I hope you are. I really do! Hopefully your spiritual practices bring you joy and growth, you feel connected to others in a faith community, and your relationship with God is strong and resilient. But many people don’t feel spiritually healthy.
Too many people experience religion as a straight-jacket full of rules. God either doesn’t care or He’s “out to get me.” The only reason they stick around at all is for “fire insurance,” hoping they can squeak into heaven when the time comes.
That’s not the life that Jesus came to bring!
So what is it that makes your spirituality helpful or harmful? What does it mean to be spiritually healthy? And can you do anything about it anyway?
Dr Kenneth Pargament, long-time researcher in the area of spirituality and health, summarized many of his findings this way: “Some forms of religion are more helpful than others. A religion that is internalized, intrinsically motivated, and built on a belief in a greater meaning in life, a secure relationship with God, and a sense of spiritual connectedness with others has positive implications for well-being. Conversely, a religion that is imposed, unexamined, and reflective of a tenuous relationship with God and the world bodes poorly for well-being. . . .”[i]
If that seems a bit too academic and cerebral, let me unpack three specific characteristics that determine whether you are experiencing a healthy spirituality.
When your spirituality is not integrated into every other area of your life the results can be toxic and destructive. And sadly that’s the picture of Christianity many have experienced.
Think of the young person struggling with their sexual drives in 21st century culture. They are taught and may believe that God desires sexual purity. But he/she gets exposed to pornography or experiments with sex. The shame on one hand and the seemingly unquenchable sexual drives on the other often lead to a double life – trying to look like a “good Christian young person” at church while indulging in dangerous and unhealthy behaviors when alone.
Or the “good” churchgoing middle-aged husband or wife who regularly volunteers as a leader and supports causes like right-to-life or prayer in schools. But their marriage is destructive, and when out of public view they become known for lying, unchecked anger, manipulation, and generally being a miserable person no one wants to be around.
The life of Jesus living in you through the Holy Spirit is designed to bring all parts of you under His Lordship. This isn’t about “trying harder;” it’s about making every aspect of your character available for God to transform. You become changed from the inside out.
What can you do? Give the Holy Spirit permission to keep working on you. When He puts His finger on something in your life and says, “This right here; let Me change you here.”, let Him do so. Say Yes.
God designed us to grow in community. There may be no greater human factor impacting our wellbeing than the quality of our closest human relationships. That means your spouse and/or the 2-5 people you are closest to. You will almost certainly become “the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” said Jim Rohn.
The epidemic of loneliness in our culture is dangerous – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Yes, others “should” reach out more. Your spouse “should” be more caring and attentive. But it’s primarily your choice about whether you remain alone or get connected.
Church is not perfect! And even if it were, it would suddenly become imperfect when you showed up. But being connected with other believers is the way God designed you to grow. And remember; it’s not all about you! Others both inside and outside the church need you.
And remember that Jesus was attractive to people. Not to the self-righteous religious leaders, but to those who were hungry for relationship, growth, healing, joy, change. If your spirituality draws others to you who are hungry for those things, it’s an indication you’re becoming like Jesus.
What can you do? High church, low church, house church, traditional church, contemporary church – find where God has planted you and stick around. Raise your eyes off your own navel and reach out to connect and help others. (If you feel you can’t talk to anyone, check this out.)
Picture of God
Your picture of God makes a difference in your wellbeing.
A very large study by Baylor University showed what we could have predicted; those who see God as punitive, “out to get you,” have significantly more negative psychological symptoms and poorer wellbeing. Those who see God as good, involved, and caring have better metal/emotional wellbeing in many ways.
Humans have had skewed ideas about God ever since sin entered this world. And the enemy has continued to spread lies about God that too many people believe.
One huge reason Jesus came was to make His Father known. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
Yes, God is love. But what kind of love? Looking at the whole picture, God’s love is kind, generous, truthful, unstoppable, and also transforming. He loves you just the way you are. And He also loves you too much to let you stay that way.
What do you believe about God, really?
What can you do? Consider your picture of God. How have your past experiences of parents or church impacted your view of Him? Do you need to update or grow what you believe about God?
So, are you healthy spiritually? Jesus came to give you LIFE. May you be experiencing all that life that God desires for you.
Your Turn: Consider your own spirituality. Is it helping or harming you? How so? How healthy are you spiritually?
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- Spirituality that is unhealthy can become toxic and destructive. A healthy spirituality is integrated, connected, and has a healthy picture of God. How healthy is your spirituality? Tweet that.
Can’t Talk to Anyone?
Connecting with others can be difficult. What DO you do when you feel you can’t talk to anyone?
Get our free download When You Can’t Talk to Anyone (Even at Church). And you’ll get some follow-up suggested steps you can take next.
[i] Kenneth I. Pargament (2002). The Bitter and the Sweet: An Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits of Religiousness, Psychological Inquiry, 13:3, 168-181, DOI: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1303_02