the emotionally healthy church

This week, I've been working through a potentially life-changing book called "The Emotionally Healthy Church," by Peter Scazzero. I heard about this book through a series at A Jesus Church in downtown Portland, when the church spent several months working through what it means to be "emotionally healthy." Scazzero's proposal is that in today's church, emotional health has been more or less side-lined in importance compared to "spiritual health." In reality, he says, the two are not only linked, but inseparable. Being known as a more chill, less emotional person, this book has already taught me a lot. I'm not finished yet, but even at this point I wanted to share a few excerpts, quotations, and overall thoughts I've been getting from this. I hope it stirs you to check out this book, the sermon series at A Jesus Church, or other ways of exploring what it means to be emotionally healthy. 

In the Introduction, Scazzero writes, "Making incarnation the top priority in order to love others well is both the climax and point of the entire book." Incarnation, the fact that Jesus is human as we are, makes us free to realize what our humanity means for us. Jesus was an emotional person, meaning that He allowed Himself to feel and embrace emotions as they came. This allowed Him to have compassion and understanding - love - on a level that most of us strive after. 
- He shed tears (Luke 19:41)
- He was filled with joy (Luke 10:21)
- He grieved (Luke 14:34)
- He was angry (Mark 3:5)
- Sadness came over Him (Matthew 26:37)
- He felt sorrow (Luke 7:13)
- He showed astonishment and wonder (Mark 6:6, Luke 7:9)
- He felt distress (Mark 3:5, Luke 12:50)
"Jesus was anything but an emotionally frozen Messiah." 

The author writes that "the thesis of this book [is that] emotional health and spiritual health are inseparable... It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.. Somehow, a subtle message has filtered into our churches that to be human, to be emotional, is somehow sinful - or less than spiritual. The only problem is that we are more than spiritual beings." He discusses dozens of examples of people who set out to do great things for God, and yet strangled, starved, or worked themselves to a breaking point. Most of these people were emotionally immature, he claims, in that they'd never taken time to understand their feelings, get to the root of their behaviors, or learn to care for themselves in an emotionally healthy way.  In The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, it says, 
"Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God... Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice... However, we often turn a dear ear - through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God." 
Through the rest of the book, Scazzero goes on to analyze six different principles of an emotionally healthy Christian, and together an emotionally healthy Church. He begins with an Emotional/Spiritual Health Inventory, providing statements on which to rate myself and get a rough estimate of my own emotional/spiritual state. I tried to be as honest as possible taking his little quiz, and was actually surprised to see that my scores were lower than I had ever expected. According to his little criteria, I fell more under the category of "emotional adolescent" rather than adult. So I was ready to dive in to the six principles he proposes regarding reaching emotional maturity. I've only read through the first three thus far, but here are some of my thoughts and the author's words!

Principle 1: Look Beneath the Surface 

People are like icebergs: only about 10% of our lives shows "above the surface;" the other 90% is what we're less aware of. Scazzero says after his own experience, "My great concern with the call to a  'deep, hard look inside' is that most people believe they are already doing so. I did for years... Most Christians, I am afraid, are self-conscious but not self-aware. We are more worried about what other people think of us than about wrestling with our feelings and motivations... The ultimate purpose is to allow the Gospel to transform all of you - both about and below the iceberg. The end result will be that you and I will be better lovers of God and other people. Without doing the work of becoming aware of your feelings and actions, along with their impact on others, it is scarcely possible to enter deeply into the life experiences of other people. How can you enter into someone else's world when you have not entered into your own?" 

"God has given us the Gospel to create a safe environment to look beneath the surface. I don't have to prove that I'm lovable or valuable. I don't have to be right all the time. I can be vulnerable and be myself even if others don't accept me. I can even take risks and fail. Why? Because God sees the 90% of the iceberg hidden below the surface, and He utterly, totally loves me in Christ." 

