“We’re All in Recovery”: Scott Sauls
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Scott SaulsScott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, From Weakness to Strength, Irresistible Faith, and A Gentle Answer. Scott also served at New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a lead and preaching pastor and planted two churches in the Midwest. His work has been featured in publications including Christianity Today, Relevant, Qideas, Propel Women, He Reads Truth, Leadership Magazine, The Gospel Coaliti...more
From his own darkness, Scott Sauls chose to share his shame and fear—and discovered we’re all in recovery. Beautiful people, he says, don’t just happen.
“We’re All in Recovery”: Scott Sauls
Scott: I think one of the things that’s so important, especially for Christians, the question of, “Why do I want to run from suffering?” Well, because you’re not made to suffer; yet we live in a tragic in between time where we have to. We have to experience what is not natural to the way that we’re wired and the way that we’re made.
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Yesterday on our program, we had a well-known pastor and author say that he woke up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. Didn’t you find it interesting that he was that honest?
Ann: I loved that.
Dave: I know!
Ann: Because a lot of times, people in positions of influence aren’t always super open with their lives, and he let us in. I feel really honored. I bet our listeners do, too.
Dave: I was blown away by it because that is very rare. It shouldn’t be, but it is. It’s very honest and vulnerable. He’s still sitting here! Scott Sauls is back in the studio. Welcome back, Scott!
Dave: We don’t normally start a show talking about the guy who’s sitting across the table from us. [Laughter]
Scott: I know. It’s like, “Are you guys talking about me? I’m right over here, guys.”
Dave: This is your sixth book, Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen. You modeled it in some way. You’re pastor of Christ Presbyterian in Nashville; as I said, written books, very influential. I love what you write. I love how you think. You’re one of those guys I follow and want to be influenced by. But you don’t often hear people in your position or not that are that honest.
Your subtitle is How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans. We know the journey to becoming a better human God wants us to be, the beautiful person is going to be a journey we’ve got to go through. We’ve got to walk through those pain points we mentioned yesterday—regret, hurt, and fear. But I think we hide. We don’t want anybody to know we struggle with hurt or fear.
Ann: Especially, like you’ve been in the pastorate for a while. You’ve been a Christian for a while. So, there’s a part of us that can think, “I shouldn’t have this at this point.”
Dave: But if we do, we don’t tell anybody. It’s something that—“I don’t want to be that vulnerable.” But you were. I said, “Oh my goodness. A lot of pastors would never say.” Even if you had a panic attack for five hours last night, it would’ve been a secret, and nobody’s going to know. So, the journey doesn’t happen because, “I’m going to be isolated. I’m going to be quiet.” Talk about that journey. Why would you voice something like that?
Scott: I can think of two answers in the moment. There’s a personal answer and a theological one. I’ll start with the personal part.
Scott: One of many anecdotes over the course of my life and ministry; I’m at this church that I’m at now, Christ Presbyterian. Probably two years into my ministry, give or take—I can’t remember if I write about this in the book—but I’m giving a message. Part of the message I decide for the first time with my church—I’m going to share a little bit of my story about anxiety and depression and how it’s been part of my story.
At the end of that sermon, a guy comes up to me. He’s this big guy, jacked, definitely worked, biceps, the all the things.
Dave: I know, I know. [Laughter]
Scott: Successful business leader, all the things. He’s coming at me with this really intense look on his face. I’m like, “Oh, no. He’s going to start a petition to have me removed as pastor because he didn’t like that.” Nobody wants to be pastored by someone who’s weak. He comes up, grabs me on the shoulder, kind of a close talker, which makes it even more scary. [Laughter]
He’s like, “I’ve been sitting under your teaching now for two years. You’re a gifted communicator. I just want you to know I’ve never been impressed by that.” He said, “I want you to know that today is the day you became my pastor, because the things you shared today convinced me that you and I are the same.”
Then, I started thinking about my own story and what drew me into the faith and Christianity in the first place; it’s that people were willing to share their stories of regret, hurt, fear, all the rest and then talk about how Jesus Christ met them in that and came alongside them in that, and gave them people to walk with them.
It opened up this whole new world to me about what living in a tragic world—which we all live in a tragic world—can possibly be like. It doesn’t have to be Ecclesiastes; it doesn’t have to be “everything’s meaningless.” Why even try? Because even our successes are going to be taken away one of these days.
