Good morning! It’s been awhile since I’ve last been up here. We’re now at the end of this Emotionally Healthy Spirituality series and book, so my job today is to wrap it all up, to tie it all together. And if it’s ok with you, I’d like to be really open with you on my journey through this series, and then we’ll look at the big highlights of this series together.
So, my wife Kim and I are currently in a huge transition in our lives together. Just 2 and a half weeks ago our first son Jacoby was born. He’s brought so much joy into our lives already, but as all you parents here today know, while we’ve gained joy, we’ve lost sleep. So it’s been an interesting trade off!
You know it’s really quite the experience becoming a parent for the first time. Over the past several months leading up to his birth, so many parents have talked to me about what life will be like with him here. They’ve given me warnings, how to do things, how to hold him, and so on. But the thing I was most anxious for, and most excited for, was the moment I’d see him for the first time. Countless fathers described to me the moment of their children’s births: How time stopped, how tears rolled down their face, how they felt the first time they held the child they’ve waited for months to meet. They’ve described the surreal moment of silence when your baby arrives and tries to figure out what in the world just happened. And for the last 9 months I have been patiently waiting to have those experiences myself.
Kim had to be induced because of the multiple kidney stone issues she’s had during pregnancy, so while we could have had to rush to the hospital if he choose to come early, we knew the date we’d be going in to the hospital for our lives to change.
The night before we went in was one of the greatest nights of my life so far. You see, I struggle with being emotionally healthy. Over the past few years, I’ve struggled to show and feel many different emotions, and I didn’t even know it. So through this series, I really wanted to work on it. It’s been quite a journey so far, and I’ll explain more later. But that night, the night before we’d go to the hospital to change our lives forever, the last night of only a family of 2, I felt emotion. In fact, Kim and I both did.
We were cleaning up the house, getting it all clean and ready for Jacoby when we came back, and when we were done, we sat on the couch and played a few songs over our speakers. And for a good 45 minutes, Kim and I just wept. We cried tears of joy, tears of happiness, tears of sorrow, tears of fear, tears of almost every emotion we could. We were just so excited to meet our little guy!
We went through this book last year, if you remember. I’ll be open with you all and tell you that last year when we did it, I didn’t read more than the first 3 chapters. Why? Because as it was talking about feeling emotion, and reflecting on your past, and dealing with pain in your life, I didn’t feel like I had any issues with my own life. I’m a happy person! You ask how I’m doing, I’ll say great with a big smile on my face. I’d gone through hard times and loss in my life at that time, but I thought I was fine. I felt like some of you maybe do today: I don’t need a book. Why do I need to express emotion? And how in the world could that be connected to my walk with God?
Through this past year, I’ve gone through more loss. But this past year, I started to notice that I wasn’t dealing with my emotions. The soft hearted, cry-at-drama-movies kid I used to be changed. But I kept stuffing it, an awful thing to do to be emotionally healthy by the way. The hard part was, most of the time I didn’t even recognize I was doing it. When we started going through this book again this year, I’ll be honest again and say that I was reading it so that I could preach. I still didn’t think that I needed help, I thought I understood it all pretty well. I had a sermon set for early in this book… and I couldn’t do it. As I was reading and trying to take in all that Peter Scazzero was saying, I realized how much it all related to me. And I didn’t want to come up here and show that to you.
One night just a few weeks ago I finally cracked. ALL my emotion came flooding out of me. The pain and sorrow and fear that I had held back for so long came out. It was emotions and thoughts that I never wanted to face, that I didn’t think I could handle, so I had stuffed it away. It was one of the hardest nights of my life, and so was the next few days as Kim and I had to sift through all that came out and try and deal with those emotions one at a time.
And I think that’s why that night before the hospital was so monumental for me. I hadn’t even seen my baby boy yet, but the joy and the love I had for him already overflowed out of me. I didn’t have to keep it inside anymore. I cried out of fear of what was next. I cried out of love for Kim and Jacoby. And most importantly, I was able to finally release the pain I had carried around… since our miscarriage from early this year. It was crushing, and I couldn’t process it. So this whole year I have tried to stay strong for Kim, for my family, and for myself. And with Jacoby being conceived not too long after, I was able to cover my grief with the joy of him. But even that left me scared for Jacoby this whole 9 months. I didn’t allow myself to get too excited about him coming. I made Kim call Jacoby our maybe baby for several weeks so that I could keep myself from more hurt. But that night, knowing I would see my son before coming back home, I was able to finally release my sorrow.
