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Emotionally Healthy Spirituality - Peter Scazzero

In the December 2019 Christmas holidays, I drove down to Tasmania to explore and to spend time alone with God. On the way, I stopped and searched Google Play for an audiobook that I could read on the way. I felt God saying it was time for me to grow up, but I had no idea how valuable this book was in understanding the roadmap God was going to give me so I could start on the adventure of growing up to mature into the son of God he was calling me to be.

For me, I have had to face my fears, hurts and failures and realise that the past has had a significant impact on who I am today. I have allowed God to search my heart and expose the things that have had an impact on who I was. I have recognized issues with a fear of rejection and an inability to receive love. Dealing with these things has brought an incredible sense of freedom and peace. I am now comfortable being who God has made me to be and am no longer trying to live to please others or work for God so I am worthy of His love.

The author, Peter Scazzero, was a pastor of many years but came to a number of extremely difficult years where his wife left his church, his assistant pastor took most of the congregation from his church to start a new one and he was frustrated by an overwhelming feeling that what the Bible said and what he was experiencing in his life was totally opposite. Why was this? He saw that traditional discipleship equipped people for ministry but did not lead to much overall change in people's lives. From what God taught him through his hard times, he wrote a course that was designed to help people experience beneath the surface transformations that looked at both their spiritual journey and growth in emotional maturity. We conform to the world on the outside but God transforms us from the inside which impacts how we present ourselves on the outside. Peter helps people to understand who they were, who God is and why they act and behaved as they do. Through this process, they could allow God to reveal things in their life that had a negative impact, cut them off and allow the Holy Spirit to bring a profound change in them leading to a transformed relationship with Jesus and then others. The goal is to move from head knowledge of Jesus to allowing who He is and what He says to transform every part of you through an intimate experience with Him.

The course material includes a textbook, workbook and very importantly a 40-day devotional that runs alongside the DVD course. It is suggested that each chapter is covered over a week and the devotional has a focus on the content that is covered each week. Not only is the course powerful, but it also reveals things that have shaped who we are and bring us into alignment with how the Bible says we should be as His children. The course has eight chapters that take the participant on a journey from understanding the problem of emotionally unhealthy spirituality, how to know God you need to know yourself, going back to go forward to growing into an emotionally mature adult. When you go through this process you will be able to relate to people on a level you have never thought possible.

This review will look closely at the first two chapters and then a brief overview of the rest. I pray that God will encourage you to take this huge step in becoming who God has made you be and maturing into the son and daughter of God He has made you to be. When you do this, you will be equipped to be successful in doing the "good works" God has made you for. (Ephesians 2:10)

If you choose to do the course, I have found it very helpful to follow the daily devotional. Peter gives two devotions that you are encouraged to set time for during the day. (eg: first thing in the morning and in the evening). By doing this the ideas are being covered not only when you read the book but twice a day. Do not rush this time but observe 2 minutes of silence before each devotion and at the conclusion of the reading. This reminds us to slow down and that it is all God's work and not our own. It reinforces the idea that we value the time with God and it is not just about reading a devotion.

Chapter 1: The Problem Of Unhealthy Spirituality

Without emotional health and Christian spirituality being integrated, the results can be deadly not only for your relationship with God but for all the people around you. many Christians have been caught in a cycle where they have put on a false exterior but on the inside have worried if they were a good enough Christian. A sad reality is many approaches to discipleship and spirituality have not touched deep internal wounds and sin patterns that have been developed in private. Christians are often caught ina an immature level of spiritual and emotional development as their way of living their Christian life has not transformed deep places in their lives. It is so easy to be a Christian but for our faith to have little impact on the way we live our lives. The front cover shows an iceberg, and this represents the many layers we are made of that exist well beneath our day to day awareness. This course works to address these layers. The author found that he noticed three things that led him on the journey of emotionally healthy spirituality:-

  1. He was not experiencing the joy or contentment Scripture promised us in Christ. His life was more a reaction to what other people did, might do, what they thought or might think instead of what God felt.

  2. He was angry, bitter and depressed. What he preached about including love and forgiveness was much different from what he experienced.

  3. His wife was tired of functioning as a single mum and would no longer accept his excuses, delays or avoidant behaviour.

