I grew up Evangelical in America. I’ve been a part of most any type of church you can think of — Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-denominational — you name it. The differences and disagreements between them all are obvious; a quick perusing of the blogosphere or social media will tell you that we can’t get along about anything.
But in my 30 years of being on this Earth (all 30 of them being a part of the church), I’ve learned one thing that runs incredibly deep through all of them:
We’re really good at beating ourselves up for not being spiritual enough.
In the late ’90s, I found the underground Christian music scene. Full of Christian metal and hardcore shows, they were the type of community found at summer festivals like Cornerstone.
The message of grace over legalism ran rampant through the veins of the underground. This was a true gift from God for me, as I was currently navigating the vanilla religion of my suburban Baptist school and rich non-denominational Church. But even in experiencing the message of grace — knowing I could reject my “religious” practices of trying to earn God’s love and acceptance — I still found myself feeling inadequate. My attitude shifted from “I’m not doing enough to please God,” to “I’m not showing enough grace,” or “I’m not experiencing the fullness of God’s mercy.”
That’s when I realized what my problem was: I was being too spiritual.
I’ve lived my entire life with this “Christian” filter in my head. Everything I took in went through this filter. I tried to find the meaning behind everything. Every time I experienced emotion, I asked myself questions like, “Where’s God in this?” or “What’s God’s plan here?” I would either force an answer that felt like something God would say, or I’d just be disappointed when I didn’t hear anything. And even though this filter had good intentions, I was slowly building a wall around my heart. My mind started to work against me. It was making me numb.
I almost lost my faith a year ago. Every time something bad would happen in my life, I’d wonder where God was or what He was trying to tell me through it. I was no longer satisfied with any theology that tried to explain any of it. I was ready to give up. So I did.
And you’d never guess what happened next.
I felt something.
I felt angry. I felt disappointed. I felt sad. I experienced deep emotions that I’d never felt before.
And it felt good.
That giving up — removing that God-shaped wall around my heart — it allowed my heart to break open, allowed me to feel my God-given emotions. It allowed me to really wrestle with the anger or doubt or frustration or even joy. (Sometimes I’ve found that Christians aren’t that good at recognizing real joy, either. Sad.)
We see this “giving up” in Jesus’s own words, in what I believe is the most important turning point in all of the scriptures:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34b
In that very moment, God truly felt what it means for humans to give everything up and experience the deepest emotions we can possibly muster. God truly felt what it meant to be humanly present. It’s in that act of giving up that God understood what being human really meant — and burst open the spiritual chasm between heaven and earth.
When I talk about being less spiritual, what I really mean is being present. If everything we see, feel, read, hear and experience goes through a self-imposed God-filter, we’re doomed to sugar coat it with religious language to make ourselves feel better. Just get on Twitter and follow any major Christian leader. Their Twitter accounts are just full of platitudes and perfectly-worded nuggets made to help us all feel warm and fuzzy instead of actually being truly present to God, each other, and ourselves.
When we are actually present to our current circumstance, struggle, conversation, even prayer, we recognize that doing something to be more spiritual, or to overestimate spiritual dimension to things, is completely unnecessary. Because it’s in becoming present that we realize every circumstance, every conversation, every moment — everything is a spiritual act. It’s already there. We don’t have to find it or create it.
We just need to be present.