Top 10 Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

Top 10 Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

The last month or so, I have been (slowly) reading through Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. I have really enjoyed the book so far and have been convicted by his charge for Christians to be more in touch with their emotions.

I don’t trust my emotions, so I tend to ignore them more than I should.

On page 24 of the book, Scazzero lists the top 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. I found the list and his subsequent commentary on the items helpful, so I figured I would include some of his thoughts and mine here.

So, the top 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:

1. Using God to run from God

This symptom is especially toxic because it’s so hard to see.

Christians, myself included, excel at filling their schedules with so much Christian programming that it makes it easy to hide from God amidst all of the small groups, prayer meetings and worship gatherings.

Scazzero says, “Using God to run from God is when I create a great deal of ‘God-activity’ and ignore difficult areas in my life God wants to change.”

Amen. I have done this far too often in my own life.

2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness and fear

I get angry about the dumbest stuff.

A couple of years ago when we totaled our car and shut down part of I-65 in Kentucky the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I wasn’t mad at all.

But, when I forget my phone on my desk or almost trip on the dog in the kitchen, I get mad and annoyed.

Seems kinda backward.

I don’t like when I get mad, sad or afraid, so a lot of times I just ignore these feelings. It isn’t healthy physically, emotionally or spiritually to ignore these feelings.

Scazzero is super helpful here. He says, “To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of our personal God.”

Let yourself feel.

3. Dying to the wrong things

Scripture calls us to “come and die” when we trust in Christ for salvation and follow after him. This is a difficult command to follow for most of us because we’re unwilling to die to our sin and selfishness.

For others of us, this command is difficult to follow because we’re willing to “come and die” but we die to the wrong things.

“God never calls us to annihilate the self,” Scazzero says. We aren’t supposed to die to that which is good, but that which is not of God and hinders us from Christlikeness.

4. Denying the past’s impact on the present

It’s so easy to assume that your past is simply dead and gone, having no impact on you or what you’re looking to do in the future.

Assuming this is harmful to your emotional and spiritual health.

Not everyone can afford counseling, and some Christians wrongly think counseling is only for people in dire situations.

But if you see a counselor to talk through any emotional or spiritual issues you may have, you will quickly learn how impactful your past is on your present.

5. Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments

I learned a lot about this symptom of emotionally unhealthy spirituality when I was in college. I had always assumed Christian work and ministry were reserved for church leaders, and the rest of us were just supposed to do what they told us to do.

Church leaders do not do all of the ministry, they equip others to do ministry. No matter our field of work or study, we are called via the Great Commission and the rest of the Scriptures to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a world in need.

6. Doing for God instead of being with God

This symptom is similar to the first, but a little different.

It can look holy and spiritual to be constantly busy, trying to serve God with all we have. Serving God and his people is good and important, but not if we’re doing it in hopes of gaining approval.

When we get to a place of spiritual or emotional weakness, we have a tendency to perform in hopes of proving our worth to God or others. This is debilitating and ultimately ineffective.

God approves of us because of what Jesus has already done for us, not for what we will do for him today.

7. Spiritualizing away conflict

Too many of us sweep conflict under the rug. We do it for different reasons.

Some of us avoid conflict because it’s just annoying to work through it.

Some of us avoid conflict because we’re people-pleasers and can’t handle people being upset with us.

Our reasons for avoiding conflict are various and numerous.

I don’t tend to have this problem, but the opposite of it. My tendency has always been to jump into conflict, sometimes with too much urgency, in hopes of making sure the other people involved know I’m in the right, even if they don’t like me afterward!

Scazzero says, “Jesus shows us that healthy Christians do not avoid conflict.… Out of a desire to bring true peace, Jesus disrupted the false peace all around him.”

8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure

Shame is one of the most universal human feelings.

All of us are ashamed more often than we ought to be because we don’t remember our Christ-earned standing before God as much as we ought.

In our sinful shame, we, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, hopelessly try to cover our brokenness and failure with figurative loin cloths in hopes of convincing everyone around us we’re good—nothing to see here!

Scazzero says, “The Bible does not spin the flaws and weaknesses of its heroes,” and we shouldn’t spin ours either.

9. Living without limits

I love my wife, but if there’s one of these that makes me think of her, it’s this one. Really, this symptom of emotionally unhealthy spirituality is just a tremendous gift of God taken a bit too far.

God in his Word calls us to love and serve others, our friends and enemies alike, but if we aren’t careful, we can exhaust ourselves to the point of breaking ourselves.

My wife is so good at loving and serving people, I sometimes fear that she isn’t taking good enough care of herself. She knows this about herself, too, and she knows I have the opposite problem—I send to be too self-focused.

Don’t be so focused on loving and caring for other people that you don’t take care of yourself. Put your own oxygen mask on first or you won’t be good to help others out with theirs, right?

10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey

This one runs rampant in the local church and in our own hearts, doesn’t it? We are competitive, sinful people, and this causes us to evaluate our own spiritual triumphs and failures in light of those around us.

Scazzero says, “By failing to let others be themselves before God and move at their own pace, we inevitably project onto them our own discomfort with their choice to live differently than we do.”

We must care about our own spiritual shortcomings before we even look at the shortcomings of others. We must deal with the logs in our own eyes before we address the specks in others’.

So, which symptom or few symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality stand out to you as the ones you struggle with the most?

This article originally appeared here.

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Chris Martin
Christian. Husband. Writer. Social Media Guy at @LifeWay. Life-long student. Blogger: Millennial Evangelical