Peter sincerely loved Jesus and believed the truths about Him but was an immature infant who was unwilling to look at his immaturity. A series of difficult events finally caused him to seek change and as he came to Christ, his cracked spiritual foundations were exposed and dealt with. He identified ten top symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:-

  1. Using God to run from God. God activities are used to hide or avoid dealing with difficult areas of my life.

  2. Ignoring anger, sadness and fear. We believe that when we feel these emotions it means there is something wrong with our spiritual life. To feel is to be human and to deny or minimise what we feel actually distorts what it means to be made in the image of God.

  3. Dying to the wrong things. It is important we do not die to the good parts of who we are. We cannot ignore the person God made we be. Instead, we are to die to the sinful parts.

  4. Denying the impact of the past on the present. Much of who we are is formed from our past. Even though we become a new creation when we become a Christian, our past still has a major impact on who we are until it is dealt with. Going back in order to break from unhealthy and destructive patterns is essential. This will allow us to love ourselves and others as God designed.

  5. Dividing life int "secular" and "sacred" compartments. It is very easy to live double lives and live differently around our Christian friends, at work and with our friends and family. We need to be able to live as God's children are called to whoever we are with and wherever we are.

  6. Doing for God instead of being with God. It is so easy to be focused on getting the job done, but prioritising time with God just because we want to be in His presence is so important. Being human doings leads to the ego, power needing approval and seeing success in the wrong light. Being with God and doing things through this relationship is so important.

  7. Spiritualizing away conflict. Many Christian believe smoothing over disagreements or hiding them is what it means to follow Jesus. It is rare for people to experience conflicts being resolved in a mature, healthy way. Jesus disrupted the false peace and refused to spiritualize conflict avoidance.

  8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure. There is a pressure to present a strong and spiritual image and feel guilty when we do not measure up or make the grade. The reality is that we are all broken and deeply flawed. All of us!

  9. Living without limits. The pressure on Christians is to constantly give and support everyone around us. We are often guilty as we have never done enough. God has made us have limits and as we have self-love we are in a better position to help those around us.

  10. Judging other people's spiritual journeys. We struggle to let others be themselves before God and move at the pace God has for them.

Chapter 2: Know Yourself That You May Know God (Becoming your authentic self)

Ephesians 4:22, 24 says "to put off your old self ... and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness". Being aware of ourselves and how we relate to God are very closely linked. Shedding our false self so we can live authentically in our "new, true" self is the core of authentic spirituality. We get caught up in an existence where we live someone else's life or a life that is someone else's expectation or what we believe they want us to be.

Three important quotes:

  1. Meister Eckard, a writer from the thirteenth century wrote: "No one can know God who does not first know himself."

  2. Augustine wrote, "How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self." He prayed "Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee."

  3. St Teresa of Avila wrote "Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge."

It is important that as Christians we give ourselves permission to consider our feelings including the more difficult feelings of sadness, fear and anger. If we don't we become less and less human and walk around with smiles but are empty inside. Having permission to feel is the first important step of emotionally healthy spirituality. As God feels, we do as well as we are made in His image. When we know our feelings we can respond to them in the right way. It is essential not to censure them but experience them fully. As you know them you can reflect on them and deal with them appropriately. As we know the incredible love of God, we can know our true identity can be held by Christ. We are safe. There are three things that tempt us to find our worth and value outside Christ's love:-

Temptation One - I am what I do - Our culture asks us what we have achieved and how have we been useful?

Temptation Two - I am what I have - Our possessions define who we are.

Temptation Three - I am what others think about me - We are addicted to what other people think.

True freedom comes when we no longer strive to be someone special in the eyes of others because we know we are lovable and good enough. God is calling us to become our true selves and stepping aside from the demands and voices around us. We then can listen to God, understand our uniqueness including personality, temperament, likes and dislikes, thoughts and feelings. Dismantling the false self requires four practical steps:-

  1. Paying attention to our interior in silence and solitude. Remove the distractions so we can hear God.

  2. Find trusted companions - With others, we can ensure self-deception does not cause us to live a life of illusions.

  3. Move out of your comfort zone - It can be extremely frightening to expose and deal with our false self and allow our true self to emerge.

  4. Pray for courage - As we change it can be confronting to those closest to us. People can be offended when we mature faster than them. You may stir up profound emotionality!

Chapter Three: Going Back in Order to Go Forward

Breaking the power of the past.

