by Dr. Anita Phillips
It was a regular Sunday morning worship service, and I stood with my hands resting on the shoulders of a woman who had come for prayer. As she told her story, I listened both as a minister and intercessor who has seen God work miracles, but also with the ear of a therapist whose day job has been to help people heal from the pain that comes with being fallen creatures living in a fallen world. As I asked the Holy Spirit what to pray over her, these words fell from my mouth: “Prayer is your weapon, therapy will be your strategy.”
THE BATTLE FOR OUR BROKEN HEARTS
Be it from a destroyed relationship, a child’s chronic illness, anxiety about the future, past abuse, the death of a loved one or the death of a dream, emotional pain can wage a long-lasting war within us, and our spiritual health is the ultimate casualty.
Proverbs 15:13 explains: “by sorrow of the heart, the spirit is crushed.” In other words, over time, broken hearts break spirits. When I meet a sister in Christ who tells me that worship music just washes over her without renewing her like it used to, or it feels like her prayers are bouncing off the ceiling or her bible reading is dry and lifeless; and she’s asking herself, “What have I done wrong?” the question on my mind is: “What broke your heart?”
The war for our own emotional healing can be harrowing but it’s critical to our spiritual wholeness. As Christians, where do we find the weapons for this battle?
For most of us our first response to emotional pain is to pray and we absolutely should do that! In instructing us on putting on the full armor of God, Ephesians 6 concludes by saying, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph 6:18).
We are thus reminded that our battle begins in the spirit realm. Prayer is a primary weapon, and it is a powerful one.
WEAPONS & STRATEGIES
Here’s the thing: war is more than just weapons. We also need to be strategic. While the weapons of our warfare are spiritual, the most effective strategies are often rooted in the everyday actions we take. We pray for our neighbor to be healed from cancer while offering to drive them to their chemotherapy appointments. We pray for our friend’s unemployment, and then we help them put together a resume. Yet often we struggle to take this same strategic attitude when it comes to our emotional health. Our fears of dealing with deep pain can keep us from taking this next step towards healing. Instead, we either trivialize our pain (“it’s fine, it’ll go away on its own with time”) or we see the solution as entirely spiritual (“I’ll just read my bible and pray more, and my anxiety will stop.”) while failing to recognize the spiritual damage our emotional pain can cause.
THERAPY IS SACRED WORK
The work I do as a minister and the work I do as a therapist are deeply entwined. If broken hearts can break spirits, then the reverse must also be true: when you are emotionally healthy you are more powerful spiritually. That’s why I believe that the work Christians do in the therapy room has divine purpose. Your emotions are important. God truly cares about how you feel.
When it comes to understanding the role of emotion in our divine creation, the Parable of the Sower is ground zero. In the parable, Jesus identifies the ground as our hearts—the space where we experience our emotional life. It mustn’t be lost on us that we are created from that same ground. We are literally walking hearts! Our emotional experience is inextricably tied to our bodies, and no one understands that better than Jesus! The reason that we have a high priest who can be touched by ALL of our feelings is because Jesus wrapped Himself in human flesh in order to experience the same emotions that we do, AND he never sinned. Guess what? That means that no emotion is a sin. Emotions don’t signify a lack of faith, even the really, really hard ones.
The Apostle Paul provides language for the role our bodies play in our sometimes difficult experiences with our mental health.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:22-23)
What’s going on here? The word members isn’t some elusive spiritual reference. It means “body parts.” Paul’s body and his mind were not on the same page, causing internal conflict. And his exasperation implies that it wasn’t a one-time event! Whether it was anxiety (as I happen to believe) or some other emotional distress, it’s clear that the strength of Paul’s mind alone is at times insufficient. Sometimes his body won, and emotion overwhelmed him. How does this happen to a godly man like Paul? He had a human body, just like Jesus and just like you! Fortunately, these days we know a lot more about our emotions and bodies than Paul did.
Therapists like me have studied and trained long and hard to understand how “the law in our members” shows up in our everyday pain. Whether it is grief, a relationship conflict, or a mood disorder that leaves you chronically anxious or depressed, therapists specialize in helping people heal in ways that position us to win the war.
After the year that 2020 was I am sure that we can ALL benefit from some time in the therapy chair or simple girlfriend talks! Let’s do it!
• Come and join the Fully Loaded Women's Org "Sister' R&R" held weekly (subscribe with your email for the updates)
• Find a therapist with expertise in the area you need. Just as there are medical doctors with specialties, there are therapists with particular expertise in trauma, grief, addiction, anxiety, and relationships, and more. (If you are looking for a Therapist, contact FLWO office at 580-215-4221). Make sure you are connected to a church that nurtures your soul and supports your healing journey.
• If professional therapy is financially out of reach, there are options. Some therapists have sliding scales (ask). Universities with therapist training programs may provide trained, supervised interns at a very low cost. If one-on-one therapy isn’t an option at all right now, we are here for you!
• Never stop praying. Pray to find the right therapist. Pray on your way to therapy. Pray with your therapist for a good session. Pray on your way home. God is with you in the process, every step of the way!
God longs to hear our prayers, and he longs to heal our hearts. Prayer is a powerful weapon, and therapy can be an excellent strategy as you walk with God, tending to the pain of your past, and trusting His presence with you for the future.
For more info, please contact the office at 580-215-4221 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org