I didn’t tell you my own struggle with Emotionally Healthy Spirituality to brag, to say that I got it right, or to make you feel bad for not reading the book. I’ve been honest and open with you because I want you to know, it’s true. Everything we’ve covered is real, and it’s important if you want to have a great relationship with God.
I want you to know, because maybe you have felt or do feel like I did: You have a hard time showing emotion, or feeling emotion, or connecting it with God.
And I want you to know, it’s a process. I’m not even CLOSE to doing this well. I’ve only had a few nights of breakthroughs. I have to make myself tell Kim the emotions I’m feeling about things or else it eats me up and she can tell. Simple emotions like frustration, or irritation, or even just sometimes what I want. But it’s getting better.
Ken and Sam didn’t choose to do this series again because they were out of ideas, or didn’t want to work on something new, but because of how important it really is to our lives, and because when we actually make the effort ourselves to move into Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, we grow more mature, and closer to God. I’m proof of it.
I want to spend the rest of our time together to hit on the big things we’ve talked about the last few weeks by looking at the difference between someone who is an emotional adult and someone who is an emotional infant. Peter Scazzero has separated each of these emotional components of discipleship with 7 different principles:
Look beneath the surface
Break the power of the past
Live in brokenness and vulnerability
Receive the gift of limits
Embrace grieving and loss
Make incarnation your model for loving well
Slow down and lead with integrity
Our goal through this series has been to help you to see where you are, and to push you towards growing into an emotional adult. As I go through each of the areas we’ve covered, assess yourself. Don’t nudge your spouse or kids. Don’t be thinking about who would really benefit from this. Don’t check out. That’s what I did last year, and all it did was mask how I really was.
On your handouts, I’ve made a simple little chart that you can write on after each section. Simply and honestly, mark on the bar where you believe you are emotionally. The four emotional maturity levels are:
As we go through these principles, I’m going to mainly highlight the difference between the adult and the infant, but you may certainly be in between. I challenge you to honestly assess yourself. Your relationship with God can’t grow and you can’t become more emotionally healthy if you refuse to assess where you’re at.
Before looking at the seven principles we have to start by looking at our understanding of who we are in Christ. Before we can become emotionally healthy spiritually, we first have to make sure we understand the core truths of Christianity. We have to assess where we are at in being a disciple of Christ. As a church, we could be all over the board, from a spiritual infant to a mature Christian, based on how long you’ve known Christ, how you’ve personally grown already, and what you’re doing to live out your faith. A spiritually mature Christian is someone who not only reads and knows that they are a child of God, but they believe it to be true. They aren’t looking to the world for acceptance, because they are confident in who they are in Christ already. They love to worship God, and spend time with Him in worship, prayer, and His Word. They live out their faith in all aspects of their life, not just at church Sunday mornings, but throughout the week, at the workplace, with their friends and family, and when they are alone. On the other end of the spectrum, a spiritual infant is someone who isn’t spending time with God. Their lives don’t look much different than everyone else’s, Christian or not. They try to get to church Sunday mornings, but that’s about it for spending time with God. They may know spiritual truths, like God’s love and acceptance of them, but they don’t totally believe it to be true.
Now let me make a very important point: The spiritual infant may very well be a ‘new-to-the-faith’ Christian. They haven’t had time to mature yet. They’re learning what it means to follow God. But, there are many spiritual infants who have attended church for years. The difference between a mature disciple of Christ and an infant is determined not by duration, but by devotion.
Why is it important to know where you are spiritually? To quote Pete, “Emotional health powerfully anchors me in the love of God by affirming that I am worthy of feeling, worthy of being alive, and lovable even when I am brutally honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly deep beneath the surface of my iceberg.”
So, assess yourself. Where are you spiritually, right now? How well do you know God personally?
Once we know where we are at as disciples of Christ, we can begin to look into 7 principles of emotional components of discipleship.
The first challenge is to look beneath the surface. We have to look at our emotions themselves. Let me ask you, do you feel emotions? ALL of your emotions? I know that I didn’t. An emotional adult is able to identify what they’re feeling inside. They can be angry, and know they’re angry. The hulk is a great example of knowing when he’s angry. They can be terrified and know they are terrified. They can be anxious and know they are anxious. Seems like common sense, right? But I can tell you first hand, this is difficult to do for some people, like myself. Emotional adults are willing to explore and open up the ugly parts of themselves to allow God to redeem those areas. They can handle being alone with just God and their feelings. They can not only know the emotions they are feeling, but they can share them with others, and most importantly, they can be honest with themselves about the feelings, beliefs, doubts, pains, and hurts beneath the surface of life.
