I have lived most of my life (even as a pastor) with a cognitive knowledge that I had a soul, but almost no awareness that I was supposed to pay attention to it. Biblically I knew God had saved my soul, but experientially in my day to day life, I hardly gave my soul (inner life) a second thought.
That misdirected living has had significant consequences and touched every relationship (including my team) and every part of my life. When you don’t pay attention to your soul, you naturally end up putting all your focus on the externals of your life. You feed and fuel the doing side of your life, while starving the being side of your life.
When Parker Palmer talks about the journey of the soul, he remarks, “Everything in us cries out against it—which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own soul.”
By the way, that’s a great recipe for the making of a Pharisee.
My natural wiring is to be ambitious and driven, and in some ways those qualities have served me well. But what I didn’t comprehend is that there was a shadow side to those traits (see last week’s article for more on the topic of ambition). Often my ambition, which I saw as a strength, was not motivated by God’s glory but by an unhealthy need to be perceived as a success. Over time I learned how to cloak my selfish ambition in kingdom language. It became easy to wrap my unhealthy ambition in God talk and sanctify it. This ultimately led to some very unhealthy behavior and thinking: posturing in conversations, name-dropping, number-fudging, obsessing over leadership and growth, and ultimately a utilitarian view of people.
A cousin to my unhealthy ambition was my drivenness. This led to being compulsively busy and always trying to live beyond my limits. I believed the lie that important people are busy people. I often wore my busyness as a badge of honor. And I had no trouble rationalizing my insane pace because after all, I was doing it for Jesus.
I was also completely oblivious to scripts that I had been carrying since my childhood. One of those scripts that I have now been able to identify was to “make sure everybody has a good opinion of you.” This, of course, led to an unhealthy people pleasing and approval addiction.
These are all issues of the soul and emotional health, and they also impacted the teams I have worked with. My drivenness has manifested itself in impatience with results, defensiveness, being critical, applauding workaholism, and putting projects over people. I’m sure the people I served with could expand on that list.
I am finally beginning to learn that people who are emotional adolescents will never be great team leaders.
A friend of mine was in a team meeting where there was palpable conflict in the room. As he described the leader’s reaction to the conflict, he likened him to “the 5th grade bully on the elementary playground.” Through defensiveness and intimidation, the leader quickly shut down the conflict and the conversation. Everyone in the room “turtled up.” And, I guarantee you it will be a long time before they venture out of their shell again. The leader’s lack of emotional health and self-awareness had a devastating impact on team health.
Pete Scazzero is spot on when he says, “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.”
When I became a Christ follower, almost all of my discipleship was about the externals. In fact, I would describe my church’s attempt to disciple me as mostly “behavior modification.” Stop saying certain words. Start reading your Bible. Stop going certain places. Start volunteering in the church. Stop chasing materialism. Start tithing.
And while there is an external (doing) part of my discipleship, what was never really talked about was the transformation that needed to happen in my inner life (being). We never talked much about emotions or what might be driving my life under the surface of my actions.
We all know people who have been saved for forty years, and they are biblically knowledgeable. They have sat through thousands of sermons, and they faithfully attend everything at the church. They have held leadership positions, and they tithe faithfully. But their emotional disposition doesn’t match someone who has been hanging around Jesus and His people for forty years. Instead of increasing in love and compassion, they are crotchety, critical, and mean. There is a glaring disconnect between their outward actions and their emotional health. They are broken emotionally, and everybody sees it but them.
Honestly, confronting our emotional health (or lack of emotional health) is one of the hardest things we will ever do.
The apostle Paul highlights the importance of our inner life in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
It is not just your body that is in danger of being poisoned. Paul says that your spirit (inner life) can be contaminated.
So, this week work at paying attention to your soul. Listen to your emotions. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what is going on beneath the surface of all your “doing”.
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