Even if we are on top of the world, we’re going to be forgotten. How many of us around the table right now can say off the top of our head who the seventh US president was? Or, who’s won more Grammies than anyone else? We will be forgotten. We live in a world that’s tragic. But seeing people able to go through hard seasons and suffer and have hope that is authentic—not fake, not contrived, but real—have a vision for their future even in hard times and scary times is what drew me in.
Then, there’s the theological part, where—Paul the apostle I’m drawn to because he just gets so real. He’s like, “I’m in jail, you guys. Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again, I will say rejoice. I’m awaiting my own execution. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice. No, I really mean it. Rejoice like I am right here.” Philippians, the letter of joy. He’s writing from the most destitute conditions.
Ann: And his honesty. “I’m the chief of sinners.”
Scott: “I’m the chief of sinners.” And then where does that lead? He says, “There’s great new about that! That just shows you how great the mercy of God is and how it can reach anybody. If it can reach me, it can reach anybody.” That’s the follow up passage to that. He talks about how suffering produces perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope. Christians—because of who Jesus is and His resurrection and all the rest—we have a resource to be able to live fully in a tragic place, like one of my friends, Chip Dodd, likes to say.
I’ve been in this Christianity thing long enough to realize that I probably wouldn’t have made it this far, at least not as a person who is mostly happy and joyful even during hard seasons, without Christ. Christ changes everything.
Ann: I love this quote; it goes along with what you’re saying. You said, “Beautiful people don’t just happen, but when they do happen, even a wheelchair can become a pulpit; a chemo room a place of worship; chronic pain a path to holiness; burial dirt a plot of resurrection soil; and death a festival on the road of freedom.”
I think you’re open because this is the world we live in; it’s broken, it’s hard, and yet—and yet Jesus and the Gospel. He gives us hope and freedom in the midst of the pain and suffering.
Scott: That last phrase, “Death is a festival on the road to freedom,” was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison as he was awaiting his execution for opposing Hitler. So, that was the place where those words were first written.
Scott: Which I guess again is another example. One of the chapters I talk about banana bread, which is my favorite bread. You get to call it bread even though it’s cake. [Laughter]
Dave: I didn’t know where you were going. When I picked up that chapter, I was like, “Where is he going with banana bread?”
Scott: Yes, banana bread—so, I tied it to Romans 8:28, which generally speaking, we want to be careful about quoting it to somebody who’s going through a hard time. But it’s always good to quote it to ourselves when we need what it says, and that’s that God works all things—and all means all—"He works all things together for good for those who love Him, and who are called according to His purpose.”
That word “together” brought to mind the idea of a recipe for me. If we all see life’s circumstances as the recipe that God is putting together in order to shape us and makes us and mold us and build us into the people He’s made us to be—my thoughts went to banana bread because a lot of the recipe of our lives include rotten things and rotten seasons and rotten this and rotten that.
For banana bread to be amazing, the most important ingredient is a rotten banana, [Laughter] not a banana, but a rotten one. You know—they grow brown and soggy and gross.
Dave: I did not know that!
Ann: Oh, yeah.
Scott: Think about some other things you wouldn’t eat by themselves, like the salt. Terrible, if you eat it by itself. Or flour would stick to your—
Ann: Baking soda!
Scott: Baking soda. And all that oil. Who wants to swallow that? But you put it all together—there’s that word again; “God works all things together;” a good chef, a good baker, works all things together—for good. What ultimately comes out after you put it in the heat—it becomes this amazing thing. Not in spite of the rotten component, but mysteriously because of it.
This goes back to the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross quote that we talked about in the previous episode where she talked about “beautiful people don’t just happen.” Another way to summarize what she says leading up to that is you’ve got to have some rotten ingredients in your life to be developed into a tender, humble, beatitude Matthew 5, “Blessed are the meek; blessed are the poor in spirit,” all the rest. You have to go through the valleys in order to scale the mountain. I love that metaphor.
Ann: Me, too!
Dave: I hear you say that, and I agree one thousand percent—I still have something within me that runs from adversity.
I’d love to talk about your second word. We talked a little bit yesterday and today about regret/hurt. A lot of different ways you could describe that. I know you’re talking a little bit about emotional. You even said yesterday, I’d never heard that quote about the older you get, the more you feel things you’ve always felt. I don’t think I’ve felt hurt as deeply as I have, in my life, as I have in the last three, four, five years—for various reasons. But man, oh man! It’s been hurtful—things that have happened, people, things done. I know we’ve all experienced that.
