Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ

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by Peter Scazzero

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What Are You Missing?

Peter Scazzero learned the hard way: you can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. Even though Pete was pastor of a rapidly growing church, he did what most people do:

  • avoid conflict in the name of Christianity
  • ignore his anger, sadness, and fear
  • use God to run from God


What Are You Missing?

Peter Scazzero learned the hard way: you can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. Even though Pete was pastor of a rapidly growing church, he did what most people do:

  • avoid conflict in the name of Christianity
  • ignore his anger, sadness, and fear
  • use God to run from God
  • live without boundaries

Eventually God awakened him to a biblical integration of emotional health, a profound relationship with Jesus, and the historical practices of contemplative spirituality. It created nothing short of a spiritual revolution, utterly transforming him and his church.

In this best-selling book Pete outlines his journey and the signs of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. Then he provides seven biblical, reality-tested ways to break through to the revolutionary life Christ meant for you. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is presently used in more than twenty-six countries to equip churches in a deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm that truly transforms lives.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Scazzero (cofounder, Ctr. for Emotional Health & Spirituality) follows up the success of his 2003 book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, with this application of its insights for the individual churchgoer and believer. He grounds his work with the near-failure of his marriage amid a successful pastorship and warns against "using God to run from God" and "judging other people's spiritual journey," to name a few of the symptoms of spiritual unhealth he discovers. His solution includes a deeply contemplative spirituality, a welcome surprise in the conservative Christian field. For most collections. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2006 Peter Scazzero
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4185-6779-8



* * *

Something Is Desperately Wrong

Christian spirituality, without an integration of emotional health, can be deadly—to yourself, your relationship with God, and the people around you. I know. Having lived half my adult life this way, I have more personal illustrations than I care to recount.

The following is one I wish I could forget.


I met John and Susan while speaking at another church. They were excited and enthusiastic about visiting New Life Fellowship Church in Queens where I pastor. On a hot, humid July Sunday, they made the long, arduous drive from Connecticut, with all the predictable traffic, to sit through our three services. Between the second and third service John pulled me aside to let me know they hoped to get some time to talk with Geri and me.

I was exhausted. But my greater concern was what their pastor, a friend of mine, would think. What would they say to him if I simply sent them home? What might they say about me?

So I lied.

"Sure, I would love to have you for a late-afternoon lunch. I'm sure Geri would too!"

Geri, in her desire to be a "good pastor's wife," agreed to the lunch when I called, even though she, too, would have preferred to say no. John, Susan, and I arrived home about three o'clock in the afternoon. Within a few minutes, the four of us sat down to eat.

Then John began to talk ... and talk ... and talk.... Susan said nothing.

Geri and I would occasionally glance at each other. We felt we had to give him time. But how much?

John continued to talk ... and talk ... and talk....

I couldn't interrupt him. He was sharing with such intensity about God, his life, his new opportunities at work. Oh God, I want to be loving and kind, but how much is enough? I wondered to myself as I pretended to listen. I was angry. Then I felt guilty about my anger. I wanted John and Susan to think of Geri and me as hospitable and gracious. Why didn't he give his wife a chance to say something? Or us?

Finally, Susan took a bathroom break. John excused himself to make a quick phone call. Geri spoke up once we were alone.

"Pete, I can't believe you did this!" she mumbled in an annoyed voice. "I haven't seen you. The kids haven't seen you."

I put my head down and slumped my shoulders, hoping my humility before her would evoke mercy.

It didn't.

Susan returned from the bathroom and John continued talking. I hated sitting at that kitchen table.

"I hope I'm not talking too much," John said unsuspectingly.

"No, of course not." I continued to lie on our behalf. I assured him, "It's great having you here."

Geri was silent next to me. I did not want to look over.

After another hour, Geri blurted out during a rare pause, "I haven't heard from Faith in a while." Faith was our three-year-old daughter.

John continued talking as if Geri hadn't said a word. Geri and I exchanged glances again and continued pretending to listen, occasionally stretching our necks to look outside the room.

Oh, I'm sure everything is all right, I convinced myself.

Geri, however, began to look very upset. Her face revealed tension, worry, and impatience. I could tell her mind was racing through options of where Faith might be.

