“Pete, I’d be happier single than married to you. I have tried talking to you but you aren’t listening. And by the way, the church you pastor, I quit; your leadership isn’t worth following.” These are the words Geri Scazzero spoke to her husband Pete years after he had planted and pastored a “successful” multicultural church in Queens, New York. After getting over his rage and his shame Pete finally said: “although I sincerely loved Jesus Christ I was an emotional infant and unwilling to look at my immaturity.” This led to many years of Christian counseling for Geri and Pete and now they have an intimate marriage, they are parenting their children in emotionally healthy ways, leading their church in emotionally healthy ways and God is greatly using what He taught them to minister to the body of Christ, both individuals and churches.
When I read Pete’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and reflected on my early years of marriage and parenting and the emotionally unhealthy ways I parented my two children and the emotionally unhealthy ways of relating to my wife Kristen, I thank God for convicting me of my sin and breaking me from years of anger, domination, and pride. I am also thankful to God that I don’t see those traits passed down to my children in their marriages and in the way they parent their children.
In his book Pete shares the symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality and some recommendations for dealing with it. Here are just a few of the symptoms that spoke to me: 1) Ignoring deep and long-standing emotions of anger, grief, fear, etc. We can bury our emotions but we bury them alive and they continue to affect us in many ways and especially in the way we relate to the Lord and people. 2) Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments. In other words we are one person on Sunday and another person the other six days of the week and especially in our homes. And we create a false self (the flesh) that seeks approval from people (peer pressure, etc.) more than seeking God’s affirmation. 3) Doing work for God becomes more important than spending time alone with Him and being transformed by Him through His Word, heartfelt prayers of confession, casting our cares upon Him, and joyful praise and thanksgiving for Who He is and all He has done and does in our day to day lives. This is also seen in being too busy in general to develop and deepen close relationships with our family and friends.
Pete shares several ways to grow into emotionally healthy people and I will list them and briefly comment on each one.
1. Know Yourself That You May Know God- Becoming Your Authentic Self (versus the false self we create to seek the approval of people). A recent article from The Trinity Forum had some insightful comments on this as it relates to processing our emotions with the Lord. [“Solitude (time alone with God) removes our “protective distractions.” Much of what makes solitude so uncomfortable is what makes it so vital: by stripping away distractions, we are left alone with our thoughts, fears, unfulfilled hopes, resentments, wounds, and worries. They press in with force and clarity, and our half-disguised, half-ignored faults and failures make themselves known. We begin to know ourselves – including recognizing where we fall short, and how much we need redemption. Solitude provides space and time to focus on the invisible and eternal.” Copyright © 2015 The Trinity Forum] Our emotional life, which often operates unconsciously (buried feelings of past wounds and hurts, or present circumstances which anger or disappoint us, etc.), if not regularly processed with God (“cast your cares upon Me” – 1 Peter 5:7) will “speak” lies to us about ourselves and God. Our emotions therefore can serve as good barometers but are bad interpreters of truth unless we know God’s Word and “speak” it to ourselves.
2. Going Back in Order to Go Forward – Breaking the Power of the Past – “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7; also see 1 Peter 1:18) “We often underestimate the deep, unconscious imprint our families of origin leave on us.” (Scazzero) Even in the lives of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we see a generational pattern of lying, parental favoritism, and conflicts and separation among their sons. Modeling (more is caught than taught) has a powerful influence on us and it requires the transforming power of God’s Word to break these generational patterns. (See Romans 12:2)
3. Journey Through the Wall (of pain and suffering) – Letting Go of Power and Control- In deep trials we become bitter or better. We become more like Jesus or more hardened in our fleshly, sinful attitudes. We become more determined to be in control of our lives (as if we can) or more surrendered to a God Who has proven by the cross how much He loves us and how He is worthy of our trust. In the flesh people want power and control but in the Spirit we are called to love people not control people. I recently read a devotional on the difference between the love of power versus the power of love, as seen in the relationships within the Trinity (other-centered love) and imparted to us when we are saved. [See the full devotional at http://dailytext.seedbed.com/page/7/]
4. Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss-Surrendering to Your Limits – Job lost everything in one day- his family, his wealth, his health. Most of us experience our losses more slowly, over the span of a lifetime, until we find ourselves on the door of death, leaving everything. (See Job 1:13–2:8) [“One learns the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul. However painful, sorrow is good for the soul. The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.” Jerry Sittser – A Grace Disguised]
5. Discover the Rhythms of the *Daily Office and Sabbath- Stopping to Breathe the Air of Eternity – We cannot change ourselves (spiritual transformation) but we can put ourselves in places where God can change us. Pete lists 12 rules of life (which others call spiritual disciplines) necessary in order to be transformed into Christlikeness and to learn how to love well. [“Since biblical times, virtually every Christian philosopher, and indeed the spiritual writings of most major religions, have emphasized the importance of silence and solitude in contemplating and examining one’s life and God’s holiness. Henri Nouwen asserted that, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching, and guiding – we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention.” Copyright © 2015 The Trinity Forum]
Until He Comes Again,
Len and Kristen
*I also recommend Day by Day by Peter Scazzero which takes you through a 40-day journal with Scripture teachings in which you personally respond to the 5 areas above.