Spiritual highs, bypass just as dangerous as other addictions


Walking on water at sunset

By Joe LaGuardia

I am a firm believer that we are all creatures of habit and, therefore, susceptible to addictions that come in many guises.  A habit turns into an addiction when that which intends to assist us along the journey of life becomes the end goal of life.

The objects of our addictions are what become dangerous: substances and drugs, alcohol, and other self-destructive behaviors, to name a few. Innocuous addictions that people can pass for “normal” behaviors also exist and are just as threatening.

One such addiction is spiritual addiction: No, not addiction that is spiritual in nature, but actual addictions to spiritual experiences related to religion, a search for transcendence, or personal spiritual disciplines, such as worship attendance or yoga.

A recent blurb in the Baptist Herald (March-April 2016, p. 7) explores how spirituality and religion can become dangerously addictive for adherents to a particular faith:

“Christians continually striving for the feeling they experienced at a key spiritual moment, or who church-hop in search of the more inspiring preacher and worship, likely have fallen into” addiction.

In other words, believers who are addicted to spiritual experience need a constant spiritual high, one “mountain-top experience” after another.  The valleys of life and the lows of faith are to be avoided at all costs.

The mundane routines that mark life’s passage and often provide insights for deeper trust in the Divine are not adequate for those who feed on what Nietzsche called the “opium of the masses.”

The technical term for this oft-neglected, but dangerous addiction is spiritual bypassing.  According to Ingrid Mathieu, writing for Psychology Today, spiritual bypassing happens when a person engages in a type of spirituality or spiritual discipline not as a healthy form of self-care that aids coping and holistic healing, but as an escape that avoids deeper issues.

The spiritual or religious experiences do not help the situation but exacerbate the situation by becoming a person’s primary focus.

“The shorthand for spiritual bypass is grasping rather than gratitude, arriving rather than being, avoiding rather than accepting. It is spiritual practice in the service of repression, usually because we can not tolerate what we are feeling, or think that we shouldn’t be experiencing what we are feeling.”

How do you know if you’re experiencing or suffering from spiritual bypass?  Just consider how you respond to stress.

In many stressful situations, people turn to prayer or meditation to quiet the mind or gain a sense of perspective.  This typically empowers a person to tackle that which creates conflict, or at least maximizes the use of resources that can help get a person past a conflict.

Spiritual bypass, however, is not a resource for the journey of life, but the end and goal of it.  It does not empower, but leads to avoidance and ever-increasing “doses” of spiritual or transcendent encounters.

It does not prepare a person for coping with a situation, but avoiding responsibility in a situation.

“A spiritual bypass occurs when people use their spiritual practice as a way to avoid dealing with and taking responsibility for their feelings. Anything that is used to avoid feelings and taking responsibility for feelings becomes an addiction,” according to Margaret Paul writing for The Huffington Post.

Like any other addiction, spiritual bypass and addiction to religion requires intervention.  The first step is admitting there is a problem–people around you can usually help, especially if they see that you are talking too much about your spiritual experience or a church more than resolving issues that overwhelm you.

The second step is to get help from a professional.  If spiritual bypass is just as destructive as other addictions in the long run, its worth seeking advice and gaining the tools needed to break this stronghold.

When Jesus began his ministry, his first sermon dictated the mission of his ministry.  In Luke 4, he stated that he came to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18).  If spirituality is holding you captive, then it is only logical that Jesus needs to set you free too.


Prayers of the Hopeful


By Joe LaGuardia

I enjoy listening to my children pray.  My seven-year old son started praying regularly just this last season of Lent (it was his commitment for Lent in preparation for his baptism come Easter day).

His prayers are unlike any I’ve ever heard.  Usually, people start their prayers with, “Lord, we ask…” or “Lord, please…”.

Not my son.  He begins every sentence with, “I hope….”

“I hope my mother gets home safely this evening.  I hope that tomorrow is a good day.  I hope that we get to play outside this weekend and there’s no rain.”

I think we need to learn something from him.  We too should approach God full of hope.  We have hope in our hearts, but we can also express hope in our prayers too.  It would make for more honest prayer, that’s for sure.

Hope is appropriate for prayer because it is the substance of faith.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  When we express our hopes to God, we bear witness to our faith that God is in control of our life and our purpose in the future.

Whether my son knows it or not, when he tells God of all the things for which he hopes, he is declaring his faith in God’s providential wisdom.  I realize he is not that theological, but there is a reason why Jesus let the little children come unto him.

It is because children are honest in their prayers, and we need to learn from them.

