The Practice of Emotional Wellness 

How would you rate your emotional wellness? Are you engaging in practices that have been proven to support well-being? As the holidays descend on us, it is more important than ever that pastors, pastoral families, and all church leaders participate in activities that have been empirically validated to boost your sense of “all is well with my soul, and body, and mind.” Not surprising, these same proven wellness habits show up as things that we should be doing as members of God’s Kingdom. If pastors lead by example, I wonder what the impact would be on our church families? Would our church communities be more resilient because your church members are following your example of making biblically and empirically supported wellness activities as a lifestyle habit? Drs. Rakesh and Saundra Jain, authors of The Science and Practice of Wellness: Interventions for Happiness, Enthusiasm, Resilience, and Optimism (HERO) (2020) outline wellness steps that anyone can take – even you!  Here are five of their suggestions that you can engage in:

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 22:17

  1. Exercise. The Drs. Jain observe that those who engage in “high volume” exercises report 52% greater happiness when compared to couch potatoes. They are also less depressed. Hate to exercise? Then remember that your physical body is important to God, and only YOU can do something to keep it in relatively “tip top” condition so that you can serve God with all of your strength. COVID-19 may keep you out of the gym, but what can you do in your own living room with your family?   
  2. Nutrition. The Drs. Jain observes that a diet with lots of fresh fruit, colorful vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains and little highly processed food has positive wellness benefits. Maybe your diet suffered while you were in quarantine, and COVID-19 represents the number of pounds you gained since March 2020. Try adopting a diet closer to what Daniel ate (Daniel 1:8-14)! Skip the fast food, and opt for the slow food that you family can enjoy around your own table. Can you identify one change that you can make to your diet for each month that remains in 2020?
  3. Sleep. This is a hard one for many of us. Worry tends to follow us into the bedroom and we find ourselves obsessed with those things done and undone. 1 Peter 5:17 instructs you to “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” If you can’t do anything about what concerns you at that moment, then remind yourself that you will have a clearer perspective in the morning if you have a good night’s rest. Are you a night owl and not a lark? You, too, need 7-8 hours of sleep. Human beings are the only species that voluntarily chooses sleep deprivation! Psalm 127:2 reminds us that God gives sleep to his beloved. YOU are God’s beloved! The first step to a good night’s sleep is to develop a regular sleep schedule. Do your sleep habits need an overhaul?
  4. Prayer.  While the Drs. Jain recommend mindfulness practices, Christians can reap even greater benefit when we commune with God through listening prayer practices. Listening prayer doesn’t displace or replace discursive prayer (where you do the talking and God does the listening). Think about listening, reflective prayer as the other side of discursive prayer. Of course sitting in stillness to say “YES” to God’s invitation to you in the present moment will take some practice. Biblically we think about listening prayer as meditation where our focus is not only on the words of God, but also on God Himself. God longs to fill you with his presence in every moment. Who could join you in meditating on God’s word and on God Himself in quiet stillness?
  5. Social Connection. Aren’t you glad that you are part of the body of Christ? Our Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation. We are part of a corporate new creation, a fellowship of believers, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Of course social distancing makes social connection more challenging. Nevertheless, technology can help us to “connect.” Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, God created us for relationships with Him and with one another. Let me add, that our social connections do not need to include you as the caregiver! Everyone needs to be able to receive as well as to give to others. Who are the key people with whom you have a fulfilling connection of emotional and relational giving AND receiving?  What one step can you take to increase the depth of these important connections?

To learn more, see the following resources:

  1. Jain, Rakesh & Jain, Saundra, The Science and Practice of Wellness: Interventions for Happiness, Enthusiasm, Resilience, and Optimism (HERO). New York: W.W. Norton, 2020.
  2. Health sleep tips
  3. Basic help for adjusting your diet 
  4. See this You Tube on buildingEmotional Wellbeing 

Emotional contributor: Virginia T. Holeman, PhD., LMFT, LPCC, Retired Chair of the Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle