Have you ever noticed how your emotions tend to follow your body? When you are hungry, tired or sick your ability to move through strong negative emotions is highly compromised. Perhaps you have noticed that when things are working out for you in life, it’s easier to have a positive attitude along with thinking about the needs of others above your own. Why is this? Because when your needs are met, particularly the basic needs for meaning, significance, safety and connection, you have more bandwidth emotionally to love as Jesus loves.
Emotional Intelligence is a learned skill set that has tremendous value in the workplace as well as in the home. This skill set, helps you learn how to use and manage your own emotions to reduce stress, communicate effectively and overcome challenges including moving through conflict. It’s a great offering to help cultivate effective relationships. The only caveat to the secular understanding of the Emotional Intelligence skill set is that the offering relies on human effort. This can work…until it doesn’t. Until we come to the end of ourselves, usually in the midst of undesirable situations, human effort has been known to carry us pretty far in the area of behavioral management.
At 38 years old, when I was diagnosed with advanced cancer one week prior to my final divorce court date, with three young children, and told the doctors were going to try to get me 5 more years of life, I noticed how much I relied on my human effort to work through emotional flare ups, usually fueled by an encounter with another human being struggling to work through their emotions. I noticed when I came to the end of myself, my own efforts and available resources, it was then that I encountered the power of God within me to will and to act according to His good purposes (Philippians 2:13).
Emotional Intelligence, from a secular point of view, works well, until it doesn’t. The main element that is missing is the factor that offers victory in the midst of hardship: the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth within us. Not only did He showcase emotional acuity in positive situations, He was able to maintain emotional intelligence in the heart of suffering: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Our victory when it comes to managing our emotions in a way that honors God and builds Christ-centered relationships, lies in our choice to rely on God’s strength within us through the Holy Spirit verses our fleshly efforts.
Emotional Intelligence in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit within you to help you discern and manage your emotions in a way that honors God by loving others well as Jesus did. As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to love others well when your needs are met. When you find yourself tossed into the eye of the storm, all bets are off in the arena of human effort and ability.
Whatever we focus on grows bigger. Paul was a huge fan of this as he continually urges us in the Scriptures to stop thinking of worldly things and focus, pursue, meditate on heavenly things. I had three Scriptures posted to the wall of my room during the five years of intense treatment to remind my mind of what my soul always knows:
- “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” Zechariah 4:6
- “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be still.” Exodus 14:14
- “I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
The common thread in the above Scriptures is the presence of God within us to overcome our own emotional weaknesses particularly in the midst of suffering and hardship. I was moved in spirit at one point after a double mastectomy and in the midst of chemotherapy to stand before my congregation and remove my wig as I declared: “God is good. We live in a fallen world filled with sickness, pain and death. God is good. He didn’t cause my cancer. What He will do is bring about a greater good than had this cancer never occurred. I don’t know how He will do it and I know it will be done. God is good. He does His greatest work in the darkest nights. Consider the cross which split open eternity for all of us. The One who produced the rose in the midst of the thorns, the rainbow in the eye of the storm and life in the midst of death is faithful and He will do it again and again and again. God is good.”
Transfer your learnings: At one point in the midst of intense emotional and physical suffering I went to meet with a nun who worked with Mother Theresa in India who happened to be working in Denver. I shared my story. She paused and looked up at me, all 4 and ½ feet, eyes piercing just below her blue and white wimple as she said in a thick accent: “Don’t waste your suffering… lift it up as a passionate prayer for the sake of salvation of souls. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world and watch God transform your pain into something beautiful.” Follow her lead. The next time you find yourself in the eye of emotional, physical or spiritual pain lift it up in a powerful prayer for others.
Prayer: Lord, my victory when it comes to maintaining emotional intelligence in the midst of hardship lies in you. The power of your Holy Spirit within me. You make me stand firm in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:21). You work within me both to will and act according to your good purposes (Philippians 2:13). This is the only way I am successful when it comes to leading others as Jesus did.