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…

Who? Me? Offended? And other musings…

Ask a person, “Did I offend you?” & you’ll sometimes get an answer like, “What? No. I’m not offended.” Even if they really are. I don’t think its because we’re all liars who sit on a Throne of Lies who smell like beef & cheese; I think it might be because we think being offended is a bad thing, & so, rather than acknowledge, “Yeah, what you said really bothered me,” we go into denial or avoidance mode. And that’s where the trouble starts.


A couple weeks ago, I was almost done with our “Be At Rest” series & needed another one to take us up through September 3rd. (Long story, but the nutshell version is we’re launching our Fall series, “Perseverance: a study in the Psalms of Ascent” on September 10th.) So, after praying about it, I decided to do a series on being offended. And here’s some of what I found.

There’s about 3 different words (2 Hebrew/1 Greek) that are utilized to describe/define offense.  In essence, the 3 say: OFFENDED: to stumble, trip over a stumbling block, to get tripped up. To be wronged/violated/rebelled against. Stumbling blocks, points of offense. A trap/traps.

Something that causes you to stumble. A stumbling block. A trap.

Sounds diabolical.


Offense/being offended is NOT the EMOTIONS that come with the (real/perceived) being wronged, hurt, let down, disappointed, violated, etc… by another person/persons. Taking offense/being offended is the result of our RESPONSE to being wronged or being hurt. It’s putting ourself in a place of judgement upon others. It’s covered with unforgiveness, denial, & pride. Here’s some of what I’ve discovered happens to us when we take offense/stay offended:

  • Offense limits the miraculous/God’s work in our lives
  • Offense breaks up/damages relationships
  • Offense introduces judgement by us, which then brings us under God’s judgement.
  • Offense causes us to be stuck until we thoroughly deal with it
  • Offense cuts off our ability to produce Godly fruit in our lives – NOTE: this doesn’t mean God stops working in/through/around us. It doesn’t – because God doing those things in us etc… are the result of spiritual gifts. Godly fruit in our lives comes from living congruently & faithfully following God & His principles. (Thank you John Bevere for that.) 
  • Offense causes us to focus solely on the person/persons who hurt us & what they did while ignoring/glossing over our own role/responsibility/fault in the matter.
  • Offense can be transmitted to other people completely uninvolved in the situation, causing them to stumble & become trapped too.

So, how do we deal with it? How do we get out of the trap & back on our feet? It’s easy. And it can be the most difficult thing we will ever do.

For starters, WE DIE. (See Galatians 2:20 for more on that.)  We die to ourselves. We lay down our pride. We process our feelings, our emotions, & take stock of the hurts. We repent for holding on to unforgiveness. We ask God to help change our heart, change our thinking, change our ways. We answer the question: “Could you be wrong?” affirmatively, knowing that our perception, no matter how much we think is the RIGHT one, could be off. And so could we. We invite the Holy Spirit into the process, & pray the prayer of Psalm 139:23,24 – 

Search me, O God, & know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, & lead me in the way everlasting

And we stay at it – & refuse to be offended, choosing instead to be a person who takes God’s point of view on our lives, vs. our own. We embrace God’s ways & means, & lay down our own, believing His to be far better. And you know what happens then? This. Peace.

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165.

Guess what the root word that’s translated there as “STUMBLE”. Yep. Its one of the words from above, one of the words for OFFENSE. 

Love God & His law, & you will have a great & divine peace. Nothing will be able to make you offended.

Readin’ books, thinkin’ thoughts, processin’ stuff, & other musin’s…

Just finished going through Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” again. Check it out if you haven’t.

We used it as a reference point in our most recent teaching series, & also hosted a couple of book talks with a few folks who had finished reading through it, individually (if that makes sense.) The first time I went through the book was back in 2006 at the suggestion of my friend & mentor Chuck. I would guess over the years I’ve read the book 10 or more times. And every time through, something else stands out to me. I think the combo of the 8-week teaching series & the book talks were the most significant in seeing the topic in a different light. Here’s a couple of insights gleaned from our talks:

  • Generally speaking, people don’t have a reference point on how to process through strong, negative, &/or inconvenient emotions. We feel out of control, unsure, anxious, & guilty… & as a result, stuff those emotions in a locked,dark room in their souls that they never plan to visit again. Several people found it helpful to go through a process to get a handle on their emotions; this includes taking the time to experience/feel the emotion, to invite God into the process by asking for His take/His input through reflection on what we’re feeling, then to express those emotions in manner than honors God, that doesn’t sabotage/hurt ourselves, or wound/cause injury others.
  • Christians don’t know how to grieve, mourn, or process through life’s losses. Not just the big ones – like death of a loved one, catastrophies, like war & acts of terror, divorce & infidelity, among others,- but also other losses, like the change in a friendship when someone moves away, the disruption of relationship when a person leaves a church, & even things that look/feel like a POSITIVE change, like graduation from school, or an adult child moving out on their own. Instead, quite a few people deal with loss through denial, avoidance, blaming others, minimizing the loss, rationalizing why the loss isn’t so bad, or developing an addiction (to avoid & numb the pain). The most common way of running from loss that came up in our talks was using God to hide from grieving – this could look like quoting Bible verses, “We don’t grieve like those who have no hope…” as though that is supposed to address the hurt & pain we feel. It could be like offering up words we’ve heard before, like, “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” or “God must have needed another angel in heaven,” or my favorite, which I have heard from more than a handful of people in response to my own grief at my brother’s passing: “God must have known He was going to fall away into sin in the future, so He took him home now.” Not only do those phrases not help, they don’t accurately portray God as He is revealed in Scripture & in Christ’s incarnation: as predictably, consistently good. And ultimately when people said them to me, I wanted to punch them in the neck.
  • Getting our thoughts out on these topics & talking with safe people helps. I was amazed at how significantly people were impacted as they listened to others, heard that their own story/feelings/experience isn’t unique or weird, prayed together, & spoke words of encouragement to each other.