When we are on the journey of emotionally healthy spirituality, we embrace God's choice of our family, culture and time in history. This choice has also given us opportunities, gifts and unfortunately emotional baggage we collect through our life. Our journey takes us to a place where we can live joyfully in the present. It requires us to go back so we can break free of the destructive sinful patterns of our past so we can go forward and live the life of love God has made us for.

This whole process requires us to understand that we must go back in order to go forward. To become a follower of Christ who has an emotionally healthy spirituality we need to be aware of two biblical truths:

1. The blessing sand sins of our families going back two to three generations and profoundly impact who we are today.

2. Discipleship requires putting off the sinful patterns of our family of origin and relearning how to do life God's way in God's family.

When we are aware of our past, we can recognise the commands and rules we internalised in our families of origin. Becoming aware of them and examining them in the light of God's Word allows us to reject the ones that do not align with God's Word and replace them with God's ways. We grow up into mature men and women of God who are transformed by the indwelling presence of Christ. We honour our parents, culture and histories but obey God. We are successful when we are faithful to God's purpose and plan for our lives, putting His kingdom first!

Chapter Four: Journey Through The Wall

This wall is often referred to as "the dark night of the soul." If we do not understand this process we may face long term pain and confusion. When we receive the gift of God in the Wall we experience a transformation that changes our lives forever. Often this wall is experienced as we go through a crisis in our life.

Our lives are a journey and all journeys involve movement, action, stops, starts, detours, delays and trips into the unknown. For some, experience hard times can leave them stuck in one place and unable to move forward. For me, I needed this roadmap to show me how to grow through the pain and get through the wall.

As Christians there are three stages of faith at the start of our journey with Christ:

Stage 1 - Life-changing awareness of God - We begin our journey when we find out about Christ and begin our relationship with Him.

Stage 2 - Discipleship - We learn about God and what it means to follow Christ. We become part of the community and are taught the disciplines of the faith.

Stage 3 - The Active Life - This is where we "do" things for God. We use our gifts and talents to serve Christ and others.

For many Christians, this is where the journey ends. When we understand the amazing blessing of moving forward we have courage to trust God and move to the next stages or seasons.

Stage 4 - The Wall and Journey Inward. We allow God to take us through the wall where we are taken on an inward journey.

Stage 5 - Journey Outward - When we move through the crisis of faith and the intense inner journey necessary to through the wall we start moving outward to "do for God. The difference is that we give out of a new, grounded centre of ourselves in God. We have a deep inner stillness as we complete the things God calls us to do.

Stage 6- Transformed in Love - We continue to move forward as we encounter people, books and circumstances that keep us moving forward. He keeps us growing so God completed the good work He has started in us. Our life becomes focused entirely on surrendering and being obedient to God's perfect will.

In going through the wall God deals with seven deadly spiritual imperfections:

1. Pride - Condemning others, being impatient with their faults and only allowing certain people to teach them.

2. Avarice - Never content with the spirituality God gives them. They always want to learn

3. Luxury - Spiritual blessings are more important than God himself.

4. Wrath - They are easily irritated, lacking sweetness and have little patience to wait on God.

5. Spiritual gluttony - They resist the cross and choose pleasures as children do.

6. Spiritual envy - They feel unhappy when others are doing well spiritually.

7. Sloth - Spiritual sweetness and good feelings are more important than working through hard things.

When we get through the wall there are four key things that you will notice:-

1. A greater level of brokenness

Coming through the wall you have been broken and understand the depth of sin. We stop determining good and evil in others but allow God to have this knowledge. In our brokenness, we are not offendable as when people speak criticism. We are so secure in the love of God that we are unable to be insulted. We can think to ourselves that we are actually worse than that person knows. That is OK.

2. A greater appreciation for holy unknowing (Mystery)

I love to be in control and know what is happening. Before the wall, we spend a lot of time telling God what to do. God, though, is beyond the grasp of every concept I have of Him. He is not my personal secretary but I can tell Him how I feel, but leave the process and outcomes up to Him. We live with excitement about what God is doing and trust that He has it all in control and it will work out well. We develop a child-like love for mystery.

3. A deeper ability to wait on God.

When we are broken and have holy unknowing we are more capable to waiting on God. God breaks the desire to make things happen and get things done for God. Instead, we learn to wait on God.

