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The Ultimate Privilege

Chaplain Joy L. Smith, M.A.
 Mental Health Counselor - Spiritual Mentor

Everyone has difficult emotions to deal with in life.  The degree of distress ranges from occasional irritations and frustrations to heavy emotional flare ups.  Within our busy lives, the tendency to gulp down our feelings and move on is great.  Most people do not realize the danger to their health when they keep emotions at bay without attending to them.  Denial of our feelings can make us sick emotionally and physically.  We must deal with our emotions, or our emotions will deal with us.

Discerning difficult emotions as they arise, with the intention of understanding what is behind them, entails times of self-examination, and at times, confrontation.  Otherwise, emotions build internally and can result in emotional overload causing depression, anxiety and illness.  This can be devastating.  My own story bears this out.

From early childhood, my sad and fearful emotions remained hidden deep inside.  Anger must have been felt at times.  Yet, I have no memory of being able to feel anger as a child.  Then, in my 20’s when eight years of marriage ended, I was overwhelmed with sorrow, anxiety and depression.  All the emotions I canned inside, for many years, now piggybacked on that sorrow.  Lacking knowledge of how to manage this emotional overload led me to feel overwhelmed.

My parents, friends and other family prayed as I was hospitalized for a few days and placed on medication.  The day I was discharged my doctor said I could go back to work.  Three days later I knew I was not ready to pick up the pieces of my life and go on.  My father, then a Director for Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International (FGBFI), called on his friend, Jim Gallagher, who had a gift for helping people heal from their emotional wounds.  Mom and Dad were both familiar with Jim Gallagher, who had a reputation for helping many people.

Dad said, “You need help and Jim knows how to do that.”

Mom said, “We will keep the boys.  Go spend some time with Jim and Grace.”

While on the plane headed for Portland, Oregon, I surveyed my life: Married at 17, eight years later a divorcee with three young sons … now traveling to the home of people I hardly knew in hopes they could help me regain stability.  The plane, with its load of people, was blurred as memories followed by tears refused to be repressed.  My one dream had been to raise my children within the security of a family unit.  That dream now seemed shattered.

Suddenly, a sight from the window captured my attention.  I saw a shadow of the plane in the sky.  A rainbow formed a complete circle around that image of the airplane.  This sight took my breath away, as I could hardly believe what I was seeing!  Then, I heard these words spoken deep within, “You will never again experience anything so painful as this.”

I carried this promise into Portland where I attended Jim’s healing sessions.  Jim worked with people in groups.  Each person was there to seek help for their emotional pain.  I watched the way Jim worked.  His teaching reached all the sore places in my soul.  At points during the week, outside of the sessions, Jim and Grace laid their hands on my head and my heart as they prayed for my healing.  After a week of benefitting from their ministry, I traveled home feeling like a different person, able to tackle my responsibilities as mother, provider and homemaker.

Once I returned home in Boise, I continued to receive therapy and medication for several months.  This helped me look deep within and to deal with the pain of the past, some of which harked back into early childhood.  A nurse explained that breakdowns are not a bad thing.  She said, “They are breakthroughs.” She called them events that speak to us, saying, “That wasn’t working.” The nurse was right.  Life has to take a different direction when an overload of mental and emotional turmoil stops a person in her or his tracks.  When life saw me burnt to a crisp, it took time to rise up and be a Phoenix.  I had to shake away a lot of ashes.  I had to stand still and let God heal me.

Dr. Gordon Mate, author of When the Body Says No, states clearly that the body does not bide well if we ignore our difficult emotions.  Mate found that children who hold their emotions rigidly inward are taxing their nervous systems.  When the adults in their lives discourage them from expressing difficult emotions, children have no other recourse than to hold in their anger and sadness, ever so tightly.  Mate connects serious illness in some instances with the fact that the nervous system only has so much energy to expend for “pushing down powerful emotions that cry out for expression.” 

Early in my childhood it was obvious that showing my feelings could take me onto ground where I did not want to go.  My parents were working very hard on a small farm providing for our livelihood.  They did not know even half of what was going on with me.  A motto of “no whining allowed” at our house extinguished any hope I had that they could protect me from the bullying I had to endure.  Mom and Dad started attending church soon after my older sister and I became Christians.  I was eight.  The change in them as they grew in their knowledge of what Christ wanted in their lives was definite.  This profoundly strengthened my faith that living for Christ makes a definite difference.

