People are a Part of Spiritual Formation

Ugh. People.

I mean generally we like people. We like our family (most of the time). We love our friends (maybe because we get to choose them). For some of us, we love social gatherings and the pulse of people. For some of us, we only have the energy to do a few of those social gatherings every so often. We can all agree that we like that people exist.

Then the pandemic came and we only had the option to “bubble” with a few certain people. For every one of us, we actually liked this option. Even the extroverts. Life was mandated to be simpler—especially the vulnerable parts of life.

During the pandemic we learned how optional church is. We still found a way to grow our faith but it didn’t have to be surrounded by people. So post-pandemic many are not returning to church. The main reason for this is because there are people there. Dumb people, judgey people, rude people, pushy people. All of these people also happen to go to church. If only these sort of people didn’t go to church.

So when I lead that people are a part of spiritual practice, you feel the “ugh.”

There is the spiritual practice of  “working out your salvation with fear and trembling” by doing it on your own and there is the spiritual practice of doing this work with others, like people.  The second option is actually the harder (duh!) and better way (how about some growth success?).

On your own means you do incorporate the right spiritual practices into your life. You seek God for spiritual answers to your emotional pain. You keep “giving it to the Lord.” You memorize scriptures about your position in Christ. You maybe even fast.

These are good practices but they also can become things you strive to do to get God’s attention.

Because of what you are trying to overcome, God feels inactive. Which leads to anger at God. I am okay with anger at God because it is a show of trust in God. But on your own it is more likely you will feel like a spiritual failure. You keep “giving it to the Lord” so why isn’t God doing anything? What more should I be doing?

This is where people come in. Especially those wise overcomers themselves who are not afraid of your pain. Look for these people to be in your life.

There are these people whom you can tell your story to—that story that your brain is regurgitating back to you all of the time.

The story that defines your view of the Invisible God—which is often too small. These people can look you in the eye and tell you the truth so your brain can start regurgitating that. These people can hold your hand or give you a hug and you feel the truth. You may not believe the truth tomorrow but maybe you will in three months. Especially when you are in regular space with these people.

To accept someone’s love and encouragement, to be truly seen, amazingly helps your other spiritual practices. What you are reading in the Bible starts to make more sense (this one is an amazing a-ha). You are finding it easier to pray. Maybe because you are praying for more than just your losses or your depression or your overwhelmed state. You find yourself praying for others:  for these people; for the people your people love; for other big problems in the world. You then find compassion growing inside of you. You find a larger world opening up because you are growing to trust a Larger Story God.

You also are learning about yourself. You see that you have developed a pattern of disconnecting from people. You see how you have allowed yourself to not need anyone so your hurt was never touched by anyone. You see now how your depression or your overwhelmed state grew to the size it is.

Spiritual practices now have become more than prayer and Bible study. Your new spiritual practices also include:

  • Being able to cry/grieve over your losses
  • To accept comfort from people
  • To repent of relational patterns that have kept you from loving others
  • To learn to forgive those who have hurt you
  • To overcome the defenses that have kept you from responding to love
  • To learn that God is a whole lot bigger and loving than that box you contained him (and her) in

This is all a whole lot less of your striving to get God’s attention.

There are other things you grow to learn about yourself. Such as:

  • Gain an awareness of what you like and don’t like
  • Define who you are and are not
  • Stop blaming others
  • Stop playing the victim
  • Perseverence
  • Become proactive, not reactive
  • Challenge distorted thinking
  • Learn new Bible reading ideas
  • Learn new ways to pray

And for when you are back in overwhelmed land (do not shame yourself when that happens), someone who will know how to pray for you when you are no longer able to pray.

This is a growing faith. But it involves people.  But people

I wrote a book about this.

“I know, people disappoint.

“People betray, people get busy, people say stupid things like “God knows what he is doing.” (taken from I Wish I Could Take Away Your Pain, p. 5)

I wish having a Christian friend meant I wasn’t exposing my vulnerable self to be hurt. Or to be betrayed. But that is assuming that my Christian friend is perfect when I know I am an imperfect friend to my imperfect friends.

You still need people. You still need connection. We are designed by God this way. Healthy spiritual practices involve people.

You may have heard this parable from me before. And I’m sure you will again.

A young boy was walking with his father along a country road. When they came across a very large tree branch, the boy asked, “Do you think I could move that?”  His father answered, “If you use all your strength, I’m sure you can.”  The boy tried mightily to lift, pull, and push the branch, but he couldn’t budge it. Discouraged, he said, “Dad, you were wrong. I can’t do it.?  His dad said, “Try again.”

This time, as the boy struggled with the task, his father joined him. Together they pushed the branch aside.  “Son,” the father said, “the first time you didn’t use all your strength. You didn’t ask me to help.”

For me to live this brave life—with all of my strength—means I rely on my gift of people. May you find such people for your life.

Read the book

A small book about being the people that hurting people need.

“This is the book that I wish I had had for people in my life that have suffered and needed me to be that compassionate friend. This is the book that I wish others in my life had read before they dismissed my pain, or compared it to theirs, or stumbled horribly through trying to lessen my pain because it was actually really about THEM not feeling comfortable with it.”

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