Pastor Pete Scazzero had for 8 years been the founding pastor of one of the most diverse churches in America. Planted in Queens, New York, he had people in his church from 67 different countries. It was a big, active, growing church! They emphasized all the right aspects of Christian discipleship: evangelism, Bible study, Quiet times and family devotions. Everything was going well until first, one of his assistant pastors betrayed him, left the church and took a portion of it with him. Then, after some years of tension in their marriage, his wife put her foot down and declared, “I quit; I am not going to this church anymore.” Imagine the pastor’s wife not wanting to be in the church! And then finally, Pete experienced a strange, life-threatening disease that stopped him in his tracks altogether. After 6 months of recuperating, God finally had his attention.
Pete began to see he was not paying attention to a big thing – the emotions. He was living a life of denial. He was so busy pastoring this big successful church, getting program after program up and running that he was only living on the superficial. He wasn’t catching what was going on underneath the surface. So he missed that his assistant pastor needed to be invested in and cared for, but he just got him running part of the church. He missed that his wife was desperately lonely at home with the children, and felt totally neglected. And sadly he wasn’t paying attention to his own needs for rest, intimacy and care, until his body could take it no more.
So he began slowly with his wife, rebuilding what had been lost, listening to her and spending time with the kids. He began to be more present for her. And as he changed there, his interactions with the church changed as well as he saw what was missing in the life of the church. It was not an emotionally healthy church! And just as he had originally built it, he rebuilt it in an emotionally healthy way.*
A lot of churches emphasize the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34-35, ““If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” And they interpret it, as meaning they must deny their emotions, and not listen to them. Certainly we don’t follow everything our emotions tell us to do, but they do give us clues about what is happening in our hearts. And if we don’t pay attention, we will be like Pete and miss the deeper real needs underneath for ourselves and others.
Probably the most powerful example is King David. The Psalms are full of his feelings about whatever he was going through. There are few Biblical authors who reveal so much of their inner lives. Why does he do it? In Psalm 139:23-24, David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (KJV) So he asks God to show him his heart and then in humility he opens his heart to us in the pages of the Psalms.
So what can you do? Take time with the Lord, not to only pray for others, confess your sins and give thanks, but to listen. Listen to your heart and what you are feeling and ask the Lord why and what you need to do about it. For some that might mean journaling, for others it means listening to music, for still others it means going for a walk in the woods. Or you can do all three.
And then with someone you can trust, open up about what you are feeling. Take a risk and be vulnerable with others and share your heart. As you do you will be more in touch with your feelings and you will grow more and more emotionally healthy and more and more spiritually mature.
by D. Craig Hickey