The house was way too quiet.

John continued talking.

Finally, Geri excused herself with what I could tell was an annoyed tone: "I have to go and check on our daughter."

She darted down to the basement. No Faith. The bedrooms. No Faith. The living and dining rooms. No Faith.

Frantically, she ran back into the kitchen. "Pete! Oh my God, I can't find her. She's not here!"

Horror gripped us both as our eyes locked for a nanosecond. We were both pondering the unthinkable: the pool!

Despite the fact that we lived in a two-family, semi-attached house with little space, we did have a small three-foot-high pool in our backyard for relief from the hot New York City summers. We ran to the backyard ... and saw our worst fears realized.

There stood Faith in the middle of the pool with her back to us—our three-year-old daughter, naked, barely standing on tiptoes with water up to her chin, almost in her mouth.

At that moment I felt us age five years.

"Faith. Don't move!" Geri yelled as we ran to pull her out of the pool.

Somehow Faith had let herself up and down the ladder into the water without slipping. And she had kept herself standing on her tiptoes in the pool for who knows how long!

If she had faltered, Geri and I would have been burying our daughter.

Geri and I were badly shaken-for days. I shudder even today as I write these words.

The sad truth about this incident is that nothing changed inside us. That would take five more years, a lot more pain, and a few more close calls.

How could I, along with Geri, have been so negligent? I look back in embarrassment at how untruthful and immature I acted with John and Susan, with God, with myself! John wasn't the problem; I was. Externally I had appeared kind, gracious, and patient, when inwardly I was nothing like that. I so wanted to present a polished image as a good Christian that I cut myself off from what was going on within myself. Unconsciously I had been thinking: I hope I am a good-enough Christian. Will this couple like us? Will they think we are okay? Will John give a good report of his visit to my pastor friend?

Pretending was safer than honesty and vulnerability.

The reality was that my discipleship and spirituality had not touched a number of deep internal wounds and sin patterns—especially those ugly ones that emerged behind the closed doors of our home during trials, disagreements, conflicts, and setbacks.

I was stuck at an immature level of spiritual and emotional development. And my then-present way of living the Christian life was not transforming the deep places in my life.

And because of that, Faith almost died. Something was dreadfully wrong with my spirituality—but what?


Researchers have been charting the departing dust of those known as "church leavers"—an increasingly large group that has been gathering numbers in recent years. Some of these leavers are believers who no longer attend church. These men and women made a genuine commitment to Christ but came to realize, slowly and painfully, that the spirituality available in church had not really delivered any deep, Christ-transforming life change—either in themselves or others.

What went wrong? They were sincere followers of Jesus Christ, but they struggled as much as anyone else with their marriages, divorces, friendships, parenting, singleness, sexuality, addictions, insecurities, drive for approval, and feelings of failure and depression at work, church, and home. They saw the same patterns of emotional conflict inside the church as outside. What was wrong with the church?

Other church leavers include those who remained in the church but simply became inactive. After many years of frustration and disappointment, realizing that the black-and-white presentations of the life of faith did not fit with their life experience, they quit—at least internally. For the sake of their children, or perhaps for lack of an alternative, they have remained in the church, but passively. They can't quite put their finger on the problem, but they know something is not right. Something is missing. A deep unease in their soul gnaws at them, but they don't know what to do about it.

A third group, sadly, chose to jettison their faith completely. They grew tired of feeling stuck and trapped in their spiritual journey. And they grew weary of Christians around them who, regardless of their "knowledge" of God, church involvement, and zeal, were angry, compulsive, highly opinionated, defensive, proud, and too busy to love the Jesus they professed. Being a Christian seemed more trouble than it was worth. Starbucks and the New York Times were better companions for Sunday mornings.

There was a time in my life when I wanted more than anything else to be one of those church leavers. The agonizing pain of a major crisis had me writhing in anger and shame—me, the guy who had tried so hard to be a committed and loving Christian, who was so sincere about serving God and his kingdom. How had all my best efforts landed me in such a mess?

