Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality: Why It’s Possible to Lose Your Soul While Trying to Follow God

Why the day my wife announced that she wanted to leave became the best day of my life

by Peter Scazzero in Vantage Point

“Pete, I’m leaving the church,” my wife Geri had muttered quietly.I sat still, too stunned to respond. “I can’t take any more of this stress – the constant crisis,” she continued.

Geri had been more than patient. I had brought home constant pressure and tension from church, year after year. Now the woman I had promised to love just as Christ loved the church was exhausted.

We had experienced eight unrelenting years of stress.“I’m not doing it anymore,” she concluded. “This church is no longer life for me. It is death.”

Losing Your Most Important Follower

When a church member says, “I’m leaving the church,” most pastors do not feel very good. But when your wife of nine years says it, your world is turned upside down. We were in our bedroom. I remember the day well.

“Pete, I love you, but I’m leaving the church,” she summarized very calmly. “I no longer respect your leadership.” I was visibly shaken, and did not know what to say or do. I felt shamed, alone, and angry. I tried raising my voice to intimidate her: “That is out of the question,” I bellowed. “All right, so I’ve made a few mistakes.”  

But she calmly continued, “It’s not that simple. You don’t have the guts to lead – to confront the people who need to be confronted. You don’t lead. You’re too afraid that people will leave the church. You’re too afraid of what they’ll think about you.”

I was outraged. “I’m getting to it!” I yelled defensively. “I’m working on it.” (For the last two years, I really had been trying, but somehow still was not up to it.) “Good for you, but I can’t wait any more,” she replied.

There was a long pause of silence. Then she uttered the words that changed the power balance in our marriage permanently: “Pete, I quit.”

It is said that the most powerful person in the world is one who has nothing to lose. Geri no longer had anything to lose. She was dying on the inside, and I had not listened to or responded to her calls for help.

She softly continued, “I love you Pete. But the truth is I would be happier separated than married. At least then you would have to take the kids on weekends. Then maybe you’d even listen!” “How could you say such a thing?” I complained. “Don’t even think about it.”

She was calm and resolute in her decision. I was enraged.A good Christian wife, married to a Christian (and a pastor I may add), does not do this. I understood at that moment why a husband could fly into a rage and kill the wife he loves. She had asserted herself. She was forcing me to listen. I wanted to die. This was going to require me to change!

The Beginnings of This Mess

How did we get to this point? Eight years previously, Geri and I had begun New Life Fellowship in Elmhurst, Queens. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I had a “vision” and Geri followed.

Now, four children later, Geri was battle-weary and wanted a life and a marriage. By this time I agreed. The problem was my sense of responsibility to build the church and to other people. I had little energy left over to parent our children or to enjoy Geri. I had even less energy to enjoy a “life,” whatever that was! Even when I was physically present, such as at a soccer game for one of our daughters, my mind was usually focused on something related to the church.

Weeks had turned into months. Months into years. The years had become almost a decade, and the crisis was now in full bloom. The sober reality was that I had made little time during those nine years for the joys of parenting and marriage. I was too preoccupied with the demands of pastoring a church.

We were gaining the whole world by doing a great work for God while at the same time losing our souls…

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Pete Scazzero is author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Nelson, 2006), a groundbreaking work on the integration of emotional health and contemplative spirituality, and a Two Handed Warrior Book of the Decade.

Peter and Geri are co-founders of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Peter is senior pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City, a multiracial, international church representing over 65 countries. He and Geri have four daughters and have learned to love each other, their life, and even their church again.