As Christians, we can sometimes use Scriptures to justify emotional immaturity.
And that’s awful.
We’ve been talking about emotional maturity this week, as we’re launching our emotional maturity series. On Tuesday I started off talking about four markers for emotional maturity, and then on Wednesday I was asking when people started feeling like adults (and the responses were fascinating)!
Yesterday I took the day off from podcasts, and I told you it was because I was having vertigo again (which is true–I’m going to the physiotherapist this morning!). But it was also because over the last few weeks I’ve had some follow-up tests for two different kinds of cancers, and I was getting more yesterday, and I was just nervous. But yesterday I got the all-clear on both the thyroid and the breast, so I’m very relieved and in a very different frame of mind today.
Anyway, I wanted to elaborate on several comments that came into the blog this week that pointed to some important things. I appreciated all of your comments, by the way, but two in particular show a similar thread, even if it doesn’t seem apparent at first.
And that’s a rather tragic one: We often use God language and interpretation of Scripture to promote emotional immaturity.
Here’s what one commenter said yesterday:
Before I met my husband, I dated a very kind man who couldn’t seem to figure out his career. I wanted to be patient with him because he was such a good and kind person. But he was in a dead end job working on exploring career options; I had already been in my dream job for several years.
One day he had been reading a devotional about how God wants us to dream big and suggested that maybe God wanted him to pursue becoming a professional race car driver. I suggested maybe that wasn’t the wisest choice since he was already 31 and had never done any competitive race car driving. He insisted that if he felt God calling him, none of that mattered.
I think this is another element of emotional/spiritual maturity we need to discuss more in the church. Do you let God lead you through wisdom, experience, and those who love and care about you? Or do you insist on using God language as a trump card to avoid challenging conversations? Soon afterward I communicated that I wasn’t sure if we could keep moving forward – and he suggested that if I was unsatisfied with the situation, I could just quit MY job so that we could spend more time together. At the time I owned a home, had a mortgage, and was in my dream career. Just quitting my job wasn’t an option – but also I realized that if I had to EXPLAIN that to him, we couldn’t make decisions together for the rest of our lives. We ended things, and I decided to never date someone who made me feel like his mom – like I had to explain how career paths, mortgages or reasonable life choices work. Part of what I love most about my husband is that we have a very similar strong sense of responsibility – but more importantly he doesn’t use “God called me” or other religious language to circumvent or manipulate conversations about what goals we want to pursue together.
I think this is extremely common, and we need to talk about it more in the church.
Often we do indeed use God language to avoid having to have challenging conversations or make challenging decisions. We use Scripture to justify doing very unwise things, because doesn’t God say that He will look after us, and we can cast our cares onto Him? Doesn’t He say that if two or more gather together and pray something in His name, it will be done? Doesn’t Scripture show God saying outrageous things to people, and then amazing things happen? So why can’t we hear God telling us to do outrageous things today?
I believe that there is a lot of emotional immaturity in the church that parades as “tremendous faith”.
And then people are afraid to call it out because it’s all done in God language.
I’m not going to comment too much more about this, but I’d love your thoughts in the comments. I do believe this is a major problem, and I’d love to figure out ways to talk about this better.
We use Scripture to justify not having boundaries
Here’s another one that’s very common: We use the idea that Jesus made Himself nothing and Jesus allowed Himself to be abused to say that we should similarly believe that we don’t matter compared to others. We should allow ourselves to be nothing.
And, again, this sounds very pious.
Part of Meghan’s comment spoke to this:
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started questioning long-held beliefs and realizing that it’s OK to set boundaries and that it’s OK to say no and that it’s OK to advocate for what I need. I wear otter socks like a little kid and don’t care what other people think. I speak up at the doctor’s office when they’re making incorrect assumptions. I tell my father he can’t disrespect me. I take up space unapologetically. I report people who harass me or others. Basically, I’m done acting like I don’t matter, because I do. Wish it hadn’t taken me 30 years to get here, but hey at least I can model this for my daughter and start her off on a better foundation than I had.
I love that one sentence especially: “I’m done acting like I don’t matter, because I do.” Amen!
But too often, in Christian circles, we’re told that if we speak up for ourselves, or if we have boundaries that we are being mean, selfish, and unChristlike.
That’s not true at all. I explained this at length in my post about how we need to stop using submission to justify abuse; there is nothing inherently holy in suffering.
Here’s what I think happens: Somebody wants to control another person or manipulate another person, either out of genuine malice or because they’re so insecure and have never understood their own emotions that they can’t handle someone else with needs. So they use “God language” to tell the other person that their needs don’t matter.
Don’t be selfish. Be a servant. Jesus made Himself nothing.
Then that person, often a child, internalizes this, believing that if they do have needs, that is selfish. If they are upset at someone, they are in sin and are suffering from “non-forgiveness.” Seriously, this rush to forgive that we so often see in Christian circles is largely about emotional immaturity and not wanting to do the hard work of confronting what people are actually feeling.
For more examples of how rushing forgiveness hurts, see:
- 10 Reasons Why Rushing Forgiveness After an Affair is Unwise
- On the Duggars and the Sexual Abuse Scandal (I know it’s an older issue, but the second point in this post is important)
What all of these things have in common is an unwillingness or a fear to allow ourselves to feel.
We use God language to make it sound like unwise decisions are really about having faith because we’re simply scared and we don’t want to have to be responsible for anything, so we put it all on God. We tell people they don’t matter because we don’t want to deal with the messiness of having to have real conversations.
We need to stop running away from our emotions.
Emotions are simply information about what’s going on in our social environment, and, to a lesser extent, in our physical environment. Emotions allow us to make wise decisions. Emotions tell us, “when I’m with her, I get sad, so something must be going on in that relationship that isn’t healthy.” Or “when I’m asked to speak up in class, I feel nauseous and scared, so something must be going on inside me that needs to be paid attention to.”
In Scripture, we see that God Himself feels the whole gamut of emotions. And Jesus, God in human flesh, also displays emotions. And He often changes what He does based on His emotions. He withdraws after John the Baptist dies because He’s grieving, and He needs to give Himself room for that. He has compassion on people, and He feeds them.
It’s not wrong to have emotions influence your decisions, because emotions tell us what to pay attention to. When we pay attention wisely, and listen to our emotions, they can point us to what work needs to be done; where safety resides; and where safety does not reside.
Wondering about how to process emotions?
If you struggle with understanding emotions, The Wisdom of Your Heart is an excellent book helping you see how God experiences emotions, and how emotions are integral to what it means to be made in the image of God.
In church we’re often taught that emotions are bad; you can’t trust them. What if the opposite is true? My husband found this such a great read!
We need to stop using God as an excuse to not grow emotionally.
Those who follow Jesus should be the most emotionally mature, because we know the One who made us. And yet too often that’s not what happens.
So let’s have a conversation about this.
Do we use God language to stunt emotional maturity? Do we often disguise emotional immaturity as “having faith”? Do we call denying oneself the pinnacle of the Christian life? What should we do instead?
Let’s talk in the comments!
Posts in the Emotional Maturity Series:
- Four Markers of Emotional Maturity
- Do We Use God Language to Avoid Maturity?
- 2 Keys to Handling Stonewalling Behavior
- 6 Ways to Grow in Emotional Maturity
- A Book List to Help with Emotional Maturity
- What Does Emotional Maturity Look Like (Podcast)
- When Christian Resources Perpetuate Your Spouse's Immaturity
- What if Emotional Maturity is a Skill Guys Can Learn?
- How Anger is Like an Iceberg
- What is Real Masculinity?
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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