Can You Be Emotionally Immature and Spiritually Mature?

Oct 31, 2022

Have you ever heard (or said) “_____ (name) is just soooo emotional” and thought, “Wow! That’s awesome! I wish I could be more like that!” Likely not.

If emotions were a music group, they would desperately need a new manager. One who would immediately launch a comprehensive public relations campaign. Overhaul their brand. Book a promotional tour highlighting their contributions to ending world hunger and advocating for world peace.

Why does our response to the word, “emotions” default to a negative? Why is it so much harder to write a list of positive feelings than negative ones? Why do emotions get such a bad rap? It’s not like they’re the new kids on the block and we’re suspicious they’re responsible for the neighborhood graffiti. They’ve been around a while.

Why are we so afraid of this core part of our humanity?

We may have fluctuating feelings towards our bodies, but they don’t incite fear in us. Even when we’d like to shed a few (or several) pounds, we don’t want our bodies to waste away. We can be delighted or disgusted with our minds, but we value hanging onto them. One of our biggest anxieties is losing our mental faculties. A person with a “strong mind” inspires admiration.

“Strong emotions,” however, correlate with creating problems, not solving them. Why?

Their power scares us.

We like to think we’re rational beings. We make decisions based on data. We weigh the pros and cons and make choices based on what’s good for us in the long run. We reframe the Beatle’s iconic song, “All You Need is Love” to “All I need is information.”

Yet a nemesis keeps appearing in our logically scripted story: emotions.

We sit down with spreadsheets and calculators and craft a financial strategy. Yet the shopping cart, whether driven by wheels or algorithms, sabotages our plans, and the culprit isn’t our intellect – it’s our emotions.

We read through 271 ratings and reviews of weight loss apps and select the “best” one and determine, “This time we’re going to crush our goal!” Then Emotion, dressed up as loneliness, sadness, boredom, exhilaration, or relief, shows up and crashes our party.

We commit to treating our spouse or children with more kindness and are pleased with our success until fatigue sneaks frustration in through the back door, and before we know it, our breath is launching sharp words into tender hearts.

Their power seduces us.

How does a Believer, a person who claims to be a disciple of Christ, deal with this ongoing quandary?

Can a person be emotionally immature and spiritually mature?

Being “saved” isn’t synonymous with being “whole.” Many people in the Bible were “healed,” but not all were declared “whole.”

Repentance and belief in God as Savior may be a guaranteed ticket into heaven, but it sure doesn’t put us on an automatic assembly line of maturity.

“This year, we’ll add patience. Next year, we’ll affix self-control. Then we’ll paint on a durable coat of kindness.”

Maturing in Christ, just like coming to Him, requires our agency.

Amassing a great knowledge about God isn’t equivalent to becoming more like him. But it sure can masquerade for that.

The Bible reveals a God who is an incredibly emotional being. And he never apologizes for this characteristic.

Read through the Old Testament, and you’ll encounter God the Father who pours out pain over being neglected and abandoned and who cheers and celebrates when his love is received and returned. Peruse the New Testament, and you’ll meet God the Son who expresses joy and sorrow, peace and anger, pain and delight.

Since our calling is to be conformed to the image of Christ, to uncover the Imago Dei within us, the goal can’t be to abandon, abuse, or neglect emotions.

Emotional maturity isn’t measured by how nonexistent our emotions are but how trained they are.

We are designed with powerful emotions because they are meant to powerfully motivate us.

No one wins an award as a champion equine trainer if the horse learns to remain content in the stall or pasture. They are acclaimed for teaching a four-legged force majeure to trust and take direction from a rider whose weight is one-tenth of their own.

There is a difference between allowing our emotions to control us and inviting them to inform us.

Becoming curious about what triggers our emotions and what we do in response to them is a crucial component of spiritual maturity. No amount of knowledge, whether it’s acquired from Bible studies, sermons, podcasts, attending conferences, small group gatherings, Sunday School lessons, or any other “spiritual” activity, will substitute for the necessity of developing emotional maturity.

Believing in God is important but it’s insufficient. The writer of James, in chapter 2, verse 19, tells us, (my paraphrase) “You believe in God and think that’s something? Ha! Even the devil, God’s supreme enemy, believes in him. I’ll see your belief card and raise you one. He not only believes in God but fears him!”

I’ve yet to meet a person whose marriage ended because someone didn’t know enough Bible passages. But I’ve known plenty which died because one (or both) people didn’t know their emotional triggers and responses. There’s not a leader who had a major “fall from grace” where subsequent investigations traced the cause to a lack of intellect or Biblical acumen. The unearthed root is emotional immaturity which lead to abusing others.

Jesus spent very little time exegetically explaining the Old Testament. Most of his teaching triggered people emotionally. These responses – not their doctrinal arguments -- revealed their true character, priorities, and beliefs. In a culture still very much influenced by the Enlightenment – with its emphasis on reason – the Church hasn’t escaped the influence of prioritizing knowledge and devaluing emotion.

Knowledge of the Bible is necessary to grow spiritual maturity, but it’s a terrible measurement of it.

Emotions – what triggers them – and what results from them – is a much more reliable measure.

©Stephanie D. Smith, 2022






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