The habit of locking down on my emotions followed me into marriage.  I was able to show love and affection, yet had no concept for dealing honestly with anger.  Consequently, eight years later all hope for a lasting bond crumbled.  A divorce and a breakdown brought me into therapy where I learned the importance of attending to buried emotions.  Although it took time and effort to uproot old patterns, doing so changed my life.  Before this work I failed to see the load of anger embedded within.  The time came for acknowledging my resentment, grudges and bitterness.  The path to healing involved admitting these emotions and learning how to forgive.  I also had to stop seeing myself as a victim.  Today, I know the practice of holding my emotions locked tightly inside affected me physically as well as emotionally.  My work has included letting go the belief I was a second class citizen because of my health problems.

As a Christian, I knew forgiving others was a must, but I could not pull it off.  Power came in learning to set my will to forgive all that had hurt me in life.  This was not a quick or easy process.  Yet, it was greatly rewarding.  I got well both physically and emotionally.  After years of studying Scripture and growing in prayer, my faith expanded, along with my sense of worth.  I was able to soak in the truth that God was not holding anything against me.  Prayer became more and more important as my true identity of being a daughter of the Most High God became clear. 

The severe anxiety I experienced after my divorce no longer existed, yet a pattern of worrying and of falling into shame spirals continued.  However, these were broke in time through God’s help.  Now, when I become fearful, I journal on that feeling and then write in longhand the scriptures that correct that emotion.  (Cursive writing reaches the right hemisphere of the brain from where most of our emotions arise.) Our deepest sense of well-being and spiritual security can never be taken from us if we are willing to control our thoughts and address our emotions.  Scripture is very clear about what is truly lasting–and from thence our help comes!

Jesus told us we would have trouble in this fallen world (John 16:33).  He overcame the world and abides within our very beings.  His power within enables us to be overcomers.  Still, our emotions, in response to sadness due to suffering, will surely run the gamut.  We have only to read the book of Job to understand that.  Honesty with God as we work through our difficult emotions raises us above them. 

Mercy and compassion come to us through the things that we suffer.  After my children were raised, I became involved in helping others heal.  There were years of giving and receiving within the ministry of healing before I felt the call to go through the process needed to become a certified chaplain.  The breakdown within my 20’s influenced me to get a degree in psychology and after that a Master’s degree in Theology.  Today, part of my ministry with people as a chaplain and a mental health counselor involves teaching techniques for recognizing buried emotions, while also exploring what lies behind these emotions.  I teach coping skills and stress management, offering tools needed for healing patterns that lock a person into the pain of anxiety and depression. 

The road to emotional freedom has bumps and detours.  Reaching peace at the core of one’s being involves effort, yet rewards are gained beyond what is thought possible.  Philippians 4:7 speaks of it as “peace that is beyond all understanding.” The best results within my work with people is reached by individuals who: 1) are dedicated to Christ and determined to be led more and more fully by the Holy Spirit, 2) are stretching toward more self-understanding; and 3) are determined to advance in their comprehension of Scripture, which results in intimacy with God. 

Simply put, discerning what is going on inside ourselves is a skill essential to personal growth.  Socrates was right-on with, “Know thyself.” So was Ralph Emerson right with his words, “To thine own self be true.” This is the path that leads to being respected by others.  Socrates’ point was that “the life which is unexamined is not worth living.”

Scripture paints a picture of what God desires for people who choose to walk with God and seek His will.  We are to be “set apart” from the rest of the world1 by choosing to live according to the divine guidance laid out for us in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.2 We are to enjoy our lives. 3 Jesus talked much about joy, even under the shadow of the cross.  Full commitment is expected from us as we put our hearts and our hands to doing “all to the glory of God.”4 The Holy Spirit is ever so willing to help us identify our gifts, then lead us as we use them in an effort to promote the kingdom of God here on earth.5 We are to share our lives with others--especially with our families.  We are to do all we can for those who are impoverished, sick, in prison7 and involve ourselves with the needs of widows and orphans.6 The Holy Spirit will nudge us when we are to care for the needs of others … and sometimes these will be strangers. 8 No one has to do it all.  We are only expected to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead.  That inner-prompting voice is not easy to miss.  We are to have a reverent awe of God, while loving mercy and acting justly.9 It is our duty to walk humbly before the Lord, loving without hypocrisy.

Certainly within the earliest years of being a Christian I lived beneath the privilege intended for believers.  That is most likely true of all who set out to follow the teachings of Christ.  It takes time to “put on the mind of Christ,” as Scripture admonishes.10 But, we get closer and closer to that goal as we work toward it.

