelism, and started “emotionally comforting ministry,” a mental health ministry focusing on emotional health.
The prophet Isaiah writes, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isa. 40:1, NIV). The emotionally comforting ministry seeks first, to encourage members to find comfort for themselves; second, to comfort their families; and third, to comfort their neighbors. Our goal is for every member of the church to become a comforter. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (NIV). We all need comfort from God and from other people, too.
* Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), p. 9.