Paying Attention…

Life experiences can teach us a lot. As in I wrote in yesterday’s post, they can shape us, make us into different people, mature us, grow us, and give us new perspectives on life.

Life experiences can also shatter our faith.

Adam Hamilton seems to be what I call an ultra-positive guy, yet he does acknowledge this negative faith experience in Chapter 4 in these words; “There are others whose life experiences shatter their faith. When their childhood faith is not pliable enough to be stretched with their life experiences, they shed it like a cicada emerging from the ground sheds it brittle exoskeleton before taking flight.  They lose their faith as a result of their life experiences and the questions they have asked and reflections they have made concerning God.”

Has this ever happened to you?

If it has, don’t feel alone.

Jane Collingwood writing on the “PsychCentral Website” speaks of common causes of loss of faith. She cites severe illness as the most common reason people doubt their faith.  Death of a close loved one ranks second and being a victim of a violent crime is number three.

Whatever the cause of loss of faith, the people who survive trauma to their faith systems are “those whose more intrinsic faith is based on well thought-out ideas.”

Pastor Hamilton would add another factor to Collingwood’s “well-thought out ideas”, something he calls spiritual maturity.

We hear these words all the time in Christian circles but what do they mean? How can one become spiritually mature? Lots of books have been written on this subject; Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, Chuck Swindoll’s Going Deep into the Christian Life and John Ortberg’s The Life You Have Always Wanted, to name a few.

Read them all as if they hold the magical secret to spiritual maturity but maybe Pastor Hamilton has the most important key: just pay attention to what is happening to you.

All people have periods when life gets too hard and everything seems to be going wrong. That is just  life; you know, the peaks and valleys.  Hamilton thinks the people who get the most out of life are the ones who ask questions all the time.  How did I get to this peak?  What did I do to get in this valley?   What do I need to do to get to a good place again?  What do I need to change to avoid the bad place that I am in?

Psychologists call this mental phenomenon self-awareness, and I really think this is the main point in Chapter 4 of Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.   Why do things happen to us?  We might not discover an answer but it is important to have enough curiosity to keep asking.  Don’t be a person who seems to be a pinball in a pinball machine, bouncing around from object to object, reacting to what they run into.  There is no anticipation, just reaction.  Other forces are in control; they aren’t.

Self awareness is the major factor in learning from life experiences. Self-awareness is being aware of where you focus your attention, your emotions, reactions, personality and behavior. Having self-awareness allows you to see where your thoughts and emotions are taking you. It also allows you to take some control of your emotions, behavior, and personality so you can make the changes you want. Until you are aware “in the moment” of your thoughts, emotions, words, and behavior, you will have difficulty making changes in the direction of your life.  You will have a problem learning from your life experiences.

For the Christian, the matter of self-awareness is also a centering on what God is up to in your life. Remember, God is the Potter and we are His clay.  He means for us to have a wonderful life: “’ For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” [Jeremiah 29:11].

This does not mean that we need to throw our self-awareness away and just trust in His guidance. He may be in control but as He guides our lives, He intends us to get something out of His guidance.  He wants us to grow into mature Christians, the types of Christians James speaks of in James 1: 2-4:   “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

That’s what I call spiritual maturity.


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