There’s a part of me that wants to run from that—it’s almost like, “Oh, just brush it away,” rather than engage in it and say, “Ok, God. What are You doing in this, and how is this going to make me a beautiful person?” Walk us through some of the hurt discussion. My wife’s looking at me right now like, “What? You’ve been hurt?”
Ann: No, it’s funny you were saying that. I thought, “You’ve had so much hurt in your life.”
Dave: Yes, when I was a kid.
Ann: But it’s interesting—it makes me tear up. It’s interesting to watch you get older because you’ve become so much softer. You’re more beautiful than you’ve ever been because you’ve experienced it, and you’ve talked about it. You used to run away from it so quickly and not even want to engage in it. It’s made you so much more beautiful. I feel more attracted to you than I’ve ever been, and I think part of it is that you’ve been willing to talk about it and engage in your pain; whereas, before, you would just not. You wouldn’t want to talk about it.
Dave: I wanted to escape. I wanted to just run from it.
Dave: I don’t know what our original question was.
Ann: I don’t either!
Scott: Your question was—I run from pain. I would say, “Why wouldn’t you?”
Ann: Why wouldn’t anyone?
Scott: You’re created in the image of God. You came from a perfect world—the garden of Eden. You’re going to a perfect world—the new heaven and the new earth. You’re made for another world. You’re not created for a world that’s filled with suffering and sorrow and pain and death and guilt and all the rest.
The image comes to mind of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus where He wept, which is a signal that He didn’t like it. Sometimes I don’t understand our English translations. Like in Ephesians, most of our English translations say, “In your anger, do not sin,” but it literally says in the original language, “Be angry, and sin not.”
In the same way, most of our English translations say, “Jesus was deeply moved in spirit,” but what it really says is, “He was infuriated with death.” I think there’s something about us that’s uncomfortable with the thought of Jesus. Maybe that’s why He also gave us the flipping tables scenario, like, “I broke stuff in church without sin.” There’s something in there.
I think one of the things that’s so important, especially for Christians, is to remember that we are fully created in the image of God, which includes our emotional composition. We live in a part of the world that tells us to run from our emotions instead of feeling them. “You’re too emotional.” “Stop crying like a baby!” Who said it was bad to act like a baby? [Laughter] Didn’t Jesus say unless you learn to process all your life like a little child, you’ll never see the kingdom of Heaven? Where did we get this crazy idea that we should try to not be like little children?
What’s amazing to me, though, Dave—I think this gets to the question of “Why do I want to run from suffering?”—because you’re not made to suffer. Yet, we live in a tragic in between time where we have to. We have to experience what is not natural to the way that we’re wired and the way that we’re made.
But isn’t it a beautiful thing that God, He gives us—and this is again Chip Dodd, who I quoted earlier in this, or yesterday—
Dave: Yes, right.
Scott: He says there are basically eight core human emotions. There’s gladness, then there’s sadness, guilt, shame, fear, hurt, loneliness. Then one more—that’s also a distressed emotion. So, we have seven painful emotions and one glad one. You look at that and think, “That stinks.” [Laughter] But at the same time, think about how God has wired us with seven different ways to respond to a world that we weren’t made for in order to equip us to respond to all the things we’re not meant to have in our lives.
My imagination just goes there—this isn’t in the Bible or anything—but my imagination goes there—what will our emotional makeup be when suffering is out of the picture? What will the redeemed emotional life look like? We know it won’t have any of the sorrowful stuff. Will it just be gladness? Or will it be all these other emotions we haven’t even gotten to experience yet because God decided to give us one in order to signify that we’re going somewhere. Like CS Lewis says, “We’re made for another world,” which is why we never feel at home in this one.
I don’t know. But the short answer is, we should hate suffering. We should welcome what it accomplishes as we submit to it. We can become cynical and grumpy and bitter. That’s one route. Or, if we go the route God wants to take us down, we can become more thankful, more joyful, more able to be compassionate. The whole secret to the recovery movement—you’ve got non-Christians getting better faster than Christians are because they do the Gospel better than most Christians do.
Ann: What do you mean by that?
Scott: I talk in the book about the difference between the church basement and the sanctuary. The church basement is where the recovery groups meet; where they just get raw, honest with each other; they do it in community. The one thing that brings them all together is they share a common addiction and a common hope of getting better. Ideally, you’ve got God in that picture as well to give you the power and the sustaining ability to get well and stay well, all the rest. They give you sponsors, mentors to get you through it.
