What is Spirituality?
At best, this term is ambiguous. Many of us have our own understanding of what spirituality means to us, but the term has become so relative and subject to personal opinion that there really isn’t a widely accepted consensus around what is meant by the term ‘spirituality’. There are a few questions that we need to answer before we can really engage with what we mean by spiritual health and how that fits within our framework for holistic well-being. How does the world view Spirituality? What is the difference between spirituality and religion? What is authentic Christian Spirituality and what does that look like? These are some of the things we need to ponder in order to gain a robust understanding of our own spiritual selves. So grab a cuppa and settle in for a good deep and meaningful discussion around our definition of spirituality.
How Does the World View Spirituality?
There is such a diverse range of spirituality in our culture that narrowing it down to one succinct definition has been difficult. Although spirituality has been a widely accepted part of life and culture since the beginning of time, historically the scientific disciplines have been reluctant to talk about it. The subjective nature of spirituality makes it very difficult to gather the type of empirical data that scientists love to play with. This has made it difficult to articulate in popular culture because so much of our common vernacular is based on scientific language. But the cool thing is that in recent years, the study of spirituality has begun to gain some traction in the field of social sciences. Yay!!
In her book, “The Spiritual Child : the new science on parenting for health and lifelong thriving”, psychologist, Lisa Miller, explains that the sciences have now defined spirituality in this way;
“a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance.”
Further to this, it is also understood that spirituality is an individual experience, while religion is the communal experience of spirituality through shared beliefs. So, it is understood that Spirituality and religion are two different things.
What is the Difference Between Spirituality and Religion?
While spirituality is about being relationally connected with a ‘higher power’, religion has a dual meaning, which can make it confusing. On the one hand, religion is understood to be the communal experience of spirituality through shared beliefs. It is spirituality experienced in community. However, religion is also the term applied to the various traditions, rituals, customs and obligations for those who follow a particular belief system. In this sense religion can refer to the ‘rules for living’. It is important to note the difference between spirituality and religion. It is possible for people to be spiritual, but not religious. It is also possible for people to be religious but not spiritual.
An interesting observation is that studies are showing that people who have the best overall well-being ‘outcomes’ are those who identify as both spiritual and religious and who actively engage with a faith community on a regular basis.
What is Authentic Christian Spirituality?
The Wesminster Shorter Catechism states that,
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
Let’s just sit with this for a moment… Our whole purpose in life is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. It is both of these things. To glorify God IS to enjoy God… forever!
Earlier today I spent some one-on-one time with my daughter. We went shopping and we bought skin care products and gave each other a facial and we just talked about stuff. There was a point in the afternoon when this precious girl looked me in the eye and said, “I love spending time with you, Mum! You’re the best!” And you know, I genuinely felt the same way about her. I love spending time with her. She is one of my very favourite people. In that moment, I was glorified. My daughter, whom I love more that I have words to express, was enjoying me and I was enjoying her. There is authenticity in our relationship. I know her and she knows me, and we love hanging out!
This is a picture of the kind of relationship God invites us into with Himself, through Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God was broken so badly that it was impossible for us to draw near to God through our own religious efforts. There is nothing we could ever have done to restore what had been broken through our rejection of God and all that He has for us. But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believed in Him may not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is good good news for us! Because of Jesus, we are brought back into a restored relationship with God and it is a relationship defined by JOY! This is what authentic Christian spirituality looks like, an intimate and personal relationship with the living God, characterised by the mutual enjoyment of one another.
So, this is the point where I must ask myself about my own spirituality. Do I have an authentic relationship with God that enables me to enjoy Him? Or am I religious in my approach to God, assuming that my rituals and disciplines will win His affections. I love how he invites us to just be real and to come as we are to His Throne of grace. Jesus is so lovely!
As we learn to enjoy Him more, it radically transforms everything else. His love for me, impacts every other relationship in my life. It impacts the way I am learning to care for the body He has given me. His love impacts the way that I think and process my emotions. Every single facet of my humanity is radically transformed by my relationship with Him… But, more on that another time.
How are you going to enjoy God today? When you open your Bible and read His Word, invite Him to show you more of Himself and His love for you through the stories you read. Get yourself a journal and start keeping a record of all the ways that God shows up throughout your day. Or write down all the little touch points of love that He sends to you to make you smile. It’d be such a joy for my heart to hear, so please leave me a comment to share the joy!