The 10 Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

Linda and I would like to start a time-defined group in Santa Barbara to develop some relationships and consider the topic of emotionally healthy spirituality.  We anticipate using Peter Scazzero‘s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  The following is a quick overview of an article he wrote…

A person can grow emotionally healthy without Christ. I can think of a number of non-Christian people who are more loving, balanced and civil than many church members I know. At the same time a person can be really into prayer, silence, Scripture, and other Xian disciplines and be emotionally immature and socially maladjusted.  It is the 2 together – emotional health and contemplative spirituality – that release great power to transform our spiritual lives, our small groups and our churches.

The pathway out of this disconnect is radical. That is, it very likely cuts to the root of your entire approach to following Jesus. Trimming a few branches by, for example, attending a prayer retreat or adding a couple of new spiritual disciplines to an already crowded life will not be enough. The enormity of the problem is such that only a revolution in our following of Jesus will bring about the lasting, profound change we long for in our lives.

Before I prescribe this pathway, it is essential for us to clearly identify the primary symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality that continue to wreck havoc in our personal lives and our churches. The following are the top ten symptoms indicating if I am suffering from a bad case of emotionally unhealthy spirituality.

  1. Using God to run from God (e.g. applying Scripture selectively to suit my own purposes, not me doing God’s will.
  2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear (e.g. not being honest with myself and/or others about the feelings, hurts and pains beneath the surface of my life).
  3. Dying to the wrong things (e.g. denying healthy, God-given desires and pleasures of life (friendships, joy, music, beauty, laughter, nature) while finding it difficult to die to my self-protectiveness, defensiveness, a lack of vulnerability and judgmentalism).
  4. Denying the past’s impact on the present (e.g. not considering how my family of origin and significant  people/events from my past have shaped my present).
  5. Dividing life into “secular” and “sacredcompartments (e.g.  compartmentalizing God to “Christian activities” while usually forgetting about him when I am working, shopping, studying or recreating).
  6. Doing for God instead of being with God (e.g. evaluating my spirituality based on how much I am doing for God).
  7. Spiritualizing away conflict (e.g. Missing out on true peace by smoothing over disagreements, burying tensions and avoiding conflict – rather than disrupting the false peace like Jesus).
  8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure (e.g. not speaking freely about my weaknesses, failures and mistakes).
  9. Living without limits (e.g. “trying to do it all” or “bite off more than I can chew”).
  10. Judging the spiritual journeys of others (e.g. finding myself occupied and bothered by the faults of others).

What God did in our lives spilled out into the church immediately, beginning with our staff team, then our elder board and eventually the rest of our leadership.

The result has been a rippling effect, very slowly, through the entire church.

Beginning with the staff and elders, interns, ministry and small group leaders– directly and indirectly–we have intentionally integrated the principles that are explained more fully in The Emotionally Healthy Church (Zondervan 2003) and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Nelson, 2006).

Once you go through the door and leave what I am calling “emotionally unhealthy spirituality,” there is no turning back. It is the beginning of a journey that will change your life, your marriage, your church and, ultimately, your ministry!

To see the full article click here.

Post Valentine’s Day Thoughts

Learning to love well…

It’s been said that loving well is the essence of true spirituality. Loving well involves authentic interaction (or communication) with God, with ourselves, and with other people.

“Love reveals the beauty of another person to themselves”  –Jean Vanier, friend and mentor of Henri Nouwen

Jesus epitomized – and modeled spiritual and emotional health for us.

[Jesus said], “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” –Matt 22:37-40 (MSG)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not able to make the same connection with people as he did. They were competent, diligent, zealous, they were absolutely committed to having God as the Lord of their lives…they memorized entire books of the Hebrew Scriptures, they prayed five times a day, they faithfully tithed off all their increase — plus gave money to the poor, and they evangelized – yet there is little evidence that they delighted in people.

The word incarnate come from a Latin word that means – in – flesh. Jesus choose to limit himself to the confines of human history and a human body.

John 1:14 in the MSG translation says:

“The WORD became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes.”

Today the incarnated presence of God is intended to be the Church – identified in the Bible as the Body of Christ.

3 Dynamics of Incarnational Life…

1. Enter another’s world. James 1:19; Philippians 2:5-8

“Understand [this], my beloved brethren. Let every [person] be quick to hear [a ready listener], slow to speak, slow to take offense and to get angry.” James 1:19 (AMP)

What does it mean to enter “another’s” world?

To care means, first of all, to be present for each other. — Henri Nouwen

What does it mean to be fully present, or become “a ready listener”?

  • Put your own agenda on hold
  • Look people in the eye
  • Practice reflective listening:
  • Allow the other person to speak until their thought is completed
  • Try and restate their thoughts in your own words
  • Don’t try to fix people.
  • Be cognizant of body-language (only 10% of communication is verbal!)
  • Validate people’s feelings. We can validate without being in agreement. (Feelings are neither right, nor wrong, they just are.)
  • Try not to become defensive…

2. Hold on to your world. Ephesians 2:10; John 15:15

“For [you] are God’s masterpiece. He has created [you] anew in Christ Jesus, so [you] can do the good things he planned for [you] long ago.” Eph 2:10, NLT (singular & plural)

In The Emotionally Healthy Church Pete Scazzero states that this dynamic (holding on to our world) is the most difficult and challenging principle to apply. He asserts…

“It is the key to conflict resolution. It is the key to responding in a mature loving way when other people push and challenge your desires, values, and goals inside or outside the church. It is the key to serving as a leader, in any capacity…Without this ability to hold on to yourself, it is not possible to be an imaginative, creative leader who breaks from the status quo and leads people to new places.” (p. 185)

What does it mean to “hold on to your world”?

  • Recognize that we almost always have a choice. (The choice often involves choosing between “peacekeeper” or “peacemaker.”) Peacemakers create false peace.
  • Determine and set clear boundaries:
  • Identify and be clear about limits. Don’t allow people to make demands of you. Allow people to make requests, but not demands. If you hear a request that makes you uncomfortable, your discomfort may be a signal that this is an attempt to invade your boundaries.
  • Learn to say The Graceful “NO.”

“Good boundaries attract good friends.”

3. Live in the tension of both. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Matthew 22:37-40

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Cor 13:4-7 (thought to be a description, not a definition)

  • Living in the tension of another’s world and your own world happens when we are willing to authentically connect with people across our differences (including religion and politics). Civil, or respectful, dialogue…
  • When authentic, incarnational Christian love, or spirituality, is released in a relationship God’s presence is manifest.
  • When we ignore conflict we create a false peace. Jesus was murdered because He disrupted the false peace all around him. True peacemaking disrupts the false peace.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matt 10:34

  • We cannot have true peace in the Church, or society, with pretense and façade.

To care means, first of all, to be present for each other. –Henri Nouwen