The quest for “Life Abundantly” aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #3

I’m a couple blogs into a series exploring some of the signs of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality & how I’ve seen them manifested in my life in the past. For a refresher, here’s the list again:

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

Today, I’m tackling #3 – “Dying to the WRONG things.”


I’ve always loved the simple invitation Jesus gave to those who were considering following Him… He just laid it out there, no frills, no exaggerations, no promises of glory, fame, &/or gain:

“If anyone would come after Me, let him DENY HIMSELF, TAKE up his cross DAILY, & FOLLOW me. For whoever would SAVE his life will LOSE it, but whoever LOSES his life for My sake will SAVE it.”  Luke 9:23,24 English Standard Version

Straightforward. To the point. Easy to understand, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.


I used to read & interpret this passage, personalized for me, like this.

IF I want to follow Jesus:

  • I must deny myself (repress, ignore, reject my wants, my hopes, my dreams, my plans, my ideas for fun & celebration, & all enjoyment;)
  • Take up my cross every day (be prepared to suffer, to be persecuted, to not enjoy life, to be somber & serious about the tasks & mission at hand)
  • Follow Jesus (go where He goes, do what He does, knowing that the road will most likely be lonely, the existence bleak, the pain & difficulty close...)

For a big chunk of my early life with Christ (my teen years) I associated following Jesus & the Christian life more with things that I DID NOT/COULD NOT do (lots & lots of rules & lists of things to avoid & stuff not to do,) vs. embracing a loving, caring, compassionate, kind, generous, merciful, & hospitable way of living. I couldn’t tell you WHY I thought the way I did – I wasn’t overtly TAUGHT by anyone “Don’t have any fun, don’t enjoy your life, don’t pursue your own hopes, dreams, or goals because God does not approve of such a selfish lifestyle,” but those beliefs did shape my outlook on life, my behavior, & how I viewed & valued myself & others.


At the same time, I could never really reconcile that mindset/lifestyle with another one of Jesus’ declarations:

The thief comes only to steal, & kill, & destroy. I came that they might have LIFE & have it ABUNDANTLY. John 10:10 English Standard Version.

I tried not to think about this too much… because I just KNEW, I KNEW that what I was experiencing was not even on the same planet as abundant life. Chalked up my experience to some sort of sin &/or failure on my part… Jesus was TRYING to give me abundant life, but someway, somehow I was missing it.


Things really came to a head when my view of the world started to impact my marriage & my family. We didn’t go on vacation. We didn’t spend much time doing hobbies we enjoyed. We didn’t hang out with friends for no good reason other than to have a good time. (Hanging out for church reasons didn’t count.)

It got more & more difficult for me to reconcile the message of the joy of life with Christ that I was trying to share with the living, breathing example of ME trying to live that life in my own strength, & failing miserably… & taking my wife & kids into the abyss of despair with me.


Around the time I was exposed to EHS for the first time, theBean & I were on a 17 day mission to Frankfurt. It sounds like it would be great (& some of it was,) but it was really hard for me to actually enjoy being in Europe with my wife, spending time with friends (new & old,) & not having something tangible, something productive to show for it. To make matters “worse,” on this particular trip, a dear German friend, (Claudius Paul, now with Jesus,) who thought that theBean & I “worked too much” & “didn’t take time to enjoy God’s good things,” chose to hijack our mission trip with a 4 day all expenses paid trip to Rome. Rome, Italy. Yes, that Rome.

It almost felt wrong to accept the gift, but I couldn’t say “No,” especially after seeing the joy of a possible Roman Holiday in myBean’s eyes. So we went. (Thank you, thank you, thank you again, Claudius. So grateful for your kindness that was instrumental in helping make a change in my life direction & outlook.)


There was nothing to “do” in Rome. No lists of activities that had to be accomplished. And so we slept in We wandered. We ate at little hole in the wall restaurants with red & white checkered plastic tablecloths, drank some of the best red table wine ever (they had it in jugs! on each table,) & sampled gelato from the Gelato shops that seemed to dot every corner of every block. It was incredible. And SO. MUCH. FUN.

Upon getting back to Frankfurt, Claudius took theBean & I, along with a couple of friends, out to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant on the Main River, under the pretense of inviting us to “compare the German version of Italian food to the real thing.” It was another wonderful experience with dear friends, great food, beautiful views (lights on water are theBean’s favorite thing) & life-giving conversation.

