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Toward a healthier spirituality

I'm working through a journaling program, and this week's prompts were:

  • “Write about a time in your youth that you felt lonely.”

  • “Write about a time your youth you experienced anxiety.”

Both stem back to the same experience--my faith awakening at age 14.

Evangelicals call it being “born again.”

I grew up in a church tradition that didn't use language of “born again,” “conversion,” “getting saved,” or many of the other Evangelical vocabulary. When introduced to these terms as a teenager, I was both confused and curious.

Something drew me to this paradigm of faith. It felt more alive, more personal, more vital, than the context of faith that my childhood church shaped for me.

On the one hand, my born-again experience was truly a life-altering experience. I’m thankful for the meaning and guidance and strength that this introduction to faith has provided me throughout my life.

It continues to shape my life in many positive ways some 47 years later.

On the other hand, it also was the source of my loneliness and anxiety as a teenager.

The Evangelical youth culture was steeped in isolation and repression. This was the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.

Young converts like myself were told that following Christ meant resisting the influence of our peers. Their sinful lifestyles, steeped in premarital sex and drugs in the 70s, would lead us astray and cause us to compromise our faith.

We were to be faithful to Christ no matter what, even if it meant losing all of our friends. The more friends we lost, the more we were applauded.

I spent many weekends during high school alone, while my friends were gathering and enjoying healthy social interaction.

Rather than conforming to the standards of our peers we were to live a life reflecting the character of Christ. This translated to avoiding certain activities: popular music, movies, alcohol, parties/social gatherings, and anything that might give the hint of sexual desire.

We created a Christian subculture; what some have termed a "Christian ghetto."

While contributing to some positive behavior modification, the downside of this culture was the pressure to conform to arbitrary standards. Living within the lines became the measure of spiritual growth.

I lived in persistent anxiety that I might not be keeping all the rules, or keeping them good enough. Guilt and shame came when I failed, especially when sexual thoughts broke through my walls of willpower and resolves to keep a pure mind.

After I was finished journaling, I told my wife about the process. I commented how oxymoronic it is that faith would be the source of loneliness and anxiety.

She offered her observation on this Christian mindset, "While others are living out their humanity, we Christians are often busy repressing it."

The Enneagram offers a healthier, more wholistic approach to spirituality. Those of us who identify as Christians can benefit much from the Enneagram's wisdom.

A goal of the Enneagram is to help us discover a more accurate and compassionate understanding of ourselves.

While an accurate understanding entails an honest recognition of the self-defeating patterns and shadows of our personality, it also includes embracing our essence that is permeated with the divine.

Imago Dei--we are made in the image of God; we are God-bearers. Our essence embodies all of our centers--body, heart and mind.

Compassion calls us to walk in grace, love and mercy toward ourselves and our humanity. This is the posture and process exemplified by Jesus, and we do well to follow him closely.

I'm thankful for discovering this path of the spiritual journey. I'm much more focused on embracing than repressing.

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