In my work as a chaplain and my studies in psychology and theology, it became clear that making attitudinal and behavioral changes takes setting one’s will to do the work, then time and diligent effort.  This endeavor can be compared to digging a trench up a mountain one shovelful at a time.  Yet, in doing so, we experience God’s presence on the way.  The progress we make brings joy and freedom to the soul.  As the Apostle Paul put it, we are changed “from glory to glory,”11 while our mental, spiritual and physical health responds in amazing ways.

A new field in medicine, psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology (PNI*), proves that everything that goes on in our psyche (soul: mind, will and emotions) effects our neurological system, our endocrine system and our immune system.  As we know, it is the immune system that continually works to protect us from disease.  Jesus knew this when he said, many times over, “Do not fear.” Although we will fear, as a natural response when we are nearly hit by a truck, that is natural and a short-lived experience that will soon end.  Jesus was not addressing that innate fear of danger that helps to keep us alive.  Instead, he was talking about being stressed a good share of the time based on fear of losing something we need or someone we love. 

Imagine living life with great confidence that God’s word is true.  What if we truly believed “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called to His purpose?” I have good news for you: This is the kind of faith we are intended to grow into.  Truly trusting this brings joy.  How do we get to the place wherein we have such trust? By studying God’s Word, fellowshipping with strong believers and growing in the ability to monitor our thoughts and work through our emotions. 

There is joy in the presence of the Lord.  I feel that joy and that presence while reading Scripture.  Within those, God’s character and wondrous nature show up.  Joy can’t help but arise when we capture something of what God and His goodness is about.  Within those pages, it is easy to rejoice and to know the message of Philippians 4:4-7, is right on track:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” (Phl 4:8).12

In her book, Molecules in Motion the Science behind Mind-Body Medicine, 13 Dr. Candace Pert, a research professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., explains how feelings create chemicals within our bodies, affecting how we deal with what happens in our lives.  A friend of mine, Dr. Eugene Wiesner, is a psychologist who teaches workshops on “God’s Psychiatry.” His teaching precedes Dr. Pert’s.  Dr. Wiesner explains how endorphin flows take place within our body chemistry when we rejoice in the Lord.  Rejoicing creates ripples of glee inside the body that help erase physical pain.  Medical doctors know that physical pain can be interrupted by endorphins, distraction or electrical impulses (such as happens with a TENS apparatus).  Experience shows me that prayer and praising God distracts from physical pain.  An endorphin flow usually starts soon after I begin praising God for all the blessings and goodness in life.  Neuroscientists explain that the brain is “plastic,” meaning that measurable and significant changes take place in the brain’s topology (anatomical structure) based on what we do.  It is what we do and experience that shapes the brain and influences our biochemistry.

To rejoice means to express joy.  It means to celebrate.  This can be done quietly within our hearts or while we are with others.  It is something that begins in our souls before it can be spoken.  Yet, praising God (even though we don’t feel like it) almost always brings us into truly rejoicing in the Lord.  Within a short time of recalling even just a portion of what God has done for us will find us feeling entirely different.  Gratitude becomes part and parcel of rejoicing.  So, being thankful throughout life will bring many endorphin flows.  I believe this is what Abraham Maslow called “peak experiences” within his hierarchy of motives.

Endorphin flows also happen when we laugh from the belly, or within other pleasurable experiences like a back rub, a brisk walk or running.  Viola! An endorphin flow is triggered as the body rings with joy.  We have all experienced the appearance of this chemical during times of excitement or achievement.  Notice that it is impossible to worry and have an endorphin flow at the same time.  Endorphins are the body's natural pain relievers, yes, but even beyond that, endorphins fortify the body’s ability to heal itself. 

The presence of endorphins increases when we notice them and allow space until that biochemistry completely ebbs.  People who don’t know how to rejoice throughout life cannot reach the glory God intended for those who live in intimacy with Him.  We are meant to truly enjoy the journey! Heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and other illegal drugs are craved by many who have not found joy in their lives.  We were created to enjoy a much greater joy than any drug can bring!

When we have fear, anxiety and anger, the body produces chemicals called epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol.  When these emotions are present for long periods of time a complex interplay between mind and body transpires.  This can result in physical illnesses that are highly unpleasant, as well as depression.  We all would be healthier–and probably live longer–if stress management could be taught early in grade school.