I will never forget Claudius’ encouragement to me that night. He said something like, “Louie my friend, God intended that we would ENJOY our lives, that we would EMBRACE His good gifts: friends, food, celebration, community, rest, & vacation. It is not GOOD to work all the time while taking no time for rest, for enjoyment, for pleasure.”

Back at home, over the next couple of months, I wrestled with WHY I felt guilty when we’d vacation, WHY it was so difficult to do FUN things, ENJOYABLE things that had no (seeming) direct or productive purpose. I had more & more difficulty maintaining the belief that I lived the way I did because God wanted me to; instead, it became clearer & clearer that the path I was walking was more one of my own making as I attempted to engage discipleship & the Christian life on Louie’s terms, in Louie’s way. Ouch.


I wish I could say, “And then everything was all better, & there was never again a struggle that I had when it came to embracing & enjoying the things that God MADE to be embraced & enjoyed.” It took several more years to get to the spot where rest, rhythm, vacation, time away, nights off, & the like became a part of our regular lives. But that time in Frankfurt & Rome was definitely the start of me learning to stop equating self-driven self-denial & asceticism with being a mature disciple of Christ.

Today, 15 or so years later, I feel like theBean & I are truly experiencing abundant life; it’s not perfect, but it more closely ties in with 1) Jesus’ invitation to follow Him & 2) Living out the purpose that He came… that we would have LIFE & have it ABUNDANTLY.

What happens when you ignore anger, sadness, & fear? aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #2

In THIS blog I wrote last week, I talked a bit about my introduction about 15 years ago to the idea of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. As I mentioned, one of the things that most intrigued me (still does to this day) was the list of “10 Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality.” When I read these symptoms the first time, I couldn’t help but notice that I most likely would have gotten a “Perfect Score…” meaning, I could see ALL 10 of the symptoms in some way/shape/form evident in my daily life.

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

Today, I’m tackling #2, “Ignoring Anger, Sadness, & Fear.”


Many of the lessons we learn in church about God, about following Him, & about how we treat other people aren’t the ones we’re supposed to learn. They’re (usually) not overtly taught; they’re more “caught” through observation, interpersonal interactions, & sometimes even the pain that comes from being rejected, marginalized, ostracized, &/or avoided. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus tells us to love one another – in our words & in our actions.

Sometimes, as I experienced “love” from other Christians, I also experienced a (not-so) subtle judgment when I shared with another person about struggles I had with anger. With sadness. With fear. With a lot of things. Sometimes I’d get the “I’ll pray for you” which was usually code for, “I can’t believe you’re admitting that & it makes me uncomfortable to be around you now.”

Sometimes I received the MORE encouragement: Read the Bible MORE. Pray MORE. Worship MORE. (One buddy told me the best thing I could do was to get a punching bag so I could hit it.)

I also got “Bible-versed” (yes, that is a verb) quite a bit: “You’re feeling angry? Well Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry & don’t sin!” So don’t let it get out of control.”

“You’re feeling sad? Don’t you know that “Nehemiah 8;10 says, “the joy of the Lord is our strength? Be filled with joy brother.”

“You’re afraid? What do we have to be afraid of? The Bible is full of instructions telling us not to be afraid. Plus 1John 4:18 tells us that Jesus’ “perfect love casts out all fear!’ So don’t be afraid.”


Looking back, I had plenty of reasons I was feeling each of those emotions – & I didn’t know what to DO with them. Turns out, many/most of the people I talked to didn’t either.

And so I stuffed them into a little tiny space somewhere in my heart & decided that any time I even began to feel even the first hint of one of these terrible, negative, unchristian feelings, I’d stuff those. Deny what I was feeling. Keep going. And I never cried.l

Ask me how that worked out for me.

Poorly. It worked out poorly.

Simply stuffing, denying, &/or spiritualizing away those inconvenient feelings didn’t make them actually go away; they just went under the surface like a sewage spill, affecting & infecting every area of life, albeit without being acknowledged.


I was able to Keep It Together (KIT) pretty well around most people, but it was EXHAUSTING. I’d get home from work/from being around people & drop my guard pretty quickly. TheBean got most of the brunt of the overflow of junk… on a scale of 1 to Volcano, I was running at a constant 7-8, & it didn’t take much to push me over the edge into “eruption” mode.

