I have spent the last 3 posts sharing around this idea that “Something’s Missing.” I describe three very different populations of people interacting with faith. I am not suggesting that every person in each of those populations has the sense that something is missing from their experience. But I have interacted with enough people in each to believe that it is widespread.
I am thankful to all of you who responded with your thoughts and experiences as you have read my blog entries. Now I am going to share a working theory to go alongside with each portrait of “Something’s Missing.”
First, two caveats:
Caveat 1: I will give a quick snapshot of what I think is missing in each group, and the snapshot looks different for each group. HOWEVER, I believe that in each case that there is something missing in each case that is deeper than the snapshot I am giving. That which I believe is missing at an underlying level is what has driven me to write this book. I am building up to that, and I hope you will give me feedback all along the way.
Caveat 2: By snapshot, I really mean it’s just a snapshot. I intend to go into more detail on each of these in the book. By giving a snapshot here my hope is to generate discussion and gather feedback. This will help me TREMENDOUSLY as I write each of these chapters.
Ok, here goes:
Population 1: Spiritual but not religious. You can read my description of this group here. I am in this conversation often, and I usually like to interject a twist into the conversation. I ask them if they can think of a time when they have felt fully alive. Usually the response is, “What does that have to do with the conversation we are having.” “Humor me,” I usually ask, “and try to think of a time you have felt fully alive.”
Upon reflection most people can think of a moment or two where that has been true. I notice that their answer usually falls in one of two categories. The first category tends to be high adrenaline moments. Jumping out of a plane, driving a motorcycle at high speeds, or making a huge bet at a Blackjack table are stories I have heard. The second category tends to be huge life risks. One person told me the moment he felt most fully alive was when he worked up the nerve to ask out the woman of his dreams on a date. Another person told me she felt most alive when she made the huge decision to leave a steady career path to pursue a vocational opportunity that had no guarantees but whose potential was far more exciting to her.
My next question is meant to probe the source of excitement that they experienced in that moment. “What was it about (fill in the blank) that made you feel so alive?” Ironically the reason is usually because they felt so much fear in the moment. They were terrified of the potential consequences, yet their adrenaline raced when they considered the adventure that could be experienced if they took the risk.
This is the connection for me between spirituality and being fully alive. Those moments almost never occur when we feel like we are in absolute control over our lives and are doing everything we can to protect stability and order. Instead, they usually occur when we get swept up in a moment that is bigger and more transcendent than us.
This is what I consider one of the core problems of being ‘spiritual,’ if that spirituality is not connected to something concrete and historical (I think there are other core problems, but this is the one people seem to most easily resonate with). I do not doubt the authenticity of most people who self identify as spiritual. I tell them so. But I do challenge them to draw the connection between everyday life and spiritual life.
Can you really experience a life changing spirituality if you are ultimately the one in control of it? If you are the arbiter that decides how that spirituality translates into action, into morality, and into values, aren’t you the one who is really in control?
That is part of what makes Christianity so unique. The heartbeat of Christianity is a spiritual life that is designed to produce an ongoing experience of being fully alive. Jesus used those exact words to describe it. “I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10.10).
Part of the reason that is true is because you willingly lay down control over your life to Jesus. The Christian experience begins with Jesus Christ saying to you, “Follow me,” and each of us has to decide how to respond to that invitation.
Is it scary? Heck yeah. How could it not be? But isn’t that when you are most fully alive in the first place? It is when you get caught up in something bigger and more transcendent than yourself. Could there be something more intriguing than the God of the Universe leading you into a deepening experience of being fully alive?
This is my first snapshot, and my first working theory for what’s missing when someone believes in spirituality but is not ready to connect that to Christianity.