On the back cover of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality we read: “Peter Scazzero learned the hard way: You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. Though Scazzero was an experienced pastor of a growing church, his life and faith remained emotionally unhealthy.”
In my Opinion
In my opinion, the author does a good job outlining the main symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. Most of us can identify with what he uncovered the hard way about himself and the people of his church. Just a quick example: through doing a genogram of the Scazzero family heritage he discovered many of the unhealthy patterns in his own life. “I over-functioned. I over-performed. I had cultural, not biblical expectations for marriage and family. I resolved conflict poorly. I didn’t let myself feel.”
Peter Scazzero is an incredibly honest man. We can profit from his pilgrimage, which has taken him down a very hard road. We can learn much from him on how to grow emotionally and how to help others in our family and church grow emotionally. However, I was a bit disappointed that his main solutions for these unhealthy patterns don’t come so much from the Bible as from the classic Christian disciplines of by-gone spiritual writers and Christian mystics.
For example, he places a lot of stock on silence, solitude, and contemplation. While these are worthwhile spiritual disciplines, I sometimes got the impression as I read the book that we don’t have all we need for life and godliness in Christ and in the teachings of His holy Word. It’s as if we need to add to what it teaches to be completely healthy spiritually and emotionally. Sound Christian doctrine is rarely mentioned in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Even the gospel of Christ is rarely mentioned. However, if asked, I’m sure Pastor Scazzero, would say he believes the gospel and teaches the whole Bible as the Word of God.
I would encourage you to read this book, but read it with a critical eye, as in fact you should do with any book, because every author, including me J, is very flawed and incomplete in his insights. Only God has the full picture.
Having begun with this brief critique, I’d like now to share with you some of the more positive things I learned from reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
First of all, to give you a better idea of what it’s about, here is the table of contents:
CHAPTER 1 – THE PROBLEM OF EMOTIONALLY UNHEALTHY SPIRITUALITY – Something is desperately wrong.
CHAPTER 2 – KNOW YOURSELF THAT YOU MAY KNOW GOD – Becoming your authentic self.
CHAPTER 3 – GOING BACK IN ORDER TO GO FORWARD – Breaking the power of the past.
CHAPTER 4 – JOURNEY THROUGH THE WALL – Letting go of power and control.
CHAPTER 5 – ENLARGE YOUR SOUL THROUGH GRIEF AND LOSS – Surrendering to your limits.
CHAPTER 6 – DISCOVER THE RHYTHMS OF THE DAILY OFFICE AND SABBATH – Stopping to breathe the air of eternity.
CHAPTER 7 – GROW INTO AN EMOTIONALLY MATURE ADULT – Learning new skills to love well.
CHAPTER 8 – GO THE NEXT STEP TO DEVELOP A “RULE OF LIFE” – Loving Christ above all else.
APPENDIX A – EXCERPT FROM EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY DAY BY DAY
APPENDIX B – DEFINING EMOTIONAL HEALTH AND COMTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY
APPENDIX C – THE PRAYER OF EXAMEN – an adaptation of St. Ignatius Loyola’s “examen”, i.e. prayerful reflection.
In chapter two on knowing yourself to know God the author develops four practical truths: (1) Pay attention to your interior in silence and solitude. (2) Find trusted companions. (3) Move out of your comfort zone. (4) Pray for courage.
In chapter three Scazzero points out unhealthy patterns that may have come from our family of origin in the areas of money, conflict, sex, grief & loss, expressing anger, family, relationships, attitude towards different cultures, success, and feelings & emotions. He observes that we compartmentalize – that is to say we accept Christ and become His followers without ever rooting out deeply ingrained messages, habits, and ways of behaving especially under stress.
The fourth chapter is about “The Wall – Stages of Faith.”
- Stage 1 – the beginning of our journey with Christ
- Stage 2 – the discipleship stage, i.e. learning to be a follow of Christ
- Stage 3 – the active life or working for God
- Stage 4 – we hit “the Wall” which compels us “into the Journey Inward”
- Stage 5 – we pass through “The Wall”, i.e. crisis of faith. “We may do some of the same external things we did before e.g. give leadership, serve, and initiate acts of mercy towards others. The difference is that now we give out of a new, grounded, center of ourselves to God. We have rediscovered God’s profound, deep, accepting love for us. A deep, inner stillness now begins to characterize our work for God.”
- Stage 6 – transformed into love – Christ’s love becomes our love both toward God and others. The wholeness of our spiritual lives is finally about surrender and obedience to God’s perfect will.
Ladder or Humility
In Chapter Five on grief and loss the author points out a few common defenses that we may use when going through hard times – denial (or selective forgetting), minimizing, blaming others, blaming yourself, rationalizing, intellectualizing, distracting, and becoming hostile. Next, from the book of Job he shows us biblical grieving, which is a path to new beginnings. He also walks us up St. Benedict’s “Ladder of Humility”:
- Step 1 – Fear of God and mindfulness of Him
- Step 2 – Doing God’s will (not our own or other people’s)
- Step 3 – Willing to subject ourselves to the direction of others
- Step 4 – Patient to accept the difficulties of others
- Step 5 – Radical honesty to others about our weaknesses/faults
- Step 6 – Deeply aware of being “chief of all sinners”
- Step 7 – Purposeful to speak less (with more restraint)
- Step 8 – Transformed into the Love of God
In Chapter Six we learn about “The Daily Office” and “The Sabbath.” The Daily Office has four elements: stopping, centering, silence, and Scripture. They can be done alone or with others a few times during the day. The four principles of the biblical “Sabbath” are stop, rest, delight and contemplate.
In the seventh chapter the author teaches us various skills of emotional maturity in dealing with other people, e.g. embracing conflict, being true peacemakers – speaking, listening, not trying to be mind-readers, and embracing what he calls “The Bill of Rights”, which is the right for myself and others to space and privacy, be different, disagree, be heard, be taken seriously, be given the benefit of the doubt, be told the truth, be consulted, be imperfect and make mistakes, give courteous and honorable treatment, and take others feelings into account.
The final chapter is about what has been called by some Christians in past centuries a “Rule of Life”. I had to look up the term “Rule of Life”. It is defined as “a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain and transform the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for Christ’s glory.”
Rule of Life
Scazzero sees the following elements of a “Rule of Life”: Scripture, silence and solitude, “Daily Office”, study, Sabbath, simplicity, play and recreation, service and mission, care for the physical body, emotional health, family, and community. He ends this final chapter by encouraging us to live faithfully the life God has given us.
By the way, I appreciated Scazzero’s honest prayers at the end of each chapter.
There are many other practical insights in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that can help us mature as individual Christians, as well as members of the Body of Christ. I invite you to explore this 200 plus page book for yourself.