One day, when I came home from work & I was approaching the front door, I heard one of my kids yell, “Dad’s home!” & then I heard the joyous sound of 3 sets of feet running. Running AWAY from the front door. To hide in their rooms. They were running FROM me. Scared of me & whatever the evening might hold. And it freaked me out.

Had a very pointed conversation with theBean – & when I asked her what was going on, she bravely & directly stated it like it was, without regard for any response or outburst I might have. “It’s you. You’re out of control. The littlest thing sets you off. You snap. We’re walking on eggshells when you’re around, & we’re scared.” My oldest son, ThePastyOne, who must have been about 9 at the time, agreed, & yelled from  the relative safety of his room, “It’s true, dad!”

Therapy helped. I learned a lot about emotions & about my inability to identify let alone process the strong negative ones that I was having. When I talked to Chuck, I didn’t have to pretend that I had it all together. I didn’t have to deny there was a problem (it was obvious there was one. Can’t deny what is out in the open.) I could be vulnerable & speak from my heart… & as I did, it felt like the floodgates opened up. It felt a little out  of control but it also felt wonderful to no longer have to attempt to Keep It Together (KIT). I could just FEEL, & I could just BE.

Through EHS, Chuck introduced me to the idea of “Praying the Psalms.” In a nutshell, praying the Psalms involves using Scripture, (the words penned & originally expressed by the Psalmist for worship & interacting with God,) & making them your own. I found that the Psalmist used words & expressed feelings that I was uncomfortable expressing. He told God how angry he was. How disappointed he was that God wasn’t responding to him & his situation. He shouted at God, asked God to break his enemies necks & bash their teeth in. I could picture David on a hill somewhere in Israel, screaming at the top of his lungs.

And the funny thing? God could handle David’s rawest emotions & strongest words. Didn’t phase Him one bit. So I tried it – & found that while I started with reading the Psalms out loud, I grew to praying my own prayers from the depths of my heart. I expressed ugly stuff, the kind of stuff I’d repressed, avoided, & dodged my whole Christian life. And God handled it. It was like every time I finished with my prayers, with expressing all the junk, I felt a nudge from God saying, “Ok. Are you done? You feel better? Now, ask Me what I have to say about that.”

And I did.

It wasn’t that long (6 months?) until theBean noticed something was up – “You’re not as angry as you were. You’re not agitated, you’re able to sit & just BE with me & the kids. What’s going on?”

I told her something along the lines of “I’ve been praying the Psalms. Actually, I’ve been yelling at God then listening to what He has to say in response.”

That was really the beginning of the healing that God wanted to do IN me – that I’d be able to feel, identify, & process my emotions, no matter how inconvenient. And it wasn’t unchristian to do so… it was actually INHUMAN not to.


I discovered all the places in the Bible where God shows emotion. That God is the One who actually gave all of us the emotions we have, & that they serve as indicators of something going on in/through/around our lives, something that needs to be paid attention to. In & of themselves, the emotions aren’t bad or wrong – I’ve found over time that they’re usually pointing at something that God wants to address, to challenge, to change, to bring growth.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality has helped me to leave behind a life of denial, out of control emotions/behavior, & relationships that were on the rocks. And it’s been a great tool for me (& many others) to grow deep in God & with those around us.

I’ll be tackling #3 “Dying to the Wrong Things” next.

In the mean time:

  • What has been helpful for you in feeling & processing your emotions in a healthy, life-giving manner?
  • What are some of the obstacles that can get in the way of acknowledging the “negative” emotions of anger, sadness, & fear?

People are complex… aka Emotionally Healthy Spirituality #1

I first encountered Peter Scazzero & his “Emotionally Healthy” books in 2006. TheBean & I were in therapy together & we were coming to the realization that a big chunk of the issues we were facing in our marriage stemmed from unresolved “Louie-issues” (aka things, behaviors, attitudes, practices, etc… related directly/indirectly to my own emotional immaturity, unresolved hurts, & a Type-A bent.) As our therapy transitioned from “US” in therapy to “ME” in therapy, my counselor suggested I read through Scazzero’s book & then process with him the things that stood out to me, the things the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, & the areas I saw that needed something more than a little change… I needed a wholesale extreme makeover. A transformation. Something not orchestrated & conducted by me, attempting to put my life back together again in my own strength & resources, but a transformation instigated, worked through & completed by God the Holy Spirit.

