Today I am featuring an interview I did with Marc Schelske, the author of The Wisdom of Your Heart (available for preorder now). We chatted a bit about the book, his hopes and dreams for it, and whether or not Jesus was in touch with his emotions.
Marc Alan Schelske is a husband, dad, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, and recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea and rides a motorcycle. Marc is privileged to serve as the teaching elder for Bridge City Community Church, a rag-tag faith community in Milwaukie, Oregon. There he focuses on inside-out living, and what it looks like to follow Jesus at the intersection of grace and growth.
What is The Wisdom of Your Heart about?
It’s about growing up. That’s the simplest answer.
I didn’t set out to write a book. I came to the end of my own rope, brought to a place of great pain by my own emotional immaturity and my inability to deal with some really difficult things in my life. While I was falling apart on the inside, I was the up-and-coming pastor of a young and active church. I looked great on the outside. Church looked great, too. But hardly anyone knew that I was falling off a cliff. Pain. Anxiety. A season of nearly-incapacitating depression. I was hurting people around me—not meaning to, just having no awareness of how my emotional immaturity bled over onto others.
The Wisdom of Your Heart is the fruit of my long and ongoing process of emotional recovery. It started with a couple close friends and mentors. It included a great therapist and a lot of deep exploration of my own story, and my pictures of God, and the expectations I had of myself. It included looking at the Bible in a different way. It was never meant to be a book.
At some point, though, I decided the only credibility I had left was to be completely honest about where I was at. I couldn’t pretend to be a kind of pastor I’m not. So I started sharing what I was experiencing, and what I was learning. In more than twenty years of preaching, I have never had such a positive response. Over and over people asked for more. So, I started sharing and teaching more about the importance of emotional discipleship, as a part of growing up in Christ. And that eventually led to this book.
The heart of the book is that your emotions are a God-given gift, and they always tell you something true, even if it’s not the truth you think. By understanding our emotions, how they function, and perhaps why God intended them to function as they do, we gain enormous insight into our own lives, and even into our relationship with God. If Ephesians 4 is right that one of God’s projects in our lives is to mature us in the image of Christ, then I am suggesting that emotional maturity is a part of this process.
What are your hopes and dreams for this book?
For it to sell truckloads and truckloads of copies! Doesn’t sound very humble and pastoral, does it? But it’s the truth. I’ve got two reasons why I hope for this.
First, I am a teacher at heart. I love helping people come to see things in a new way that opens them to greater freedom and a deeper experience of God. That is what lights me on fire. I get to work with a close circle of folks in the little church I’m so honored to serve, and I’m happy with that. That’s where I pastor. But this book is a way for me to come alongside a whole bunch of other people, people I might never even meet, and maybe help them see their own hearts, and perhaps even God, in a new and better way. If The Wisdom of Your Heart can help other people avoid the kind of painful brokenness I went through, that would just be incredible.
Second, I deeply love writing. It’s been life-saving for me. And sometimes, I get the incredible gift of discovering that my writing has been helpful to others. If this book sells well, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to write another one. And I’d really love to be able to do that. I’m trying to practice the spiritual discipline of being OK with whatever happens… but it truly is the desire of my heart to help people mature after the image of Jesus through my writing. That sounds so preacherly when I hear it. So Christiany. But it’s true. It is incredible for me to write words that emerge from my journey and have other people connect with those words, and perhaps in some way see more clearly than they did before.
What role do you think the church currently plays in growing people emotionally?
I’m about to make a sweeping claim. I know that when I do that, I will get it wrong. Of course, there are individual churches out there doing a good job at talking about mental health, emotional wellness, and maturity. And of course, there are some denominations or theological streams that are more open to the importance of intuition and emotion. However, having said that, onto my sweeping claim…
The church, by and large, has really failed us when it comes to emotional maturity. For centuries the western church has looked down on emotions. This is part of our platonic heritage. Emotions are a part of the life of the body, and that old dualistic world-view (which we inherited from Greek philosophy, not from our Hebrew scriptures) saw everything having to do with the body as weak, flawed, and even sinful. We have a perfect soul that is our spiritual being that will one day go to heaven, and we have this oozy, stinky, aching body that we will slough off when we are made new. The consequence of that view is that the church, when it has explicitly talked about emotions, has nearly always talked about them as something to overcome, something to control, something to avoid, something really elevated spiritual people just don’t have.