Even those who grieve or face hardship may express hope in a prayer to God.  “We do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul wrote to the churches in Thessalonica, “so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Yes, we grieve; but, we do so with hope that God will make all things right in the end (and the new beginning!) of time.  We hope even in our longing and desperation for God’s creation to be made new and whole.

Psalm 4 encourages prayer warriors to trust and hope in God in all situations: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds and be silent.  Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (verses 4-5).

To me, this verse balances quiet contemplation (we must think about our hopes and dreams and express them to God), with holy action (we respond to God by offering our very lives as living sacrifices, putting all our eggs in God’s basket).

Like my son, we are to pray often with the phrase, “I hope!”, and we can take all things to God in prayer:

“I hope You will give me strength and heal me of this cancer.”
“I hope that I will feel your presence during this time of uncertainty.”
“I hope that my children will be safe today.”
“I hope that I can be courageous in my compassion towards those in need or those who are on the margins.”
“I hope You give me a spirit of forgiveness to reconcile with my enemies today.”

I know it is a leap to go from hoping to seeing the requests of our prayers come true, but we have to start somewhere — and honesty is the best way to go.

In another letter to a group of churches, Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

May our prayers this week be filled with hope, that trust may replace anxiety, assurance replace uncertainty, and holiness replace paralysis.

Seven Spiritual Disciplines for Good Friday

good-friday-bible-2By Joe LaGuardia

For many, Good Friday is as much a part of Holy Week as Easter or Palm Sunday.  For others, Good Friday has never been a part of the worship routine.

There is some truth to the notion that Holy Week is not complete without some acknowledgement of Good Friday, for it is the day that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world.

An Easter without a crucifix is like having communion without bread, and resurrection becomes all the more amazing when cast in the shadow of Jesus’ broken body.

For Christians yearning to make Good Friday meaningful, here are seven spiritual disciplines you can try on your own or in a small group:

1.  Get together with an old friend.  Holy Week is a nostalgic time for people of faith.  We remember Easter at our home churches, egg decorating with grandparents, and the child-like joy of receiving chocolate bunnies on Easter morning.

Feed your nostalgia by calling a friend from the distant past.  Enjoy coffee, reminisce of old times, heal any open wounds, and laugh together.

2.  Spend time in silence.  The first discipline promotes connecting with a friend; this discipline promotes a deeper connection with God.

When we pray, we talk or intervene or give thanks.  Spending time in silence is a simple act of spending time with God.  No words or long speeches are necessary.  God wants time with you, and Good Friday is the perfect day to fulfill this long-neglected meeting.

3.  Go for a hike.  Now that the weather is getting nice, its time to get out and meet God in the midst of nature.

There are so many places within driving distance, you can practically hike during your lunch hour.  Give the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Arabia Mountain, or Black Shoals Park a try, and let nature’s voice become God’s voice to you.

4.  Visit a local church you never attended.  Call around to a few  churches close to your home or place of work and see if they are hosting a Good Friday service (if there is no service at your church, of course).

This is a good time to meet neighbors, shake the hand of a pastor reaching out to your community, and get exposed to different styles of worship or preaching.

5.  Exercise longer.  No pain, no gain, the old adage states.  Exercising longer and harder can help us relate to the suffering of Christ.

Although bench pressing can never compare with the torture and execution of Christ, challenging our bodies can help us center our mind towards the cross of Christ.

When we feel our bodies stretch to their limits, then we can appreciate Jesus’ own sacrifice all the more.

6.  Make a spiritual wish list.  So many of us have spiritual aspirations to get closer to God or connect with Jesus in a variety of ways.

Sometimes we need the discipline to sit down, take a few minutes, and write out those spiritual goals we hope to fulfill.

Corporations, executives and managers, sports coaches, and even parents assess where they are and where they want to go in their particular field of interest.  Why not do that in our faith as well?

7.  Volunteer at a non-profit agency.  Take Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday, when Jesus ate his Last Supper with his disciples) to call around to local non-profits and see  how you can volunteer on Friday.

We have plenty of opportunities in Rockdale County.  Family Promise of Newrock, for instance, has a day center that requires volunteers to keep the place clean and tidy.

Rockdale Emergency Relief or the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Pius X might also appreciate a helping hand in stocking shelves or greeting people who benefit from these wonderful service organizations.

Whether you seek intentional community or intentional time with God, I want to encourage you to make your Good Friday one to remember.

If you’re still not sure what to do, you are invited to join us at Trinity Baptist Church at 7 PM for our Good Friday service.  As always, all are welcome.