There’s probably more, but those are the biggies that have been bouncing around my head for the last couple weeks.


Jerry Cook has a new book coming out in the next 8-12 weeks. He’s the writer of a couple of my favorites, including, “Love, Acceptance, & Forgiveness,” and also, “The Monday Morning Church.” The next one is called, “So… What’s The Big Deal? Six Events That Changed The World”, & it is written in response to being asked this question: “So… what’s the big deal about the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian?” I have seen a rough draft of the book & I will tell you this – when it comes out, I’m buying a case of them to give away. Great & practical theology communicated in a manner that a Jr Higher could “get.” Be on the lookout.


Over the last year, I’ve been praying for the kind of clarity where I could say, “I only do what I see my Father in heaven doing.”(John 5:19-21). To me, this means – I’m not just living on purpose, I’m living according to God’s agenda. One thing that I have noticed – a lot of people have an idea of what THEY think I should be doing… & if/when it doesn’t line up with what I think I’m supposed to be doing, it is “relationally uncomfortable.” I’m praying for insights & ways to gracefully communicate with others on this, esp. when I don’t meet their hopes or expectations. A work in process, am I. Thankful that the One who started this process WILL bring it to completion. (Philippians 1:5-6)

So say we all.

Stopping to feel the feelings & other musings…

Not long ago I had a conversation with a dear friend who was sharing about how different her life was since she began taking the time to “feel her feelings,” especially the unpleasant ones: frustration, helplessness, sadness, grief, anger, hatred, disappointment, & the like. So, instead of ignoring her feelings, minimizing them, making herself so busy she’d ‘forget’ about them, &/or stuffing them in one of the seldom-visited compartments that exist in our minds, she (with the help of the healing of the Holy Spirit) began to feel them. To really experience, reflect upon, & invite God into the waterfall of her feelings & emotional responses to those feelings. Her verdict?

Feeling feelings is hard. A lot of the time it hurts. The feeling/reflecting/responding can lead to difficult & painful conclusions about the state of our lives & the relationships we’re in. They alert us that something needs to be worked through, acknowledged, addressed, &/or processed – activities that hold a promise of pain in the same way cleaning gravel out of a scraped knee does.


I know what she means. The first quarter century of my life I was “feelings challenged” – I didn’t know how to feel the negative feelings, let alone how to process through them. So they were ignored.

The problem is that the unresolved mess floated in my subconscious like a program running in the background of my brain, & whenever a situation would arise that remotely reminded me of any of those weak & negative feelings, I’d have a mini-meltdown. That looked like an outburst of anger, crying for “no reason,” depression, &/or the hopelessness of not knowing how to deal with myself or to make a change.

God provided an outlet of sorts… but it wasn’t like I asked Him to “search my heart” in order to heal & transform me. I prayed vague prayers, read my Bible, did church stuff. A lot of church stuff. Looking back, it was like keeping Him at arms length while asking for a miraculous work that would change my issues in a moment, when what was needed was a walk with Him through the difficulty, the darkness, the proverbial “valley of the shadow of death,” so that the underlying problems, areas of hurt & wounding, places of brokenness & pain could be healed.


The story of God’s work in this area of my life is a long one – & it’s not something I’m going to write about today. However, I do want to highlight one element that ended up playing a big role in this journey for me – reading through the Psalms.

For as long as I can remember, I have read the Psalms everyday – I’m a creature of habit, & my “habit” involved a plan that would take me through all 150 Psalms every month. (You take the day of the month – for example, today is the 6th, & you’d read Psalm 6, add 30 & read Psalm 36, add 30 & read Psalm 66 & so on.) The Psalms provided a back entrance into the conundrum of my feelings – because they are written RAW. The Psalmist (mostly David) pulls no punches in articulating to God EXACTLY what he’s feeling. And what ended up striking me as so odd was that God could HANDLE whatever David threw at Him. Nothing fazed God, even when David was angry, disappointed, frustrated, &/or feeling abandoned by Him. And as David processed through the Psalms, his own heart changed even if his circumstances didn’t. He started seeing himself & his life situations, as hard as they often were, as being firmly in the center of God’s hands. And by “feeling his feelings,” David got a perspective on those feelings that allowed him to keep moving forward as a “man after God’s own heart.” For some examples of David letting it all out, check out these PSALMS

David’s example has been a path for me over the last 15 years. And I’m thankful that God can “take” me when I’m at my very worst – He knows the depths of my heart – He loves me. And is healing me.