It thrills me when science backs up biblical truths! After years of researching the multiple activities within the human brain, Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Eugene d’Aquili, came to this conclusion: We are created with an impulse to believe in God and to worship God.  They found this propensity is rooted in the biology of the brain.  Their research brought them to this conclusion: “Religious beliefs and behaviors turn out to be good for us in profound and pragmatic ways.”14

Dr. Bruce Lipton, an internationally recognized cellular biologist, says with assurance, “When the mind changes, it absolutely affects your biology.”15  In his book The Biology of Belief, he shows explicitly how positive thoughts and words have a powerful effect on behavior, but also on our genetic “makeup.” We actually change the cells of our bodies by what we believe, what we think and how we talk.

The words we use with our friends and loved ones can affect both their emotional and physical health (and ours).  Two passages in Scripture assure us of this.  Proverbs 16:24, says pleasant words are like “a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” And, Proverbs 12:25 comfirms this truth, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.”

A lot of depression comes from denying our anger, meaning we repressed it.  It is often said that depression is the common cold of psychiatry.  It is a known fact among mental health experts that depression can come when we repress anger instead of acknowledging it and working with it.  (A way to do this work is explained in “Dealing with Difficult Emotions” found by clicking the Quick Aids button on the home page of this website.16 It is important to realize that the agony of depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance within a person’s brain.  For this reason, seeing a doctor is imperative when debilitating depression lasts for more than two weeks.  There are medications that can create significant change in the body’s chemistry when this imbalance is at the base of depression.  This is also true in instances of long-term anxiety.  Medical help must be sought by those who find themselves continually anxious regardless of their spiritual practices. 

For most people, both depression and anxiety may exist within patches of life.  This is to be expected and we can work through these times.  But persistent, ongoing depression or anxiety can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the body.  Also, panic attacks are a disorder that can wreak havoc in a person’s life.  This disorder includes anxiety, yet goes beyond anxiety as the body becomes gripped with such intense fear that physical symptoms stop the person in her or his tracks.  Each of these three disorders needs to be addressed by a psychotherapist, psychiatrist or psychologist: 1) panic attacks, 2) severe ongoing anxiety, and 3) severe ongoing depression.

Situational anxiety is created by believing “something bad is going to happen--and there is nothing I can do about it!” This anxiety is a nagging fear, an emotion that most of us experience at various points in our lives.  When fear races in like a fierce, dark thunder cloud, solace comes through reading the Scriptures that tell us specifically why we do not need to fear.  A powerful way to self-soothe is to memorize specific Scriptures that offer hope, encouragement, and spiritual strength, of which there are many.  After reading Scriptures that address our fears for 15 - 30 minutes, it is almost impossible for an ongoing flow of fear to continue.  During episodes of depression, returning to these Scriptures for a month or more can bring marvelous results. 

A list of Scriptures that speak to our fears can be found on my home page under the “Quick Aides” button.  Rehearsing in our hearts the truth about our faith is of tremendous help as it uplifts and encourages our spirits.  This is the way to keep foremost in mind that God is our constant source of help.

When I battled depression after my divorce, two things helped me the most.  One was praying and reading Scripture.  Scripture became so important to me that I found comfort in sleeping with my Bible under my pillow.  Doing so brought a sense of God’s continued presence.  One verse in particular, became a favorite: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isa.  61:3).  There is no better way to describe depression than “the spirit of heaviness.” An inevitable power comes through listing all good things God has given in life.  As the list grows, depression will lift accordingly.  If this is tried and your spirit is not lifted, I advise you to talk to your medical provider about trying medication for your depression.

Secondly, I began a practice of rejoicing that worked better than the medication that was prescribed for me following my breakdown.  After several months of using medication, without good results, I called upon a psychologist friend, Dr. Eugene Wiesner, who at that time was the director of the Psychology Department at Montana State University in Billings.  I told Eugene what was happening to me.  He said my depression would be cured if I sang for an hour each day.  He even mailed Psalter Scriptures Set to Music17 to me for this purpose.  Mind you, I did not feel like singing, but I did what the good doctor said.  After three months of this early morning practice, the depression was completely gone.  Many decades have passed and I have never had depression again.  This practice of singing praise to God was the best possible medicine! I still sing some of those songs today while driving the car or doing my housework.  I sing out of the joy of knowing the Lord.  Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy those oh so pleasant endorphins.  Dr. Wiesner has frequently prescribed singing to people who have depression.  He said, “When you take the action of rejoicing, endorphins get triggered from within your brain chemistry.  You are producing the chemistry by what you are doing.  The end result is that you are glad.  You have joy.”  So, when a person gets determined enough to do this rejoicing in the Lord, situational depression ends.