It wasn't until the pain exposed how much was hiding under my surface of being a "good Christian" that it hit me: whole layers of my emotional life had lain buried, untouched by God's transforming power. I had been too busy for "morbid introspection," too consumed with building God's work to spend time digging around in my subconscious. Yet now the pain was forcing me to face how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person, even though I had been a Christian for twenty years.

That is when I discovered the radical truth that changed my life, my marriage, my ministry, and eventually the church we were privileged to serve. It was a simple truth, but somehow I'd missed it—and, strangely, apparently so had the vast majority of the evangelical movement I'd been part of. This simple but profound reality, I believe, has the power to bring revolutionary change to many of those who are ready to throw in the towel on Christian faith: emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.


Very, very few people emerge out of their families of origin emotionally whole or mature. In my early years of ministry, I believed the power of Christ could break any curse, so I barely gave any thought to how the home I'd left long ago might still be shaping me. After all, didn't Paul teach in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that when you become a Christian, old things pass away and all things become new? But crisis taught me I had to go back and understand what those old things were in order for them to begin passing away.

My Italian-American family, like all families, was cracked and broken. My parents were children of immigrants and sacrificed themselves for their four children to enjoy the American dream. My dad, a baker by trade, worked endless hours, first in a New York City Italian pastry shop owned by my grandfather and later for a large baking distributor.

His one overriding goal was for his children to study, graduate from college, and "make something of their lives."

My mom struggled with clinical depression and an emotionally unavailable husband. Raised under an abusive father, she suffocated under the weight of raising her four children alone. Her married life, like her childhood, was marked by sadness and loneliness.

My siblings and I emerged out of that environment scarred. We were emotionally underdeveloped and starved for affection and attention. We each left home for college, trying unsuccessfully not to look back.

From the outside our home, like so many others, appeared okay. It seemed better, at least, than most of my friends' situations. The house of cards, however, came tumbling down when I was sixteen. My older brother broke an invisible rule of our family by disobeying my father and quitting college. Even worse, he announced that Reverend and Mrs. Moon, founders of the Unification Church, were the true parents of humankind. For the next ten years he was declared dead and forbidden to return home. My parents were ashamed and crushed. They drew back from extended family and friends. The pressure and stress of his dramatic leaving exposed the large craters and holes in our family functioning. We splintered further apart.

It would take us almost two decades to begin recovering.

What is perhaps most tragic is that my dad's spirituality and loyal involvement in his church (he was the one member of our family with any spark of genuine faith) had little impact on his marriage and parenting. The way he functioned as a father, husband, and employee reflected his culture and family of origin rather than the new family of Jesus.

My family is undoubtedly different from yours. But one thing I've learned after over twenty years of working closely with families is this: your family, like mine, is also marked by the consequences of the disobedience of our first parents as described in Genesis 3. Shame, secrets, lies, betrayals, relationship breakdowns, disappointments, and unresolved longings for unconditional love lie beneath the veneer of even the most respectable families.


Disillusioned and unsure of God's existence, by the age of thirteen I had left the church, convinced it was irrelevant to "real life." It was through a Christian concert in a small church and a Bible study on our university campus that, by God's grace, I became a Christian. I was nineteen. The enormousness of the love of God in Christ overwhelmed me. I immediately began a passionate quest to know this living Jesus who had revealed himself to me.

For the next seventeen years, I plunged headfirst into my newfound evangelical/charismatic tradition, absorbing every drop of discipleship and spirituality made available. I prayed and read Scripture. I consumed Christian books. I participated in small groups and attended church regularly. I learned about spiritual disciplines. I served eagerly with my gifts. I gave money away freely. I shared my faith with anyone who would listen.

Following college graduation, I taught high school English for one year and then went to work for three years as a staff person with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a Christian ministry serving college students. Eventually this led me to Princeton and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminaries, one year in Costa Rica to learn Spanish, and the planting of a multiethnic church in Queens, New York.

For those first seventeen years as a devoted follower of Christ, however, the emotional aspects or areas of my humanity remained largely untouched. They were rarely talked about or touched on in Sunday school classes, small groups, or church settings. In fact, the phrase "emotional aspects or areas of my humanity" seemed to belong in a professional counselor's vocabulary, not the church.