This is where I really struggle. Perhaps you’re like me. When I feel bigger, more difficult emotions, I can easily brush them off, saying, “I’m good.” I don’t know what my blocker is, or why it’s there, but I have a hard time doing everything that emotional adults can do. Maybe you’re also like me, and you feel ‘wrong’ for having those difficult emotions like, anger, sadness, or anxiety. It’s almost like an unconscious rule that we should not feel those emotions as a Christian. But as I’m learning, God connects with us, and teaches us, through those emotions. Our emotions are a large indicator of our heart condition, and by stuffing them or ignoring them, we ignoring pieces of our heart, pieces of reality! Pete says, “The problem is that when we neglect our most intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and close off an open door through which to know God.”
Where are you at? How do you express emotion? Do you feel emotions, or do you try to push them away?
The second challenge is to break the power of the past. Our families have had an incredible impact on the way you live and see life. You may not even realize it, but they do! We’ve gone through many things in our past, with our families, that have determined how we act and do things today. An emotional adult is one who can is able to resolve conflict in a clear, direct, and respectful way. They’re able to look at big ‘earthquake’ events in their past, such as death in the family, divorce, addiction, and work through them, rather than never addressing them. They’re able to thank God for even the hard experiences, knowing God used them to shape who we are today. And emotional adults are able to take responsibility of their past, rather than blaming it on others.
Infants are the opposite. They can’t break family sins, they are stuck in the past, and if you ask them why they do certain things, they would probably never link it to how they grew up. I know I haven’t. I can very easily ignore things that have happened in my own family. I say, “It’s not that bad compared to other family hardships.” Or ask Kim if I ever choose to completely ignore things I’ve done in my past. I absolutely do! Instead of embracing them, and working through the hardships of my past, many times I try to avoid reflecting on them, or I straight up will lie to others and myself about what happened and how it’s affected me, and I can believe my own lies. You’ve got to understand that our past has 100% affected how we are today, whether you ignore it or not. Pete says, “Sadly, when we look deep beneath the surface of our lives, most of us are not doing anything fundamentally differently from what our families did. God’s intention, however, is that our local churches and parishes are to be places where, slowly but surely, we are re-parented on doing life Christ’s way.” God can redeem your past, and no matter what hardships you walk with, with Christ we can break free from them. But we have to be willing to work through them.
Do you know the things from your past you need to work through? Are you willing to?
The third challenge is how we live in brokenness and vulnerability. There comes a point in the Christian faith where we feel stuck. We go through hard times. The emotional infants will try to get around these hard times, avoiding them, pushing them to the side, pretending like they haven’t happened. But we all, if not yet, eventually, get to our breaking point, what the book called ‘The Wall.’
Here’s what Pete describes as the wall:
“For most of us the Wall appears through a crisis that turns our world upside down. It comes, perhaps, through a divorce, a job loss, the death of a close friend or family member, a cancer diagnosis, a disillusioning church experience, a betrayal, a shattered dream, a wayward child, a car accident, an inability to get pregnant, a deep desire to marry that remains unfulfilled, a dryness or loss of joy in our relationship with God. We question ourselves, God, the church. We discover for the first time that our faith does not appear to ‘work.’ We have more questions than answers as the very foundation of our faith feels like it is on the line. We don’t know where God is, what he is doing, where he is going, how he is getting us there, or when this will be over.”
Have you hit the wall? How have you responded? The way that you respond shows where you are emotionally. Here’s what emotional adults do: They are able to admit when they are wrong. They are able to be transparent about their weaknesses, failures, and mistakes. They aren’t easily offended. They are always open to improving themselves through constructive criticism. They aren’t judgmental or critical of others, and like James 1:19-20 says, they are slow to speak, quick to listen, and good at seeing things from other’s perspectives.
If you never go through the Wall, you’ll never get passed it. Your journey with God won’t be able to go any further. And the way you respond to other broken and hurt people is good evidence of where you’re at. If you are judgmental and critical of other people, if you jump on their faults, if you are offended by a lot, you haven’t been able to get through the wall. You’re stuck! In order for you to grow closer to God, to become emotionally mature, you’ve got to embrace the pain. Go through it, knowing God will be there every step of the way.
