Giving youth pastors the tools they need to make and shape disciples.

Healthy Ministers Part 1: Sorting Your Emotional Trash

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I do my best to recycle. I cut up copier mistakes into note pads, I reuse left over wood, and I salvage trash and turn it into something useful. Recycling bins make it easy to sort your stuff; paper here, plastic here, cans here, trash here. If we had one of these sorters in our mind and soul I know, for me, it would make life much easier and lighten my emotional load. But why can’t we set that up? We can.

Let’s begin with the fact that emotions are not bad

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything even anger and sadness, as an appropriate part of life and ministry

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,


a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

Jesus had feelings

  • Jesus wept at the funeral of Lazarus
  • Jesus agonized on the Mount of Olives
  • Jesus felt righteous indignation in the temple

Feelings, positive and negative are part of telling us we’re alive.

It’s what you do with these feelings that matter.

Raw emotions such as anger and sadness can be very useful

Anger and sadness can create great works of art or motivate us to be activists and help others. Anger and sadness, unchecked and unreconciled, leads to relationship problems in the church, in our family and in our minds.

Anger and sadness that devolve into bitterness, rage, depression, etc. is when our lives become mentally and emotionally unhealthy. When I allow my emotional trash to pile up, well, let’s just say my life evokes a noticeable, funky smell.

How do I handle it? I do a brain dump. A love to journal and have filled several books with my musing but my journal has become a pathway to mental and spiritual health.

Whenever my emotional trash starts to pile up I brain dump everything I’ve feeling, the good, the bad and the ugly into my journal. I put every hurt, every injustice and every negative feeling into my dump. This is not an admission to whether my feelings are true or not but an admission that my feelings are real.

Ecclesiastes releases me to sort and dump my emotional trash

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

I am the opposite of a hoarder, If it’s in my way or impedes my progress, I will take it to the dump. Negative emotions, held long term, will impede your performance. These feelings will come out like the bottom of a torn trash bag.

At the beginning of your prayer time (or anytime) Build a mental image of three cans, one that says Forgiveness, one that says Recycle and the last one says God’s Trash.

The Forgiveness Can

Yes, it’s exactly what is sounds like it’s for, a place to put your un-forgiveness. In ministry it’s easy to accumulate a lot of hurt feelings from those who do not appreciate us or just don’t like us. The trash looks like bundled newspapers filled with headlines of those who report on our failures and inadequacies.

Why are you holding on to those feelings? There’s a great quote by author Kevin Kelly,

Forgiveness is accepting the apology you will never get – Kevin Kelly, Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier

Holding on to our hurts until that person apologizes is the equivalant of saying, “Don’t throw that away, I need it” and you haven’t touched IT in five years. The apology you desire is nor forthcoming, forgive them anyway and de-clutter your heart.


Feelings, like anger, are not sinful, but they can drive us to do sinful things like Moses killing an Egyptian.

Feeling unwanted by our spouse can lead to an affair.

Feeling wounded can cause us to lash out at anyone near us.

Look at the recycle bin. What can you do with these feelings that will lead to something good? What can you do besides feel sorry for yourself or sit in that co-workers slight?

Can you serve someone? Love someone? Encourage someone? Do that instead.

Don’t waste your feelings on things that will hurt you, recycle those feeling into helping someone else and watch that feeling turn into something beautiful and life giving.

God’s Trash

There’s going to be times where you will not know what do with those feelings, that’s what God’s Trash is for. You may be experiencing feelings from a trauma or life event that seem to fill your whole heart giving you no room to move.

Job sat in his feelings, unsure why all this trouble was being dumped on him like so many bags of trash while his friends poked around the pile looking for his hidden sin. Job never sorted all his stuff out, he received no answer to why this was all happening to him, but God still showed up.

You may (read as mostly likely) never receive an answer to your “why?” but the action of sorting gives you a chance to reflect, untangle and wait upon the Lord regardless of how He shows up and what new He may bring you.

Throw all those frenetic feelings, all your “why’s” all your disappointment into this can. Brain dump them, shout them into the can with prayer, whatever way works for you. Jump up an down on the can and make more room if you need to.

Now, drag that can to the curb and wait, God will be by to pick it up.

Once you’ve sorted all your stuff, look around. Look how clean it is. Look how much mental and emotional room you have to move, create, breath and love.

Instead of allowing your trash to pile up, treat every day as trash day.

Next:  Hoarding hurts hurts our lives.


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