So, when I, as a child of Western Christianity, was living in a place of deep denial and numbness, I looked exactly like a Good Christian. What was really emotional brokenness was credited to me as spiritual maturity. I looked like I had a lot of faith and peace in my life. In reality, I was not feeling anything. And then, when my life started falling apart and I was awash in painful emotions that seemed out of control, the church had nothing to offer me beyond encouragement to pray hard so that God could help me overcome.
So how is the church helping people grow emotionally? Many churches don’t talk about emotions or mental health at all because it’s just not on their radar as important. Some churches talk about them in terms of deliverance and healing, and while I have seen some amazing healing happen, even those churches don’t offer much in helping people become capable of handling their normal emotions in a mature manner. Worse of all, there are still a few churches actively telling people that their emotions are bad, depression isn’t a real thing, and if they would just get their sin forgiven and read the Bible more, everything would be fine.
Do you think Jesus was in touch with his emotions?
Interesting question. The first thing that comes to mind is that the question, as you frame it, implies something. Being “in touch” with our emotions sort of speaks to the bifurcation of the human soul that we’ve inherited from that dualistic influence from Greek philosophy. That emotions are something separate from us, something that we have to be particularly skilled to connect with.
I don’t think Jesus lived in that framework. I think Jesus was a healthy, integrated human being, for whom emotions functioned in the way they should when we are healthy, mature, and aware of our own thoughts and feelings. Also, Jesus was Jewish and Jewish culture, while hierarchical, was also very emotionally expressive. So, I think naturally Jesus was more emotionally expressive than many of us would be comfortable with. Second, Jesus was—Paul leads us to this idea—a perfect man, one without sin. I suspect this means that Jesus was without the emotional baggage that many of us inherit from our childhood home and the painful or dysfunctional consequences. Without that inheritance, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus was a perfectly functioning personality, without phycological or neurological dysfunction.
So, all that is to say, I think Jesus was an emotional man, who experienced emotions in a healthy and mature manner, in keeping with their design. I think the Gospels attest to this. The range of Jesus’ emotions described in scripture is far wider than I’d have thought before I looked. Love and compassion are there, as you’d expect. But also there is frustration, anger, grief, and depending on how you read the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, perhaps even fear. These emotions didn’t derail Jesus, or cause him to act in sinful or destructive ways—but they were a part of his experience as a human.
To me that’s great news. Not only did God design the emotional system, but God in Jesus has experienced it too. We are not alone in both the joys and the sorrows of living a fully emotional life.
One last question: what was your biggest challenge in writing this book?
Maybe this isn’t surprising, but the emotional side of it. I love writing and creating things. I love researching and synthesizing information into new material to help people. But I really had no idea how deeply the book would push me personally.
All my buttons got pushed. Insecurity on every front. Fear of not being accepted. Fear of not belonging. Fear of sharing too much. Fear of not being honest enough. Fear that the publisher would discover I’m a fraud. Fear that people would read the book and hate it. Fear that people won’t read the book at all. Layers and layers. Even now, as I’m in the launch phase, every single day is a battle for me to put to rest the perfectionist voices that say I’m not doing enough.
Growing emotionally is a journey. Long, with often unexpected twists. Sometimes easy, many times hard. The difference for me now is that these waves of emotion don’t undo me, they don’t spin me out or send me into depression. And I no longer feel like I need to forcefully press them down so I can stay strong and look like I’m in control. Now I can see them for what they are, and listen to what might be needful in their message.
The message for me has been to let go of the little idols in my heart and trust. Trust people. Trust myself and my creative instinct. Trust the naturally unfolding process of growth—even when it’s inscrutable. And most of all (and again every day) to trust God. In John’s gospel, in the upper room, Jesus made this crazy claim. He said, “In that day, you will know that I am in the Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20) That’s amazing closeness. Before all of this journey of emotional recovery, the only way I could relate to that verse was as a theological statement about some weird metaphysical reality beyond my experience. But now, I see it as the experiential truth. I am in Jesus, and Jesus is in me, and together we are in the Father. And that means that right now, even with all the emotions I feel, I am held close and known, and what I feel is something God knows too. That means it’s actually possible for me to trust. And that’s new.
The Wisdom of Your Heart is available for pre-order now and releases on September 1, 2017.