They always ask the question – who’s a good boy, never how’s the good boy! I had to smile as I saw this meme. It made me realise how often we don’t pick up on the emotional needs of one another.
A question that Peter Scazzero asks in his book, ‘Emotionally healthy spirituality’ is this: Can you be a mature spiritual Christian leader if you are emotionally unhealthy? His answer is a definitive, ‘NO’. The following eight points are my edited version of some of his thoughts on the symptoms of unhealthy emotional spirituality.
1. Too busy for God to listen to God
On the surface we can all look so good. We are working hard in service for God and functioning in spiritual ministry. We hear God’s words for the worship and ministry times and people seem to really appreciate us. We are a good speaker and bible teacher. We read the latest Christian books and can bring encouragement to people. BUT when it comes to our own relationship with God it’s a different story. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to go deep. We don’t hear God so much for ourselves. We aren’t dealing with many of our own issues – who has time for them anyway!
All the activity de-sensitizes us from being aware of what is going on in our own souls. We push down nagging doubts and negative feelings and press on as good Christian soldiers. But it will only last for a certain time and then the reality will hit. Time is needed for personal retreat and listening to what is really going on in our souls.
2. Tolerating OTT emotional responses or silencing them completely.
Some of these emotional over the top responses include: getting angry, withdrawing, manipulating others through fear or shame, not listening and becoming aloof and acting with an attitude of control or rigidity regarding an approach to a decision, plan or problem.
On the other hand, we can push down emotions we are experiencing because we feel they are ungodly or not helpful in our lives. We would rather move on and not deal with any pain, sadness, fear or rejection that is there under the surface. We avoid any debriefing that would focus on difficult issues we have gone through. We feel it’s better to just let it go and close the door on it.
Of course, if we really want to let it go, then we have to revisit it, and work through all those emotions, so we can learn from the past, bring closure to the past and then move on with a sense of freedom and peace.
3. Living a double life
Peter Scazzero says, ‘Human beings have an uncanny ability to live compartmentalised double lives.’ According to Gallop polls, one of the greatest scandals of our day is that ‘evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self centred and sexually immoral as the world in general.’ That is a scary thought, but is it true in our lives?
Are we squeaky clean in public but have bad attitudes out of the public eye? Do our signature sins reign in our inner lives but outwardly we give an image that says everything is great? Do we create an image in our newsletters and on Facebook or other social networks that is a different story to the real one we live out internally? Who are we behind closed doors, on our own, or as a husband/wife or father/mother?
Let’s close the gap, if there is one, between the image we give and the life we actually lead. Honesty with ourselves and others is the first step to moving towards a healthy emotional spirituality.
4. Burying hurts or blasting people
Only a very small percentage of people really enjoy any kind of conflict. Most of us try to avoid it or brush it under the carpet. Some try to control it and fix it. Just the other day I heard a parent say to his child, ‘Don’t be silly of course you aren’t scared!’ We can’t go around invalidating people’s emotions. If they feel certain emotions, those are real for them, whether it’s the best response or not. We all know the saying – hurt people hurt people. This is exactly what they are doing – they bury their own hurt but it comes out in blasting other people and hurting them in the process.
If you have buried a lot of hurt, then I would encourage you to get some debriefing or counselling. And of course, there is a danger if we open up and share our whole load in one go! There is a time and season for this kind of sharing and I would trust the Lord to open the right connections with the right people for you.
5. Living as a messiah
In the west, we have a very strong work ethic and as a result, many of us become workaholics. Our mantra is: ‘If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.’ If you are more of a people person, instead of wanting to be productive and efficient with what you get done, you become focused on people. Your mantra becomes: ‘Everyone else’s needs take priority over mine – or – If I don’t help, no one else will.’ The workaholic or helpaholic believe that ‘the success of the business depends on me or my staff depend on me.’ In other words, ‘I am indispensable. I have to give 120% and always go the extra mile.’ We become driven by things or people out there and our own emotions and thoughts for ourselves go unnoticed.
For those stuck in the messiah trap, there is a need to meet with Jesus to find out what he really desires from us. In many cases our need is one of establishing the right boundaries for ourselves – so we don’t over work or over help.
6. Allowing negative emotions to lead us
I was talking to someone the other day who was very open about their life. She shared that every day was a battle and that worries, fears and doubts filled her every waking moment. She didn’t want to leave the house because of the way she was feeling. These feelings were real and they were controlling her mind and will. If we don’t manage our emotions, they will run away with us.
If you have sudden outbursts of anger, then you are allowing these emotions to control you. Usually there is another emotion under the surface of the anger – it could be rejection, frustration, shame, failure or a multitude of others. These negative responses to situations need to be taken to Jesus to be healed or others will not be able to trust us or feel safe around us.
7. Denying dysfunction
When we are not aware of ourselves emotionally, it’s easy to have the wrong idea of how we come across to others. Have you ever seen yourself on video? Scary isn’t it – well it was for me anyway! Do you receive truthful feedback on a regular basis from someone you love, about how you live and relate with those around you? We all have weaknesses, limitations, signature sins and failures. We are dysfunctional and the sooner we come to terms with that the better it will be for us and everyone we relate to. Like the confession of an alcoholic at an AA meeting, we need to be ready to say – My name is Stephen Mayers and I am dysfunctional in these areas….
8. Finding fault in everyone around us.
When we deny our dysfunction, we become the model and if others differ in any way from us, they have something wrong with them. We criticise the clothes they wear, the accent they speak with, the job they do, the lack of this and the ‘over the top’ of that and so it goes on.
‘The monk’, said one of the desert fathers, ‘must die to his neighbour and never judge him at all in any way whatever.’ He continued: ‘If you are occupied with your own faults, you have no time to see those of your neighbour.’
It comes down to four questions:
How aware am I of my own emotions? How well do I manage those emotions?
How aware of other’s emotions am I? How well do I manage other’s emotions in the team?
To gain health in our emotional life, it is helpful to take time every evening to do an emotional Examen. We go back over the day and focus on our emotional responses during the day. How did I respond well to circumstances today? When did I feel close to the Lord and to others and respond emotionally well? When did I respond emotionally poorly to circumstances today? When did I feel distant and have over the top emotional responses to God and others?
Be honest, talk to the Lord about those questionable responses. Think about the triggers to those responses. Uncover the emotions under the surface of the initial negative action or reaction. Talk to Jesus about each situation and allow him to speak into your life.
Until next month