During this time, I clung to the verse: “…and I am SURE of this, that He who BEGAN a good work in you WILL BRING IT to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6


One of the first things that stood out to me was the “10 Symptoms of Emotionally UNHealthy Spirituality.” They are:

  1. USING God to RUN FROM God.
  2. IGNORING anger, sadness, & fear.
  3. Dying to the WRONG things.
  4. DENYING the impact of the PAST on the PRESENT.
  5. Dividing life into SECULAR & SACRED compartments.
  6. Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God.
  7. SPIRITUALIZING away conflict.
  8. COVERING OVER brokenness, weakness, & failure.
  9. Living WITHOUT limits.
  10. JUDGING other people’s spiritual journey.

(List taken from “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Peter Scazzero. (re) Published by Zondervan in 2017. p.22.)

Today, I’m going to tackle how #1, Using God to Run from God, showed up in my life.


1 – USING GOD TO RUN FROM GOD

I have been a Christian since I was 3 – prayed the prayer with my mom on Easter 1973. My earliest book I read was the Bible. All of my earliest memories involve our family going to church. Being involved in church. Leading others in the church. I am eternally grateful for the foundation that was worked into my life: a foundation of God’s love, grace, compassion, stability, & faithfulness, esp. as revealed in the Scriptures.

The problem was, I often never considered HOW living as a Christian would involve Jesus as Lord & Master of EVERY area of my life (physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, & emotional.) Mostly I just focused on the accepted, tried & true “spiritual practices” of church, worship, Bible study, serving, etc.  How I “felt” was irrelevant, don’t you know? Because feelings would LIE to you, & feelings CAN’T be trusted to drive the Louie bus.

At the time, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, but the answer to just about every challenge was strongly implied: Read the Bible MORE. Pray MORE. Get MORE involved in church. Do MORE. (This isn’t something I was taught by my parents; it was more ‘absorbed’ through observation & participation in the daily/weekly life of the church.)

MORE always seemed to = BETTER.

The real world has a way of blowing up our illusions of being in control of our lives.


At about 30 years of age (right when i began as the Lead Pastor of our church, BTW) I was angry. I was frustrated. I was volatile. I was in all sorts of turmoil inside my head & heart & I had no idea what the issue was. So I did what I’d always done when I didn’t know what to do about how I was feeling: I did what I was currently doing, MORE & with MORE gusto.

It didn’t help.

How I used God to run from God:

  • My schedule was so packed there was literally no room in it for any of life’s surprises, emergencies, &/or challenges. Keeping busy made it so I never actually had to evaluate (let alone invite the Holy Spirit to review) how my life was going & if there were any changes/course corrections necessary.
  • Instead of following clear Scriptural instruction (stuff like, “If you have an issue with somebody, go to them & work it through;” or “Forgive in the same way Jesus forgives;” or “Don’t be harsh with your wife,”) I would “pray about” the issues – I was having, almost as though Scripture wasn’t clear enough for me so I had to triple-dog-clarify with God what I should do & how I should interact with my spouse.
  • Things were never my fault. There was always a very valid (& RIGHTEOUS I’m sure) reason WHY I was acting the way I was acting.
  • I didn’t really ask for God’s directions for me – my prayer life was more of a wish-list looking for Divine validation of my priorities & values.
  • I blamed God, to others, for my own opinions, thoughts, & preferences.
  • This list could go on, but I think you might get the point.

In my solo-therapy, I was forced to STOP & CONFRONT the fact that the wheels had come off of my life, my marriage, my family life… the only thing that was going “well” was church, & that was only through force of will & the denial of the inner storm, struggles, rejection, turmoil, & pain I lived with.

Chuck, my therapist, asked me a few questions. Went something like,

  • “What do you really think that Jesus NEEDS you to do for Him that you are constantly so busy?”
  • “What are the reasons you believe that God loves you?”
  • “What evidence is there in your life today that you believe & live out the fact that God’s grace applies to you & not just other people?”

I couldn’t answer the questions adequately. I could ANSWER them, but even I, in my state of turmoil, could see that I was merely offering up platitudes & not touching on what was going on in the depths of my heart & life.

And so I gave up. Surrendered. A little bit at a time. And God met me.

To be continued…