There are numerous passages in the Bible that tell us to rejoice within our journey here on earth.  After all, this world is not our home.  And, God is right here with us (within our very selves) helping us get through whatever is asked of us.  If a believer lives and acts as if life on earth is of primary importance, she or he is not living in truth.  This world is a brief part of eternal existence.  We are just passing through.  Life on earth presents us with an opportunity to learn how to become more and more deeply involved with the Lord, our Creator.  It is within this wonderful privilege that we hear God’s call as to how we can best develop our gifts in ways that serve the needs of our families and others.  This truth is sometimes hard to remember while in the middle of the trials and troubles of life. 

If we say, “Oh, poor me! This is bad.  I can’t handle it,” when something difficult happens, medical science tells us this message goes right into the cells of our bodies.  Then later we wonder why we have fatigue, a headache, a stomachache or a pain in the derriere.  Through the research of PNI*, ample evidence exists for knowing there is a correlation between what happens in our minds and what happens in our bodies.

Although many medical doctors know there is a connection between the mind and the body, few of them are able to incorporate this knowledge into their practices.  Most find their time with patients is so restricted that it is mandatory for them to limit their work to the physical symptoms patients present and to treating diseases.

For sure, God has worked through medical doctors who have succeeded in saving my life.  I also know that every difficulty I experienced has helped make me who I am today, a person who desires to help people who are in pain of some kind.  I had a great need for healing and learned to seek it within my private prayer times.  All became the grist for my spiritual growth.

Even the difficulties managed during my life as a child served to create my great need of God and a thirst for God’s love and acceptance.  The passage in Romans 8:28, about all things working together for good “to those who love God” surely worked for me.  Through the ensuing years of concerted inner healing work, I became a much more healthy and happy person.  I can praise God for seeing to it that every difficulty of my life has “worked together for good.” Without the heat of troubles and trials serving to burn the dross from my soul, it is quite certain I would not be ministering today to people who are sick, troubled or dying.

The hope of a Christian whose goal is to attain full stature in Christ is this: To partake of the nature of God,18 meaning to live and breathe the love of God in word, thought and action.  This goal of living in God’s Spirit does see us missing the mark--and wishing we hadn’t--sometimes several times a day! What is of vital importance is knowing with all our hearts that God knows we are mere humans.  God knows what we are trying to achieve, and He pulls for us.  The Psalmist puts it this way, “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we [are] dust.”19  We are cCaricature of Chaplain Joyorruptible, yet putting on the incorruptible. This caricature portrays how the spiritual life really is. We have the training wheels of God's Word that guide us and keep us on the path.

Life is a ride wherein joy and gratitude are meant to rule our days.  Without a doubt, the Ultimate Privilege is knowing Christ, savoring the experience of God and committing our whole selves to being led by the wind of the Spirit. 

I invited you to determine to reach for nothing less than this Ultimate Privilege in your life.  You will never regret the time, effort and determination you put into such decision. 


An article titled “Dealing with Difficult Emotions” is also provided on this website.  Click the “Quick Aides” link on my home page to locate it.  That brief article is offered to help people identify and deal with highly charged emotions as they come up from within, on a given day.  The skills and techniques in that writing will help readers reach the ultimate and abundant, privileged life God intends for us to enjoy. 

1. Romans 12:1, James 1:27b, Colossians 1:10

2. Exodus 20:1-17, Matthew 22:36-40, Matthew 7:12

3. John 16:24, John 10:10, I Peter1:8, Psalm 5:11, Luke 1:14, John 16:22

4. I Corinthians 10:31

5. 1 Corinthians 12:4-14, John 16:13, Isaiah 30:21, Romans 12:6-8

6. Matthew 25:31-46

7. James 1:27

8. 3 John 1:5-6

9. Micah 6:8, Romans 12:9

10. Philippians 2:5; Isaiah 11:1-2, define the Mind of God for us.  The mind of God brings the Spirit of the Lord, His Wisdom and understanding, His counsel and strength, His knowledge, and the ability to walk in such way as portrays the reverent awe of God.

11. 2 Corinthians 3:18

12. New International Version of the Bible

13. Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion the Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997).

14. Andrew Newberg, M.D.  and Eugene d’Aquili, Ph.d, Why God Won’t Go Away (New York: Ballantine, 2002) 129.

15. Bruce H.  Lipton, The Biology of Belief (New York: Hays House, Inc.)97-14.


17. Psalter Scriptures Set to Music, published by Bethany Missionary Association, Long Beach, CA.

18. 2 Peter 1:4

19. Psalms 103:14


Chaplain Joy

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