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Healthy relationships with God, others seen as keys to emotional well-being

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Calling healthy relationships with God and others the core of emotional well-being, a seminary professor and author said a man, a woman, an apple and the devil spoiled God’s plan for easy and effortless intimacy.

“Before the fall, there was no sin, so I assume there was emotional, relational, mental and spiritual health,” said Paul Carlisle, professor of counseling and pastoral care at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., and author of two books on emotional health.

Carlisle, who wrote “Strength for the Journey” after descending into “two real, real dark periods of clinical depression” in the mid-90s, spoke during a plenary session of the third National Senior Adult Leadership Summit at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center, Glorieta, N.M., Feb. 27-March 2.

Carlisle also wrote “With All My Heart – God’s Design for Emotional Wellness,” a resource accompanying “Fit4,” a Christian wellness program. LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention published both books.

“Man was designed to be in rich, close intimacy with God,” Carlisle said, and to be in relationship with others.

“God said to Adam, ‘You need me, but you also need somebody else. You need a mate, someone to be a part of your life,’ not just someone to get your tea.” So God created Eve as Adam’s soul mate.

Among senior adults, Carlisle said he believes loneliness is one of the greatest emotional distress factors. “Senior adults are not designed to be alone; it’s very despairing to be alone,” he said. “Emotional health grows out of relationship soil.”

In addition to a strong relationship with God, an unfaltering dependence on him also demonstrates emotional health, Carlisle said.

Before the fall, Adam “couldn’t do anything without [God], and he wasn’t bothered by it,” Carlisle said. “When you can say what you really are, that’s emotional health.

“An observation I have of senior adults is that they work harder at hiding what is really bothering them because they don’t want to trouble anybody,” Carlisle said. “Only when you’re honest can you work your way back close to God.”

The concept of emotional health is simple, he said.

“We need God so bad we can’t do life without him. Life is too horribly painful. Life is too gut-wrenching. Emotional unhealth is the result of being disconnected from God and from other people.”

Carlisle said his experience with clinical depression in 1994 and 1996 left him battered and bruised.

“But I have found a richness in Christ from that brokenness. I’m convinced the way you help others with emotional health is that you become emotionally healthy.”

If senior adult leaders are going to help produce healthy senior adults, they are going to have to help them work on their relationships with God and others, he said.

“We’re a culture that thinks, but doesn’t necessarily feel. If there is mistrust in our relationships, the result is crippling emotionally. If we haven’t developed an interior life, a walk with God, life can really be tough.”

About 167 senior adult leaders attended the National Senior Adult Leadership Summit, sponsored by LifeWay’s discipleship and family division.

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  • Terri Lackey