Saturday, June 30, 2007

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Over the years the Lord has used many different books to speak to my heart besides His most precious word --The Bible. Recently, our pastor and the staff members of my church in various discussions would often mention a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality written by Peter Scazzero. Of course I'm always on the look out for good books to read and so whenever my pastor mentions books, I usually take note and head to Amazon online to get it. Such was the case as I heard both my pastor and his wife give examples from this book. And so over a month ago I bought the book and started to read. This is not a book to just read through quickly although I confess it was so rich in insight and so powerful that I could not put it down. Within one week I had read the entire book and had underlined and highlighted many sections. There is much to chew on and so I am now in the process of re-reading each chapter. The premise of this book is simple: it is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.

Peter Scazzero notes that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable, yet the reality is that very few people emerge out of their families of origin emotionally whole or mature. Coupled with that is the fact that our current discipleship models often only add an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. Scazzero notes that while people are having real and helpful spiritual experiences in certain areas of their lives---such as worship, prayer, bible studies and fellowship---they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life and interior world is not in oder. This apparent 'progress' then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing.

If most of us are honest we will admit there are deep layers beneath our day to day awareness. Scazzero calls this the iceberg model. Only about 10% of the iceberg is visible to the eye---this represents the visible changes we make that others can see ie: we attend church, we 'clean up our lives' somewhat, we refrain from foul language, we are involved in bible study etc, but the roots of who we are, continue unaffected and umoved. As Scazzero states, contemporary spiritual models address some of the 90% below the surface but the problem is that a large portion remains untouched by Jesus Christ until there is a serious engagement with what Scazzero calls 'Emotionally Healthy Spiritually.' He highlights the top 10 symptoms of emotionally 'UNHEALTHY spirituality:

1. Using God to Run from God --using Christian activities as an unconscious attempt to escape from pain.
2. Ignoring the emotion of anger, sadness and fear --- to the degree we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others and ourselves well.
3. Dying to the wrong things --we are called to die to the sinful parts of who we are such as defensiveness, deatchment from others, arrogance, stubborness, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, a lack of vulnerablity but we are NOT called to die to the 'good' parts of who we are. God never asks us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of lie such as friendship, joy, art, music, laughter etc.
4. Denying the past's impact on the present---the work of growing in Christ demands we go back in order to break free from unhealthy and desstructive patterns that prevent us from loving ourselves and others as God designed.
5. Dividing our lives into 'secular' and 'sacred' compartments--- it is easy to compartmentalize our lives that we do not see all of our work and our lives as worship and as sacred.
6. Doing for God instead of being with God--- work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others. We become human 'doings' and not human 'beings.'
7. Spiritualizing away conflict - sweeping disagreements under the rug and not dealing with the issues. Jesus shows us that healthy Christians do not avoid conflict. He was in regular conflict with the religious leaders, the crowds, the disciples, even with His own family. Out of a desire to bring true peace, Jesus disrupted the false peace all around him.
8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure ---the pressure to present an image of ourselves as strong and spiritually 'together' hovers over most of us. This is all about impression management.
9. Living without limits ---we are not God and we cannot serve everyone in need. We are human. Self care is never a selfish act.
10. Judging other people's spiritual journey---we turn our differences into moral superiority.

As I reflect on each of these emotionally unhealthy spiritual symptoms, I realize that much of it has to do with impression management. Our unhealthy emotions are driven so much by the impressions that we want to give others. Jesus was never into impression management. He calls us to live out of our true selves by transforming us from our false perceptions and patterns of behavior that we have developed through our nurturing environments so that we can be free to live the way He intended us to be and be emotionally healthy and authentic both in His presence and in the presence of others. For more information on this book and resources that are available check out this link:

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