Symptoms of Emotionally UN-Healthy Spirituality

So, what does Scazzero consider unhealthy? What are the problems that lead to burnout and miserable preachers?

I will cover this chapter in a few posts, splitting up the author’s list of 10 things:

1. Using God to run from God

Busy work. This goes back to the being/doing dichotomy I talked about last time. He proposes that we often use religious busy work “as an unconscious attempt to escape from pain.” Instead of dealing with my sin, I try to stay busy doing good.

He lists some frightening examples on page 25:

  • When I do God’s work to satisfy me, not him
  • When I pronounce, “The Lord told me I should do this” when the truth is, “I think the Lord told me to do this.”
  • When I hide behind God talk, deflecting any spotlight on my inner cracks and becoming defensive about my failures
  • When I exaggerate my accomplishments for God to subtly compete with others

2. Ignoring the Emotions of anger, sadness, and fear

Scazzero: “Like most Christians, I was taught that almost all feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted……It is true that some Christians live in the extreme of following their feelings in an unhealthy, unbiblical way. It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly.”

One moment of insight by a professor demonstrates why I am so excited about my counseling program. We were discussing blame and how clients (humans) will often blame others. The teacher (who has a D.Min as well as counseling degree) asked us “What good is blame?” As a preacher, I was shaking my head, saying “nothing.”  The class was generally in agreement that blame was bad.  And that is a simple, “biblical” answer that is true.

BUT!!!!!! She replied, “don’t give up on “blame” until you see what it gets you.” This is a general counseling principle that applies to anything negative.  Secondary gains are those secret, unexpected benefits from unhealthy behavior, whether blame or shoplifting.  A seminary perspective simply says, “blaming others is wrong/bad/unhelpful and you should stop doing that?”

Growth comes from understanding why.  Why am I a minister of the Gospel of Peace but filled with anxiety? Why do I preach lots of sermons on love while being filled with anger towards my elders. Putting an acronym of JOY (Jesus, Others, Self) in the bulletin is a load of baloney if I am perpetually unhappy in Christ.

We are often encouraged (overtly or implied) to hide, deny, cover up any negative emotions.  That isn’t healthy.  It doesn’t help us to heal. It becomes an obstacle in our relationship with Jesus and each other. When we are concerned with appearances, not making someone uncomfortable, not “looking” bad, how can we grow in Jesus? Scazzero says we feel bad for having this negative emotions so we “try to inflate ourselves with false confidence to make those feelings go away” by praying, quoting, memorizing Scripture.

It’s as smart as denying and covering up symptoms of cancer in our body. You can pretend and you can “get busy doing the Lord’s work” but you still have a problem.

“To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers or our personal God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in ability to love God, others, and ourselves as well.” (p. 26)

3.  Dying to the Wrong Things

“God never asked us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life–to friendships, joy, art, music, beauty, recreation, laughter, and nature.”

Dying to self can be distorted to teach that “the more miserable you are, the more you suffer, the more God loves you. Disregard your unique personhood; it has no place in God’s kingdom.”

Many churches have an egalitarian, American, cookie-cutter view of the Christian. We don’t often appreciate uniqueness. We confuse orthodoxy and uniformity.

“God never asks us to annihilate the self. We are not to become “non-persons” when we become Christians.”

‘When I ask people, ‘Tell me about your wishes, hopes, and dreams, they are often speechless.
Why do you ask, they respond. Isn’t my only wish, hope, and dream supposed to be to serve Jesus?”


So, what about you?

In your religious experience, have emotions been valued or discouraged?

Do you feel you have been encouraged to understand your true self in Christ, or to accept a number like Jean Valjean and get in line?

Have you personally allowed churchy and religious activity to hinder your spiritual growth?


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