Let me ask again, have you hit the Wall? If so, how have you responded?
The next challenge is that of our limits. As humans, we see limits as a bad thing. However, our limits are actually a gift! We are limited by our physical body – it’s slowly dying, and you can’t stop this process, no matter how much plastic surgery you get. Despite the advances we’ve made with science, you still won’t live past 150. We are limited by our marital status – both marriage and singleness are limits, and the amount of children you can have is a limit. We are limited in our intellectual capacity – you can’t know it all, despite people who call you a know-it-all. We are limited by our time – we only get 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’ll never change! You want to get everything done, and go visit every where, but your time is limited. Even our spiritual understanding is limited! We can’t know everything about God. There is ALWAYS more to learn about Him, more than we could ever imagine.
The emotional infant tries to live as if there are no limits. They’ll try and do everything they can, and exhaust all their capicities eventually. But God gave us limits on purpose. When we embrace them, it drives us to humility before God and others. The emotional adult doesn’t bite off more than they can chew, and they’re able to say no to requests and opportunities – not because they aren’t good or because they don’t want to do them, but in order to not overextend themselves. As disciples of Christ, they’re able to distinguish the difference between when to help carry someone else’s burden and when to let it go so they can carry their own burden. They know their limits: emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual. And other people can see that they accept their limits by balancing all that life throws at them.
Are you exhausted trying to do everything? Do you refuse to accept the limits in your life? Or are you able to say no, and keep from overextending yourself?
Our next challenge is that of embracing grief and loss. This is where I have gotten stuck. “Our culture routinely interprets losses as alien invasions that interrupt our ‘normal’ lives. We numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizing, addictions, and avoidance. We search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds. We demand others take our pain.” We’ve all had loss in our lives, and we’ll all have more losses eventually. In order to deal with those losses, we have many defensive maneuvers to protect ourselves from pain. We use
Denial – refusing to acknowledge a painful part of reality
Minimizing – we make it seem much less serious than it is
Blaming others – we don’t want responsibility, so we give it to others
Blaming yourself – we inwardly take the fault
Rationalizing – we give excuses, justifications, and alibis to make it seem ok
Intellectualizing – we overthink things in order to avoid our difficult feelings
Distracting – we change the subject or engage in humor to avoid threatening topics
Becoming hostile – we get angry when any reference is made about certain subjects
Do you use any of these? While many of us are used to one or several of these, using them does not help our emotional health! Let me be honest with you, and say that I know I use denial, minimizing, rationalizing, intellectualizing, distracting, and eventually even becoming hostile if I stuff long enough. I know that I have used all of these methods in our miscarriage, like I was talking about earlier. If you deal with any of these, you’re not alone!
In order to heal from our grief, we have to face it. Rough, huh? The emotional adult openly admits losses and disappointments, and when they go through them they reflect on the feelings, they allow the tears to flow, they allow the anger to show, rather than pretending there is nothing wrong. And if you’re like me and you feel wrong doing that, check out the Psalms. They’re able to take time to grieve. And they’re able to cry and experience depression or sadness, explore the reasons behind it, and allow God to work in them through it.
If you’re like me, which I know some of you are, you have a hard time crying. You push off painful things so that you don’t have to deal with them. You were taught not to cry somewhere along the line. It’s easier to continue on in your day than to think about what hurts you. But maybe like me as well, you long for the day when you can finally release the tears you’ve held back, and to get all that pain off your chest. I don’t know what it’ll take for you to get to that point, but I pray that you do.
How do you embrace grief and loss? Do you turn to something else, or use defense mechanisms? Or do you face them?
Our sixth challenge is to make incarnation your model for loving well. What does that mean? It’s in reference to Jesus entering our world. We are to enter other people’s world in order to love them well. Jesus’ Great Commandment after all is to love God and love others. But in our culture today, we think about ourselves, and who and what we can use to get ahead. It can be easy to see other people as means to get what they want. The result is that we get mad and frustrated with people when they don’t do what we want or what we expect. Pete says, “Recognizing the uniqueness and separateness of every other person on earth is so pivotal to emotional maturity. We so easily demand that people view the world the way we do. We believe our way is the right way.” If we are to love people the way that Jesus calls us to, we have to try our best to enter into their world. To accept where they are at. To show them love through our conversations and actions. That’s what emotional adults do! They’re responsive listeners. They speak in the first person when dealing with confrontation so that they aren’t using blaming tones. They have little interest in judging other people or quickly giving opinions about them. Bottom line: They love well. Infants do just the opposite. They use people, they expect things from people, and they are often very judgmental and critical people. It’s hard to love people if you don’t take the time to enter their world.
