“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
You probably have thalassophobia, though you may not use that word to describe one of the world’s most common fears.
Thalassophobia is a morbid sense of dread when we consider or behold the ocean’s vastness and its deep, dark waters. What’s more, psychologists believe that about half of humanity has some form of it, and “although a legitimately recognized psychological disorder, science has not yet pinpointed a direct cause for thalassophobia.”
Boredom Therapy actually collected a series of fairly benign photos for people to look at and determine if they have this particular fear.
I could only make it halfway through the pictures…
Living as Piece of a Continent
In the 17th century, John Donne wrote the essay “Meditation 17,” his musings on how each individual’s actions and wellness affects the whole. This piece is best remembered for the refrain that countless songs and later books made famous:
“No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main….
“Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.”
People, as much as we might like to think otherwise in the Western world, are deeply interconnected with one another.
Our individual choices have an impact on others, no matter how private we might believe them to be. Our physical, psychological and emotional wellness affects people around us, even those we might never think of in daily life.
If none of us is an island, then we must contend with those hidden parts of our minds and personalities that affect others.
Each of us has dark depths into which very few are willing to plunge. “In our more honest moments,” Peter Scazzero points out in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “most of us will admit that, much like an iceberg, we are made up of deep layers that exist well beneath our day-to-day awareness.”
One of his church members described this emotional immaturity that spilled over into their spiritual life: “I was a Christian for twenty-two years. But instead of being a twenty-two-year-old Christian, I was a one-year-old Christian twenty-two times.”
Without addressing emotional underdevelopment, we will fall into the same ruts of sin, bad habits and poor relationships over and over and over again.
Mature Life in a Broken World
Life is messy. Anyone who says otherwise either hasn’t lived long enough or is trying to sell you something.
We have difficult disagreements with relatives, endure conflict with friends, receive opportunities that could uproot our family, realize our job isn’t as satisfying as we’d like, and lose loved ones in the end.
“Change really is the only constant,” Frank Powell points out in Relevant magazine. “Emotionally mature Christians aren’t anxious or fearful of this reality. To them, change is neither the enemy nor the secret weapon for success. It just is. People resist change for two reasons: fear and control.
“Emotionally mature Christians see through the facades of fear, and they know control of anything is largely an illusion.
“They prepare for change. They adapt, step into fear and leave the control thing for God. Emotionally mature Christians don’t eliminate the anxieties and tensions of life. That’s impossible.”
The alternative of working for emotional maturity in our Christian life is fatal if we want to live a full and joyful life that Christ offered to his followers.
“Almost all addictions are the product of our inability to manage our emotions, particularly the uncomfortable ones (stress, anxiety and the like),” Powell explains. “Having struggled with a porn addiction, I know this to be true. Porn was my release from stressful times.
“When tragic events come, we look for an immediate release. Rather than manage the pain, we often turn to sex, drugs, shopping, food or alcohol.”
These are often the sins that all the prayers or Bible-reading or church attendance just can’t seem to heal. They are the sins that we often ask God, “Why can’t I just be free of this? Why won’t you heal me?”
They are God’s signals that he wants us to take his hand and dive deep.
Three Steps to Emotional Health
St. Teresa of Avila wrote in The Way of Perfection, “Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge.”
In Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote with similar verve, “Our wisdom…consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
God knew that we would run into difficulties in life and within ourselves. Even if we grew up in the best, happiest family, we would still be wounded in our spirit. That’s just the nature of growing up as fallen beings in a sinful world.
“Jesus said you clean the inside of the cup, then the outside begins to take care of itself,” Gary Wilkerson points out in his podcast. “So, inside, I have to be healed and healthy, and I need soul care to get me in that place.”
“Mindfulness in the context of the mind of Christ can take you into truly knowing what needs to be jettison from yourself: behaviors, sinful patterns, and even internal voices of self-criticism. All of that's flesh, not just the bad things you do, but the bad things we believe about ourselves too. All of that doesn't belong in us.”
For those ready to tackle the depths, Peter Scazzero lays out three deceptively “easy” steps to start developing healthier emotional maturity.
First, seek time with God in silence and—if possible—solitude.
This is a time to be very honest with God about your struggles and feelings and then ask, “Why? Why do I feel this? Why do I do this? Where does this desire come from? What am I actually angry or anxious about in this situation?”
After you’ve acknowledged these things, listen for God to speak. Wait expectedly, and keep a record of what you hear.
Second, find trusted companions. “Our own stubborn self-will is much deeper and more insidious than we think. The possibility of self-deception is so great that without mature companions we can easily fall into the trap of living in illusion,” Scazzero says.
Third, pray for courage. Looking into the dark depths of our past pain and unsavory motivations is tough for some and frightening for others. It’s worth it, though. God made you to be uniquely you in the place where he put you. To live anything less or be anyone else doesn’t honor him, however saintly our false persona may be.
Through the pain of genuine emotional growth, God will bring great beauty.