Persevering through our spiritual roadblocks
“Every follower of Jesus at some point will confront the Wall—or, as the ancients called it, ‘the dark night of the soul.’ Emotionally healthy spirituality helps provide a (partial) roadmap of both how one goes through the Wall and what it means to begin living on the other side…. Failure to understand its nature results in great long-term pain and confusion. Receiving the gift of God in the Wall, however, transforms our lives forever.”1
American pastor and author Pete Scazzero caught my attention a few years ago with a seminar called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” held at my local church in Canada. Patterned after his book of the same name, I remember participating in an exercise which impacted me profoundly. After distributing outlines of an extended family tree, Pete invited us to fill in the names of our siblings, parents, maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins on each side of our family—as much information as we knew. Then we were to fill in three generations of any events that, from our recollection, stood out as a major “earthquake” or source of trouble or pain in our family story. We were to look for patterns—repetitive events, if you will.
Pete proposed that each of us in our journey with Christ would at some point hit a wall, an impenetrable obstacle in our faith life, providentially introduced by God Himself. It would either help us grow, if we pursued Him through it, or would cause us to falter, stagnate, or at worst, fall away. The “earthquakes” in our family history, and the unconscious habits or defences that we developed as a result, could be factors contributing to why we faced the wall or why we hesitated to try scaling it. Indeed, we could even use religious activities—and the pursuit of serving God—to avoid overcoming it.
This COVID-19 pandemic has surely presented many of us with personal walls to deal with—walls for which we may need to acknowledge that an entirely new approach to what we’ve been doing before may be needed, even as Bible study, prayer, worship and fellowship continue to be hallmarks of living out a spiritually dynamic Christian journey.
In addition to Bible study, I have been developing an increased appreciation for the power of knowledge to break our hearts for what breaks God’s. Before the pandemic began, several pursuits had begun revitalizing my flagging spiritual journey. One was exploring theology further—something I realized I needed to do to gain more context for understanding a biblical response to difficult issues like exploitative international trade and its impact on communities, racism within the church, and matters of injustice affecting vulnerable sectors of our society. Another was entering the life journeys of people who experience our society differently than I do—whether by simply listening more intently when they shared vulnerable parts of their story or finding opportunities to serve them in any available ways.
We have been shaken by a series of devastating news in recent times—events that have either highlighted or introduced new “walls.” Some people have already been carrying the impact of the “news” for generations—so it’s not necessarily new information, just more public. The revelation of unmarked graves of Indigenous children under several former Canadian residential schools underscores that there is something to be said for studying history intentionally and discerning current events through the lens of what has already been recorded.2
When our doctors are trying to help us get better, they ask about family history. When marriage or family counselling is needed, the same holds true. How much more so for a spiritual community linked by a bond stronger than any human family tie could ever be—by the blood of Christ, whose Spirit hovered over the generations before us. He knows exactly what it would take for us to recognize—and scale—our personal and collective walls, that He may receive glory and draw many more to Himself (Psalm 33:11).
- Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, updated and revised edition
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 97.
- Lisa Johnson, “Finding and honouring unmarked burials of Indigenous people in Alberta multi-year, ‘monumental’ effort: experts,” Edmonton Journal, June 21, 2021, accessed June 23, 2021, https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/finding-unmarked-burials-of-indigenous-people-in-alberta-multi-year-multi-million-dollar-effort.
This article appeared in the July/August/September 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.