While your denomination may have been different than mine, you and I have likely heard many of the same messages about how to deepen your personal faith. But, while these traditional paths for spiritual growth work for some, what do you do if you struggle, like me?
There is hope.
You can connect to God more easily. You can release the pressure you feel to follow the prescribed pathway you’ve been taught in lieu of the uniquely personal way you have yet to experience him. It requires thinking differently.
The traditional pathway
Traditional methods for spiritual growth include Bible reading, praying intentionally, setting aside time with God, and, sometimes, journaling. The take-away from many of these messages is this – the pathway is the same for everyone. The formula works. If you just do these things, your faith will grow.
But what if you struggle?
What if you don’t have more clarity after reading your Bible? Or what if you don’t hear anything when you spend time in prayer? What if you skip the journaling?
Or what if you just can’t seem to make time for it?
What if you struggle to make it a priority? Or what if you can’t channel the same discipline into spiritual practices as you do into things like working out or eating well?
The pressure of getting spiritual disciplines “right” can prevent you from doing it at all.
What if there were other options?
life as an expert
Part of spiritual maturation is sifting out the suggestions from the non-negotiables. For clarity, It’s not sifting truth from non-truth (though there is a need for that too sometimes), but rather identifying what “best practices” apply to people broadly and what connects with you individually.
For example, as an experienced coach who has spent over 30 years studying human behavior, I can advise you that changing one small thing at a time is most effective for building new habits. I know that most people will be successful if they follow this pathway to build stronger habits.
But what’s best for most may not be what’s best for you.
You are the expert of you. I’m not.
I can use my experience to advise you based on general best practices, but ultimately, you are you. You’re wired differently than any other person on the planet. You might get bored with slow change. You might successfully tackle multiple things at once and have a track record to prove it. Only you know.
So, while a subject matter expert, like a pastor or coach or spiritual mentor guides and directs, it’s your job to do the sifting and sorting. And own the outcome.
you’re not alone
For most of my life, I’ve struggled with the traditional spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading my Bible, and “quiet time.”
When the practice of journaling came into vogue in the church, during which time I was on the church board, I added it to the failure pile. I couldn’t get that right either.
But, while listening to Nancy Ortberg in a room full of other female church leaders, she openly admitted she struggled, too! And imagine the pressure she felt married to a highly respected pastor and author of spiritual disciple books. She didn’t find anything about prayer or Bible reading or quiet time easy. She was simply struggling to keep her sanity in the midst of raising young children.
Her personal breakthrough came while sitting on a bench one day watching her children play. She felt peaceful. She felt close to God. And she was struck with the realization that Jesus never journaled.
It wasn’t a Biblical truth or principle. It was just a suggestion.
What a relief to know I wasn’t alone. I felt the noose loosen around my neck. One I didn’t even know was there until it was freed.
the alternate pathways
In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas outlines nine ways we can connect to God. Each of us has one that is likely more prominent than another – a way in which we feel most in union with God. The pathways he describes are:
Naturalists – Loving God Outdoors
Sensates – Loving God with the Senses
Traditionalists – Loving God through Ritual and Symbol
Ascetics – Loving God is Solitude and Simplicity
Activists – Loving God through Confrontation
Caregivers – Loving God by Loving Others
Enthusiasts – Loving God with Mystery and Celebration
Contemplatives – Loving God through Adoration
Intellectuals – Loving God with the Mind
One of these likely jumped out at you right away. But maybe it will require more self-discovery.
For me, I knew immediately that my pathway is Naturalist. It explains why I feel closest to God when I’m gazing at the ocean, in the heart of the mountains, or walking a great golf course. I love sitting on the deck in my backyard, surrounded by trees and birds, or taking in the same view from my kitchen window. My heart is deeply connected to my Creator in these settings.
Each season brings reminders of Him.
- Summer brings warm rays of sunshine. Turning my face to the sky, I feel His love for me.
- Fall (my favorite) shouts His majesty with the turning leaves and magnificent colors. I feel Him while gazing out my window on a glorious autumn day.
- Winter brings the snow that blankets the earth. The trees, heavy and glistening, shimmer His presence.
- Spring brings color back to earth. The birds return and chirp His songs, singing of hope and new growth.
grace for the journey
To clarify, I am not discounting the importance of prayer, Bible reading, quiet times, or even journaling. These are all opportunities for us to know God better, to know more accurately His good and perfect will for our life, and to grow in wisdom.
Our call to love and be in relationship with him and with others requires intention and discipline that isn’t always easy. Intentional discipline is required to challenge and deepen our faith. But not to the exclusion of other pathways.
I am advocating for a kinder, more gentle approach to spiritual growth.
Instead of subjecting ourselves to guilt over not getting spiritual disciplines right, what if we acknowledge that walking in the woods or gazing at the open water brings more connection with and understanding of God than reading a devotional?
What if caring for the sick or elderly or assisting in childbirth makes us more acutely aware of and in awe of the miracle of the human body, because God created it?
What if fighting for justice – joining a protest or taking a stand on human rights violations – fuels our love for God and others who are too weak to fight for themselves, because God cares for them?
Imagine the what if’s.
Instead of feeling wracked with guilt over the daily struggle to pray, read, and journal, let’s acknowledge that we each have a unique, created-by-God, drive within us to connect deeply to Him.
We are drawn to it intuitively. Start to notice where there’s less struggle. It’s a good place to start exploring.
Be intentional about discovering how you are made to connect with Him.
For Jesus, it wasn’t journaling.