Do you love well? Do you take the time to see things from other’s point of view?
The last challenge I have for you this morning is to slow down to lead with integrity. Your reaction may be, ‘oh here we go again, MRC talking about rest.’ But if you’re saying that, I’m betting that you are the person who has NOT started taking time to rest! Resting is such a clear indicator of our emotional and spiritual health. Why? Because it shows each so well! You don’t have to be a Christian to know that rest is good for the body. Stress breaks our body down when we work day after day without rest. If you try and stay up for 3 nights in a row, you’ll need sleep. Rest is critical to make our bodies work. But, rest in the form of a weekly 24 hour Sabbath also shows how you trust in God to keep the world working. Many of us feel like our job will fire us, our family will fall apart, we will go bankrupt, if we actually stop working for one day. But good news, God is still in control! Pete says this: “Make no mistake about it: keeping the command to Sabbath is both radical and extremely difficult in our everyday lives. It cuts to the core of our spirituality, the core of our convictions, the core of our faith, and the core of our lifestyles.”
Sabbath resting puts our trust in God and makes Him our priority. The emotional adult shows that to be true! They spend sufficient time alone with God, as well as regularly take a 24 hour period each week for Sabbath-keeping – which includes stopping, resting, delighting, and contemplating God. Their marriage and children are their priority over the church ministry and others. Specific to leading with integrity, they aren’t afraid to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions, to themselves or to others when it’s needed, and they don’t divide their lives by sacred and secular. They aren’t one person at work and another at church. They live consistent lives following God’s lead.
On the other hand, the emotional infant is someone who never stops to rest. They are afraid that slowing down will put them behind. Their lives aren’t trusting in God with life, they’re trusting in their own work to get them through. They don’t take much time, if any, throughout the day to reset with God by prayer, reading His Word, or simply enjoying His presence in silence.
You and I both know how hard this can be to do, right? I feel you when you say I don’t know how I could ever possibly take an entire day off. Or even spending time throughout the day! If you’ve spent quality time in God’s presence before, you know that you want to be there again and again. It brings life to our lives. Yet ironically it’s normally the first thing we sacrifice to make time to do other things. But just because it’s hard to do doesn’t mean it’s not important and needed for emotional and spiritual health!
So let me ask you our last challenging principle question: Are you resting in God? Are you spending time with Him each day, and once a week in Sabbath?
Here’s the deal. We’ve spent the last 10 weeks talking about these points in detail, and I just covered this book’s main points in one sermon. It was a lot to review. But hopefully by going through each of these, you have assessed where you are in your walk towards emotionally healthy spirituality. If this talk has left you emotionally drained, you probably have some work to do. And like Ken ended with last week… this is up to you. Jesus wants to transform your life. He wants to take every thing you have to offer and use it in some way. But, like the turtle as our cover for the series, we can get stuck and not know why. That was me for the past several years, and I didn’t even know it. This last year opened my eyes to the fact that I was stuck. I wasn’t totally sure why I was, but I couldn’t get passed it. Chances are, several of you here today feel stuck, too. Perhaps it’s because of your emotional health.
Remember, you should not be controlled by your emotions. We are not saying you should be led by your emotions. You should be led by the Holy Spirit. But we do need to be able to be able to feel them, express them, and see what God is saying to us through them.
Listen, there is no shame in admitting that we need help. In fact, that’s completely why Jesus came! The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Our desperate need of Jesus is connected to our need of emotional health. That’s why the book is called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. When we admit that we need help, that’s where Jesus can come and transform us. But it’s a choice. I had to admit it to myself in order to start this journey, and I’m not going to stop.
2018 is just a month away, isn’t that crazy? 2017 is almost over. The New Year’s Resolutions are coming. How about you start one today? You don’t have to call it a New Year’s Resolution. Call it your new life resolution. Start the journey to emotionally healthy spirituality. Reread the sermon notes on our website blog. Re-listen on the podcasts. Do yourself an incredible service and read the book. Learn what to means to have an emotionally healthy spirituality. You’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to get mad and upset as you uncover what you’ve been hiding. But the end result is living out your true self, and growing so much closer to our Father.