4. A Greater Detachment

Our journey with God is not to become happy, but to become free. Through the wall, we grow in the freedom that God brings us. Things no longer have a hold on us, leading to a greater sense of interior peace. The wall cuts of our attachments to who we think we ought to be or who we falsely think we are. We shed our false layers and God reveals Christ in and through us.

Chapter Five: Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss

Surrender to your limits

The process of growing in our spiritual life is to be committed to the truth and reality of our lives and how we live. Loss is an important part of the journey, as this is where self-knowledge and powerful transformation happen (if we have courage to walk the journey). Knowing and living inside our limits is also an important part of our journey. Our limits keep us grounded and help us to remain humble.

When loss invades our world, our culture tells us to numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addictions and avoidance. Addictions include TV, being busy and never stopping, indulge in pornography, overeat, drink and take pills. In fact, we will do anything to avoid pain. Christians search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds and demand another take away our pain. When we fact these painful situations we either:

1. Allow the pain to crush our spirit and life.

2. Allow God to open us up to new possibilities and depths of transformation in Christ.

When we deny or minimise our situation and the resulting wounds in our life we become less and less human. We become "empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces". We can also feel a dull sense of depression. The process of dealing with our pain must be to turn towards our pain and face it head-on. This is a very painful process but crucifixion must come before a resurrection! Jesus says in John 8:31 that the truth sets us free. This honesty and truth allow us to deal with ourselves honesty and bypass our defence mechanisms of denial.

When we do not deal with our pain and loss honestly, we leak in soft ways including passive-aggressive behaviour. (eg: showing up late), sarcastic remarks, a nasty tone of voice and the giving of the silent treatment.

Finally, when we grieve well, we not only let go of the old, but also let it bless us. Job, for example, knew his old life was truly over, but allowed grief to enlarge his soul for God and God blessed him significantly. Suffering does bring death but through death there comes and resurrection and transformatoin. Our relationship with God changes from asking God, to developing an intimate, loving union with God.

Chapter 6 - Discover The Rhythms of Daily Office and Sabbath

Stopping to breathe the air of eternity

As we desire that this growth that God has started is sustainable, we develop times in our lives where we stop and enjoy God and connect with Him. This regular time ensures we stay on track and are not overcome by saying yes to too many things. God is calling us to develop daily, weekly and yearly rhythms. Having regular time with God is not another thing to do, but a way of resetting our life towards our new destination, which is God. When we want to spend time with God, daily office (regular set times of prayer with God) lead to a rhythm that binds our lives to the living God. Stopping to spend time with God means we surrender to God in trust. We understand He has wired us to both work and rest in him. When we stop to spend time with God we acknowledge that our lives are the work of God.

The daily office requires stopping, centring, silence and scripture. For the sabbath, God is calling us to stop, rest, delight in HIm and what we have been given and contemplate God.

Chapter 7 - Grow Into an Emotionally Mature Adult

Learning new skills to love well

The key idea here is that we need to learn how to apply practically and effectively the truths we believe. eg:

  • Being quick to hear and slow to anger

  • Be angry but not sin

  • Watch my heart above all else.

  • Speak the truth in love.

  • Be a peacemaker etc..

God is calling us to grow up from being emotional children to emotional adolescents to finally emotional adults. A major skill is to embrace conflict and learn how to bring true peace by dismantling false peace.

Some key skills include:-

  • Learn how to both speak and listen.

  • Develop a "Bill of Rights" so we know how to respect others.

  • Stop mind reading

  • Clarify expectations

Growing up takes time, good friends and an ability to humbly take feedback, process it and grow as you seek God to bring you to maturity.

Chapter 8 - Developing a Rule Of Life.

In this chapter, Peter explores how we work with God and the people He has placed with us to develop a way of functioning or living that leads to an ability to not only grow emotionally and spiritually but to continue to provide spaces where we can continue this growth. He breaks it up into four key areas:-

1. Prayer - This includes scripture, silence and solitude, daily office (prayer) and study.

2. Rest - This includes sabbath, simplicity and play and recreation.

3. Work/Activity - This includes service and mission, and care for our physical body.

4. Relationships - This involves emotional health, family and community (Companions for the journey)

I encourage you to pray about reading this book and seeking God on how He can take you on a journey with Him that will be painful but lead to the life that Jesus promised. Life in all its fullness (John 10:10) and finding that HIs yoke is actually easy (Matthew 11:28-30) as get through this incredible journey. Once you start, you will never want to go back.
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