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.

Reeds & wicks…

I threw his binder.

We were between classes in Jr High, 7th grade if my memory serves me correctly. I was on the 2nd level of our outdoor campus, heading toward the stairs & there was a commotion… wasn’t sure initially what it was, but as I drew closer, I could tell it was a game of keep-away. I was always up for a good game of keep-away, because they are SO much fun for all involved (except for the person who is having their stuff kept-away from them.) At first, I couldn’t even tell WHO’s book bag was being tossed around, nor who was chasing it. Until I got closer.

It was Zach. He wasn’t a friend or a person I hung out with… we had a couple classes together, but we’d never really talked, & had never hung out. HOW he was chosen to be the one who’s stuff was being tossed around over our heads & up/down the stairs was a mystery. It was just happening. 

At some point, someone popped open the book bag & started tossing the individual books (as if this particular ‘game’ wasn’t already challenging enough for Zach.) He was running around, frantic & desperate (like ANYONE else would be if your lifeline (that’s what book bags were) was being treated so cavalierly 20 feet up from the ground level.

Someone tossed me the binder, just as the warning bell rang. (It seemed like between every class there was a “warning bell” & then a “tardy bell.” You were technically supposed to be IN class when the “warning bell” went off, but you HAD BETTER be in class by the “tardy bell” or there would be detention. But I digress.)

I frisbeed the binder toward a fleeing classmate, over Zach’s head. It came open & ALL the papers, dividers, etc… EVERYTHING that was in it, came out.

The courtyard cleared as all the participants (except Zach & me) ran to their respective classes. The contents of the binder fluttered in the air for an eternity, floating like leaves falling in the fall toward the ground below. It was a mess. Worse, I had caused it.


If the book bag was a Jr Higher’s lifeline, the binder was the heart of the student. It contained all the assignments. All the information & syllabi for all the classes. Extra paper, pens, pencils…  you name it, it was probably in the binder. But not anymore. The contents of Zach’s binder were all over the stairs, some on the 2nd floor, most on the 1st floor & courtyard.  Everyone was gone. Except Zach. And me.

I wanted to run away. This wasn’t any fun. The idea of participating in keep-away sounded great, but its not like 12 year old me thought through the consequences, THESE consequences before I decided to join in the ‘game.’ I didn’t think about the possible mess, the possible damage to books/supplies, the possible destruction of the book bag & binder… I didn’t think about any of it. But now I was looking at the  mess, the mess I helped to make. The chaos of his binder, potentially lost assignments, trouble he could get in from teachers/parents, etc… all rushed into my  head at once. I DID THIS. And Zach just stood there,  looking back & forth between me & the mess. I wanted to ignore him, ignore what I’d done, maybe laugh it off, & hurry to my own class. I wanted to run away.

But I didn’t.


I didn’t run away because I had a nudge. Actually, it sounded like a booming voice in my head – “HEY! Help him clean it up!” So I went over to Zach & said, “Let’s clean it up.”

I don’t think he was expecting this response from one of his tormentors. (It would be wonderful to remove any personal blame for the afternoon book bag fiasco, but that would just be wishful thinking. I was in the thick of it, & I had been the one who’d done the most damage. Without even giving a 2nd thought to it, I had jumped into a mess & made Zach’s life a little bit more unbearable than it already was that day.)


As we were cleaning up the mess, I didn’t know what to say to Zach. He had his head down & was on his knees. He kept clearing his throat, which in retrospect makes me think he was trying his best to maintain a shred of dignity by not crying. Oh man.

I felt the nudge again: “Apologize.” So I did. I said something like, “Zach, I am really sorry that I threw your binder. I had no idea it would explode like that. I didn’t think about the mess it would cause or the problems that having your binder trashed would cause for you.” I  know that I rambled on & on, hoping & praying that he would somehow speak up, interrupt me, do SOMETHING to alleviate my own embarrassment & shame at my actions. He mumbled, “That’s ok,” & kept picking up papers.

“No, it’s not ok,” I heard myself saying. “It’s not ok. It was wrong, it was mean, it was not something I (or any of us) should have been doing, because NONE of us would have wanted to be in your shoes, to have this happen to us. Please forgive me.” He looked up at me & I saw him for the 1st time – hurt, broken, weary, so sad, alone. This wasn’t his 1st time being bullied (that’s what it was) & familiarity hadn’t made it any easier for him to get used to. And then he spoke, “Ok. I forgive you.” He gave me a weak smile, & followed that with, “But you stayed to help me clean it up. Thank you.”

I shook his hand, apologized again, & ran, head down, to my next class. He said he forgave me, even after what I’d done. I didn’t deserve it – but he gave it to me anyway.


When I think back on that incident, I am pained by my actions, my insensitivity, my lack of perspective. I am embarrassed & ashamed that I did something so thoughtless to a vulnerable, obviously in pain individual. Even as a 12 year old, I knew that what I had done was not the Jesus-Way. It seemed that if I hadn’t paid attention to the initial nudge & prompting, I might have gone even further down the road of “having fun” at the expense of others, without regard for them, their value & worth.

Something that ran through my head that day & that has continued to play a significant role in how I engage with people is the scripture that  talks about Jesus & His heart/attitude towards people. It’s the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 42:1-3. Its says:

A bruised reed He will not break, & a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, till He has brought justice through to victory. In His Name, the nations will put their hope. Matthew 12:19-21.

THIS is Jesus to me – He won’t break me when I’m bruised & damaged; He won’t snuff me out when my flame, my light isn’t catching fire, but just smoking & smoldering. He nurtures, He comes alongside, He helps, He restores.

And that is what  I want to do to. And every time I remember Zach, I recommit myself to be a part of the Jesus-Way.