Have you heard of emotional intelligence? It’s a term used to describe the “capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Emotional intelligence is essential for us to be successful in school, to get along with coworkers, to maintain a marriage and to be happy.
Someone with emotional intelligence reacts to criticism with self-control. They are empathetic towards others, aware of their feelings and self-regulating. Our schools and our workforce promote an emotional intelligence curriculum, and rightly so. Children who are educated in self-awareness, in managing their emotions, in empathy and relationship savviness perform better in school and are more equipped to deal with stress and anxiety.
As I’ve read more about emotional intelligence, it’s striking how much current research about the topic correlates with biblical advice and Jesus’ model.
We read about how Jesus experienced the gamut of emotions; He was in tune with his feelings and expressed them. We’ve seen him angry, grieving, joyful and full of confidence. He did not seek to dull pain, misdirect or hide from it, nor did he bury anger and turn from injustice. He was empathetic, had close friendships, and people enjoyed being in his presence.
Many of us have a lot of internal work to do in our emotional lives. Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, urges Christians to not neglect our emotional growth, even while we may be maturing in other areas of our discipleship. He states:
“The problem, however, is that inevitably you find, as I did, something is still missing. In fact, the spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. Because people are having real, and helpful, spiritual experiences in certain areas of their lives—such as worship, prayer, Bible studies and fellowship—they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life and interior world is not in order. This apparent “progress” then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing” (Scazzero, 2006, p15).
We are made fully in God’s image, and to seek growth in our emotional well-being is to honor our humanity and the way God created us.
The good news is that unlike our IQ, we can improve our emotional intelligence. And as an added bonus, we Christians believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us do this hard work.
For example, the Holy Spirit offers aid in self-control, one of the foundations for having high emotional intelligence. “There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse. It is the root of all emotional self-control, since all emotions, by their very nature, lead to one or another impulse to act” (Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, 2005, p81). Christians believe strongly in having self-control, but we can ask for help from the Holy Spirit. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
It is hard to love others well when we are overworked, angry, hiding from our feelings or stunted in our emotional growth. Pick up a copy of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and find a few good friends to speak truth into your life, and if needed, a good counselor. The Christian community needs to be emotionally healthy and mature; after all, we have a perfect role model.
*A word to Christians: I think we can let ourselves slide into unhealthy relationships in the name of “serving others.” I’m not a professional here, but it can be confusing when we hear messages of “carry your cross, die to yourself” and are presented with a manipulative friend or coworker who “gaslights” you. These relationships are not healthy, and we do no good by participating in negative, co-dependent or abusive relationships. Christians must navigate the choppy waters of unhealthy relationships and set boundaries. Having compassion does not mean we must be doormats, and being a servant does not mean someone can abuse us. Let’s maintain our sense of discernment and boundaries in our relationships.