Principle 2: Break the Power of the Past

Listening to the sermons from A Jesus Church earlier this year is when I first started to understand the concept of generational sin and/or weaknesses. In almost all cases, our families are the people that shape us the most by far. That's scary for all of us because our families are human, and humans are imperfect - usually very much so. It tends to make sense then that sins or flaws from previous generations can quite easily be passed down further and further. It's different for each family, and honestly I haven't spent much time exploring what this might mean for me yet. Scazzero suggests writing out a family genome and writing a few adjectives about each member in your family tree, along with some of their struggles. Looking into the people who have so influenced us can give us incredible insight into our own emotions, actions, and reactions. With this in mind, we can live as a church in a way that "reparents" each other with those weaknesses and sins we may have inherited from out biological family. And we can better love each other when we remember that each person we interact with is also coming from a complex, different family story than we are. 

Principle 3: Live in Brokenness and Vulnerability

This one was one of my lowest rated on the inventory at the beginning of the book. People who know me well know that while I logically understand and appreciate the value of brokenness and vulnerability, I am generally a well-prepared, more-or-less confident, not incredibly open person. I can be easy to know on a surface level, and even on a secondary level I'd say, but I rarely go deeper than that with others because I fear that they won't truly care about that part of me as much as I do. I don't think I'm the only one who deals with this though. The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent, applies this gospel to this feeling. He writes, 
"One of the leading causes of my tendency to self-love is fear. I fear that if I do not love myself there would be no one left to love me quite so well as I do. Thankfully, the gospel frees me from the shackles of self-love...First, the gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself... Second, the gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God. The more I behold God's glory in the gospel, the more lovely He appears to me. And the more lovely He appears, the more self fades into the background like a former love interest who can no longer compete for me affections." 
When we experience weakness, as humans there are generally three ways we respond: to flee, fight, or hide. But Scripture teaches us a complete different way of handling weakness: embracing and boasting in it! It takes a huge risk for us to actually open up enough to see God work through our weaknesses. I honestly don't know if I've even reached that point yet. In our society, it's very hard to actually embrace our weaknesses. Here is a story referenced in the book that beautifully illustrates what God means when He says He will use our brokenness for His purposes. 

A waterbearer in India had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master's house. 
The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. 
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you." 
Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?" 
"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said. 
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, "As we return to the mistress's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path." 
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure. 
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my mistress's table. Without you being just the way you are, she would not have this beauty to grace her house." 
- Moses stuttered.
- David's armor didn't fit.
- John Mark deserted Paul.
- Timothy had ulcers.
- Hosea's wife was a prostitute.
- Amos's only training was farming.
- Jacob was a liar.
- David had an affair, murdered, and abused power.
- Naomi was a widow.
- Paul was a persecutor.
- Moses was a murdered.
- Jonah ran from God's will.
- Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
- Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.
- Elijah was burned out.
- Martha was a worry wart.
- Noah got drunk.
- Solomon was too rich, and Jesus was too poor.
- Abraham was too old, and David was too young.
- Peter was afraid of death, and Lazarus was dead!
- Moses had a short fuse (so did Peter, Paul, and lots of Bible heroes)

"God has always used cracked pots to 'show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,' (2 Cor. 4:7). It doesn't mean we encourage people to stay the way they are. Admitting the truth about ourselves, however, is the key starting point for change. My wife and I often remark that the day we admitted we were not loving people was the day we began to be loving toward others."

Half-way through the book. these are just a few of my take-aways. I'm praying as I read and process that God will really show what areas He needs to break through in my life and unveil the emotionally immature or unhealthy areas. It will probably be uncomfortable and painful. But I'm convinced it's worth it. I know who created me and who is continuing to shape me. And if He loves me this much, I can trust Him. 


  1. Shelby, I've read a couple of your last posts--you are a gifted writer! And I appreciate your heart (this book was something our staff went through 18 months ago and it has been very good for us as a team). Keep reading--it's a game changer!

    Tim Davis sent me your blog and let me know you're coming up "our way". I'm one of the pastors at CTK Bellingham and would love to connect with you as you find your way at Trinity Western. Please let me know if there is anything we can do to help you as you settle in. --Todd


Post a Comment

thoughts so far

Popular Posts