“Emotionally Healthy Church”
Looking Back in order to go forward
Reading: Genesis 45:1-15, Hebrews 12:1-3
Preacher: Rev Kevin Kim
We are continuing our series on exploring what it means to be an emotionally healthy church and addressing some of the issues that lie below the surface (a bit like an iceberg). This week Phil will be looking at how our past experiences, upbringing and the example and wisdom past down to us shape the people we are today. For some people this can be a positive thing but for others, the experiences of the past can be like chains that hold us back and make it hard to move forward. Using the Biblical story of Joseph and a great imagery from the book of Hebrews, we will be challenged to discard the chains that hold us back and move forward keeping our eyes on Jesus.
Four Questions for reflection or small groups
A personal question
“We are shaped by our past experiences and upbringing and by people who have invested in us and shared their wisdom and example with us … especially by our parents.” Who are the people who have shaped or invested you? What is one “imprint” that you are thankful for?
A Biblical Question
What do the following verses tell us about the relationship between our past and future…
- Isaiah 43:18-19
- Isaiah 46:8-9
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
- Genesis 41:51
- 1 Corinthians 11:24-25
- Philippians 3:12
- Luke 9:62
- 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
A Practical Question
A young couple who have been married for 2 years have come to you and expressed some concerns that if they have a child they do not want to treat their child the same way as their parents treated them. In particular, the example of work/family balance and verbal abuse. What advice would you give to them to help them move forward.
Some open-ended questions to spur discussion
At TUC, we have spoken many times about how Jesus can transform lives and situations. Has that been your experience or have you seen examples of this transformation happening at TUC … or is it more talk than reality? Is the transformation all the work of God, or are we involved in it too? If we believe that Jesus is transformative, how can we offer this to people who are in need? How would we even word such an offer?
Last week Kevin started a new sermon series that was inspired by a book that he was given to him by his father by Peter Scazzero called “Emotionally Healthy Church”. One of the key issues in the book is that of an iceberg and as Kevin talked about last week, sometimes when it comes to our church or our individual spirituality, the things that we can see above the surface might be not the same as the reality of what is lying below the surface.
It reminded me of my first car – here is a picture of it. If you saw my car you would have thought it was an awesome car. It had a sunroof, cool sports seats and a banger of a sound system … but if you lifted the hood (and knew what you were on about), there was a stack of mechanical issues that were causing problems. And while the stuff that people saw about might car might have been looking great, the things that actually matter when it comes to driving – well, I had to face up to the fact that I needed to address these mechanical issues.
And that is the premise of this series. When it comes to our church life or our own spiritual growth, people might look at how we serve or how we pray or how we look and might think that we are spiritually strong … but sometimes when we are honest, if you look below the surface, if you lift the hood so to speak, we might not be going as well as we would like.
So Peter Scazzero in his books is encouraging a more contemplative approach to spirituality. Encourage us to pause and do some honest reflecting on the “below the surface” layers and maybe allow God to minister to us in the deep parts of our lives and maybe help us to grow in our spiritual maturity (which if you remember from the 121 sermons is telos).
When Kevin first raised this idea as a sermon series I had two thoughts – firstly, I thought that this is something that a bunch of people in the church could relate to and that it might be helpful to explore these below-the-surface layers. But I also thought that there is a potential if we start talking about this that we might open a door for people that they don’t want opened. That we might stir up stuff that we have tried to keep squashed down or hidden. So, I want to say upfront before I launch into the main content of this sermon that if what I share today does stir up some stuff for you, please know that you do not have to deal with this alone. As a church family, we are here for each other. As a pastor, I am committed to helping you and supporting you and loving you. I know that it is not easy, but it is far better to begin to address some of this stuff rather than to just push it down again. Jesus is here with us today, full of love, acceptance, and compassion and ready to bring healing, peace and wholeness. So while I can see some worried faces … ready to jump in.
One of the key points that Scazzero makes in his book is that the people we are today are shaped by our past experiences and upbringing and the people who have invested in us and shared their wisdom and example with us. We would agree with that, wouldn’t we? And he goes on to say that the key people who shape us, particularly as children and teenagers are … our parents and our families. Again, agree? Yes.
For some of us, this is a positive statement that we celebrate. I personally am so grateful for the way that my parents shaped me as a child. For the example that they set for me to follow. For the time they spent teaching me and guiding me in life.
On the whole, it was a positive, loving experience that I hope that I have been able to emulate with my own kids.
But for others, this experience has not been as positive – and the imprint that was placed on us as a child or young person has been somewhat harmful or painful. These negative experiences can deeply impact and affect us and even become like chains that hold us back and make it hard to move forward.
I am sure that we all are carrying some emotionally baggage from our past experiences – maybe for you it is minimal, or maybe it has become a heavy load to bear. Maybe you are so used to carrying this excess emotional burden that it has just become normal.
But Jesus talks about how he has come to set us free, to help make our burdens light, to help us live joyfully in the present. It is at the core of the gospel message that Jesus wants to help us to move forward from the past and embrace life in the fullness.
- Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt 11:28,30)
- I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
Did you notice that I can back up all these statements with biblically verses? This is very much at the heart of God’s message for us. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
So that is what the bible says, and we will come back to that, but lets just jump over to what modern psychology says on this. It suggests that we often underestimate the deep, unconscious imprint our families of origin leave with us. Each of our family members and those involved in our childhood, has imprinted certain ways of behaving, or thinking into us. (Likewise, our cultures, the media, and our interpretation of events that happen to us also imprint us). And then these imprints shape our understanding of life, relationships, work ethics, conflict, family, parenting, success, biases … and can even influence our feelings and emotions.
As I said before, this can be helpful when people, mentors, teachers or experiences are positive and can shape us in a positive way, but they can also be unhelpful. Take this story from Philip Yancey’s book “What’s so amazing about grace” that highlights the danger of cyclic imprinting.
Yancey shared a story about Daisy, who grew up in the late 1800’s with a mean drunk as a father. She grew up with this knot of bitterness and hatred for what her father’s alcoholism did to the family and when she was old enough to leave she declared she never wanted to see her father again.
Daisy did not want to be like her father and indeed never touched a drop of alcohol in her life, but she ruled her own family with a similar form of tyranny that she had grown up under. She would lie on the couch with a rubber ice bag and yell at her kids for “ruining her life”. Her daughter Margaret remembers as a child coming in tears to apologize for something she’d done. Daisy responded with a parental Catch-22: “You can’t possibly be sorry! If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
All her life, Margaret was determined to be different from her mother, Daisy. But Margaret’s life had its own tragedies, some large and some small, and as her four children entered their teenage years in the 1960’s she felt she was losing control of them – particularly her long haired hippy son Michael.
One day, she caught Michael smoking pot and kicked him out of the house, declaring, “”I never want to see you again as long as I live.” Michael is Philip Yancey’s close friend. One time when talking with Yancey, Michael was saying how he was settling some of the last financial issues of the divorce with his ex-wife. “I didn’t know you still had contact with Sue,” Yancey said. “I don’t!” Michael cut in, “I hope I never see her again as long as I live!” Michael went silent as he recognized in his own voice the tone of his mother, which was actually the tone of her mother, tracing all the way back to what his great grandfather did nearly a century ago.
Now, there is a big debate whether things like unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, relationship disfunction are part of our DNA or whether they are haven passed down through that imprinting from our life experiences … either way, it is not uncommon to see this cyclic pattern of behaviour passed down from generation to generation.
If this is stirring up stuff for you, then Scazzero in his book would want to remind you that our story is still to be written and we can – with the help of Jesus – address these things and pass on a different example or a different imprint to our kids or grandkids. That’s why we are encouraging us to dealing with the “below the surface” issues so that then we don’t run the risk that these unconscious imprints may continue to imprint.
The good news of Jesus reminds us that it is God is the expert potter when it comes to shaping us and helping us to be the best version of us we can be. That our destiny or future is not pre-determined, that story is still be written and Jesus offers to help us write that.
So how do we do this? Our two bible readings can give us some wisdom on this. The first reading is the from the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph would have grown up hearing the stories of how his dad deceiving his brother over his grandfather’s inheritance and that is why Dad and Uncle Esau don’t talk. His Dad has this complex relationship with two wives and two combines which resulted in his dad having favourite children (which is an imprint from what his grandmother Rebekah did with Jacob). And then he had his brothers wanting to kill him, selling him as a slave, the injustice at Pontifers house and then a long time in jail.
Fast forward, we find Joseph in a position of power and seeing his brothers again (who don’t recognise him). Initially he wants to take revenge, to get them thrown into jail. To follow the example of his own experiences of people in power. But maybe he remembered the example of Uncle Esau who ultimately showed forgiveness. Or maybe he just decided to write his own story … and Joseph shows grace and forgiveness to his brothers and bring reconciliation to his family.
We too have that choice. Our upbringing and our experiences might leave imprints on our lives, but we have the power to choose how much these imprints influence and shape our future decisions. I put up the Isaiah 40:18-19 reading before: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” In the original Hebrew, the intent of this verse is not quite “forget everything of your past” but rather “don’t cling to the past” or “don’t let the past hold you back from moving forward”. We can’t change the past, it is part of who we are, but we do have the power to choose how much of our past influences our future.
Which brings me to my last point, and the second reading. I included this because the writer of Hebrews can say it better than I could ever.
They start by reminding us that we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – the people of our past and present who have positively influenced and shaped our lives – people who love us, are praying for us, and who really want the best for us. They are surround us and cheering us on.
So let us address any of the “under the surface” stuff that we might have that is related to the not helpful imprints or influences that we have experienced. Let us throw off the chains of those things that might be holding us back or tripping us up. Let’s not cling to the past but keep moving forward with perseverance. And above all, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus for it is Jesus who offers to shape us and imprint us with his love and grace and an example to follow that brings us life.