“We too often view our spirituality through our individualistic lens.”
This is what a friend recently told me as we talked about spiritual expectations in our community.
Is spiritual burnout always a product of our own negligence for self-care? Or does it also come from continuously living in an unhealthy community. I think it’s a balance of both.
For the past three years, I’ve lived in a spiritually dense community at Bible school. On any given week, you will have 3-4 chapel times. On average 5-6 Bible, theology, or major-specific classes that involve Christianity. A required church ministry involvement. Church on Sunday. Small groups on the dorm floor. Small groups on your brother/sister floor. Small groups with your married friends. Small groups in your church. Thursday night praise service. Wednesday night prayer service. Tuesday-Saturday morning evangelism walks. Plus books upon books upon books to read for papers and other assignments. And anywhere you turn – classrooms, libraries, dorm floors, dorm rooms, the coffee shop, the game room, the student hang-out spaces, the plaza, the grass lawns, the gym – you will find theological conversations happening. I guarantee it.
I wish that I could look at that list and be excited about the opportunities for growth available to me. But honestly, it’s overwhelming for my soul.
There is a vein of students here who love, love, love having this many opportunities to grow in their faith. As I’ve watched them over the past few years, I see that they never grow tired of more prayer, more studying, more opportunities for worship, more opportunities for evangelism and saving the world. I listen to them beg leadership teams to start more of these opportunities because they feel like there is not enough here.
Maybe I’m just a terrible Christian.
But I just don’t understand how they are always excited to pray, to worship, to study, to do anything and everything spiritual 100% of the time. Don’t they get tired of turning everything into “spiritual opportunities?” Isn’t there more to life than just being constantly involved in prayer groups, study, evangelism groups, classes, theological debates, or mission trips?
Please hear me – I am not saying that Christians should not seek those opportunities for growth, maturity, or training. Absolutely not. I am not saying that these are bad.
But I am saying that sometimes we can marry our consumerism with our spirituality and think that it’s what we’re suppose to do. But as we try to churn the two together, we end up with a skewed view of what it means to be a spiritual being, a human who fully worships God.
If we truly believe that Christ is present in all things, and that we were created to worship God, then I don’t think everything has to turn into a “spiritual opportunity.” Every conversation doesn’t have to end in theological debate. Every social gathering doesn’t have to involve a time of worship and prayer. Every book doesn’t need to be Christian. Every TV show doesn’t have to be about religion. We shouldn’t cast away created art, music, video, etc. that doesn’t have overtly Christian tones. There’s so much to learn outside of our small community! There’s so much to be challenged by and to express worship through.
To be honest, I still fight feelings of guilt. Feelings of being a “lesser than Christian” because I choose to be involved in less prayer groups and worship services on campus. I am so thankful that because I have a part-time job, I only go to 1 chapel a week. I am so thankful that because I am married and live off-campus, I am involved in 80% less conversations about theological issues. I choose to be less engaged in my classes for the sake of clinging to the last, dear threads of my spiritual health.
It breaks my heart to see the expectations of students here. There is so much pressure. People get upset when you watch secular shows like New Girl, The Office, or the Bachelorette. People don’t like it when you blare Hip Hop or Pop that’s not by Christian artists. Students who wear brand-name clothes get labeled as being too frivolous with their money. And don’t you dare read a book besides the Bible or a book about the Bible. Or take a vacation instead of using that money to save orphans in a 3rd-world country. Or buy coffee instead of giving that money to the homeless. Or eat out, ever, instead of serving in a food shelter.
I think I’ve cracked under the pressure. I get so deeply angry at these expectations. What a terrible way to live. In a constant state of guilt. In a constant state of trying to perform for God. In a constant state of feeling low, feeling like not enough, feeling helpless for the world.
Don’t you know that you were created to enjoy life? Don’t you know that you can worship God with everything that you do?
So lately, I choose less. I choose to be less engaged in this unhealthy spiritual community. Because if I engaged any more, I think it would push me very far over the edge of anger and rebellion towards Christianity. I recognize the bitterness and anger in my heart already. So, I need to take time away from this place. I need time off. I need to “do” less spirituality. For the sake of healing. For the sake of rest. For the sake of being healthy.
I wish I had known where I was headed. I wish I could have avoided it, somehow. And lastly, I hope and pray that within Christian communities, we can be realistic in our expectations for each other and in ministry.
Have you ever felt burned out in ministry or felt overwhelmed by how Christians sometimes approach spiritual growth? Share your experience below!