Just as my leadership ministry seemed to be reaching full swing, Geri, my wife, slowly began to protest that something was desperately wrong-wrong with me and wrong with the church. I knew she might be right so I kept trying to implement different discipleship emphases that, to a certain degree, helped me. My conversation with myself went something like this:

"More Bible study, Pete. That will change people. Their minds will be renewed. Changed lives will follow."

"No. It is body life. Get everyone in deeper levels of community, in small groups. That will do it!"

"Pete, remember, deep change requires the power of the Spirit. That can only come through prayer. Spend more time in prayer yourself and schedule more prayer meetings at New Life. God doesn't move unless we pray."

"No, these are spiritual warfare issues. The reason people aren't really changing is you are not confronting the demonic powers in and around them. Apply Scripture and pray in Jesus' authority for people to be set free from the evil one."

"Worship. That's it. If people will only soak in the presence of God in worship, that will work."

"Remember Christ's words from Matthew 25:40. We meet Christ when we give freely to 'the least of these brothers of mine,' those sick, unknown, in prison. Get them involved in serving among the poor; they will change."

"No, Pete, you need people who hear God in an exceptional way and have prophetic insight. They will finally break the unseen chains around people."

"Enough, Pete. People don't really understand the grace of God in the gospel. Our standing before God is based on Jesus' record and performance, not our own. It is his righteousness, not ours! Pound it into their heads every day, as Luther said, and they'll change!"

There is biblical truth in each of these points. I believe all of them have a place in our spiritual journey and development. You, no doubt, have experienced God and his presence through one or more of these in your walk with Christ.

The problem, however, is that inevitably you find, as I did, something is still missing. In fact, the spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. Because people are having real, and helpful, spiritual experiences in certain areas of their lives—such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship—they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life and interior world is not in order. This apparent "progress" then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing.

They are deceived.

I know. I lived that way for almost seventeen years as a Christian. Because of the spiritual growth in certain areas of my life and in those around me, I ignored the reality that signs of emotional immaturity were everywhere in and around me.

Most of us, in our more honest moments, will admit there are deep layers beneath our day-to-day awareness. As the following illustration shows, only about 10 percent of an iceberg is visible to the eye. This 10 percent represents the visible changes we make that others can see. We are nicer people, more respectful. We attend church and participate regularly. We "clean up our lives" somewhat—from alcohol and drugs to foul language to illicit behavior and beyond. We begin to pray and share Christ with others.

Excerpted from EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY by PETER SCAZZERO. Copyright © 2006 Peter Scazzero. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City, a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as senior pastor for twenty-six years, Pete now serves as a teaching pastor/pastor at large. He is the author of two best-selling books—The Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He is also the author of The EHS Course and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. Pete and his wife, Geri, are the founders of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in a deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm that integrates emotional health and contemplative spirituality. They have four lovely daughters. For more information, visit emotionallyhealthy.org, or connect with Pete on Twitter @petescazzero.


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Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Scazzero rightly points out that we often do not deal well with our emotions, even if we feel we have attained a certain level of spiritual maturity. It affirmed my growing conviction that many of us don't have as high an 'Emotional IQ' as we should have or think we have. He deals with truth issues (based in part on the Bible) and gives practical help in getting a better handle on good, healthy emotionality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paster Pete Scazzero shares openly his struggles and how he and his wife Geri learned how to transform their marriage, grow closer to God, and have better relationships with others. You will gain tools that will equip you to grow emotionally and spirtually. My whole family has benefited and I am so thankful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was used in our Sunday School class. So a hard copy was provided. But I got a version for my iPad so I had it with me all the time. Very enlightening. Hard to realize how our lives are shaped during our early years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book that talks about the various areas of growth that all need in order to love God well, love others well, and to love themselves well. Many adults do not realize that maturity consist of growth in five different areas and therefore pass this same unawareness on from generation to generation. To be more specific, avoiding any of the five areas is not good for anyone. This book clarifies that by stating, "to ignore any aspect of who we are as men and women made in God's image always result in destructive consequences in our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves." Read to find more on these five areas..... Excellent, easy read!
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