Ann: It’s a discipleship program!
Scott: It is, functionally, yes. Then, you go in the sanctuary, and you’ve got all these people…. Let’s say the basement’s filled with people who don’t believe in Jesus; yet, they’re getting better. “I’ve got my coin for five years of sobriety,” or whatever. Then, up here, you’ve got all these people who believe the Bible and affirm all the truths. Yet, there’s this pretentious, performative “I have to look a certain way; I have to be perceived a certain way.” “If my children are messy they’ll be perceived a certain way, that’s going to bring shame on our family, and it’s going to make us not look good. If people really saw how hard our marriage is, if people knew we were fighting all the way to church, and we don’t really like each other right now! Hide that, hide that, hide that!” [Laughter] Meanwhile, Jesus is sitting in the corner with His arms folded, just kind of looking at us going, “Y’all just don’t know what you’re missing.”
Tim Keller says, “The hardest thing to give is - in.” If you could just give in, and give up on this masquerade, this window dressing that you’re trying to—this highlight reel you’re trying to present to the rest of the world as you hide the very things that are the pathway to your redemption.
Ann: That’s so interesting. I remember going to a women’s retreat, and I go to the cabin because it’s a weekend retreat. I get there, and I’m the pastor’s wife. They’re like, “Oh no, Ann. I don’t know if you want to be in our cabin.” They said, “We are all in recovery together. I said, “Yes! Yes! These are the groups that always go the deepest—like this is who we are. This is what we’ve done.” So honest. So beautiful. As a result, it makes everyone around them be so real and open.
Dave: I used to love when the head of our Celebrate Recovery or Divorce Recovery would ask me to come in and give a—usually once or twice a year—to the group. At first I was like, “Ugh. Do I want to?” Then after I did it a few times, I’m like—what you said—“These are the most honest people in our church.”
Dave: They’re honest! You walk in there, there’s like nothing hidden. They’re like, “We messed up, and we’re sharing that with one another, and we’re finding hope.” I’ll close with this, Scott. When we started, we talked about you sharing your struggle with anxiety in your sermon. I thought—and you know this—but what you did is you brought the church basement up into the sanctuary.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: You created—I mean, I’ve never been to your church. I’ve watched you; I’ve heard you. I’ve never been in your culture, but I know your culture. And I know people feel like, “I can bring my stuff here because the lead guy is like us with Jesus.”
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson to Scott Sauls on FamilyLife Today. Dave’s got a story that you’re going to want to hear about the power of bringing our sin into the light. That’s going to be in just a second.
But first, Scott has written a book called Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen, How God Redeems Regret, Hurt, and Fear in the Making of Better Humans. Wow! What a title! We want to give you a copy of this book as our thanks when you give all week. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
As Scott says, beautiful people don’t just happen, and beautiful marriages don’t just happen either. What if I told you that the foundation of your marriage wasn’t all on you to figure out? That would be kind of a relief, right? God has laid it out completely, but sometimes we don’t know how to give our marriages the attention they deserve. Why don’t you take three days and let your focus be on each other?
FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® getaway is happening all over the country. If you register this week, you and your spouse can get 40% off this event. If you want to find out more, you can head over to FamilyLifeToday.com, scroll down, and click on the Weekend to Remember link to register and find out more information.
Here’s Dave Wilson on the power of bringing our sin into the light, as scary as that might be.
Dave: I remember the first time—we were a year old, our church, and I shared in a message my struggle with porn. This is way back even before there was a digital thing. My co-founder, Buddy, hadn’t even walked off the stage, and he just, he walks up to me—I didn’t tell him I was going to do this; I just did—he said to me, “You just changed this church.” I go, “Am I in trouble?” He said, “No. I think we just said who we were going to be—a community where we can be honest, but Jesus is going to meet you there.”
I would just say we all need to have the courage that you had that day. I know you’ve done it many times since—to say, “I’m not going to hide. I’m going to step into my regret, my hurt, my fear. I’m going to share that in a community with people that will walk with me, and that’s going to take me to become a beautiful person.”
Shelby: Have you ever heard of the term “helicopter parent”? I think you probably have. That’s the parent who kind of hovers over their kids and doesn’t let them do anything that might be dangerous at all. There are a lot of helicopter parents out there, but maybe that helicopter parent could be—you!
Tomorrow Dave and Ann are joined again by Scott Sauls to talk about how it’s actually healthy to let our kids fail. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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