Continuing our conversation about Spiritual Bypass…A quick review. Spiritual Bypass is the very common, but unconscious use of spiritual disciplines/practices/beliefs to avoid the difficult process of addressing internal conflicts or anxieties that threaten to press into our conscious experience and disrupt our sense of calm. They may challenge our view of ourselves as a devout person or defy our sense of acceptable doctrine. If these thoughts and feelings become conscious, we fear our faith will be destroyed and so ward them off. We pray harder, longer, better…but inadvertently we’ve taken charge of our belief system in a way that prevents a genuine encounter with God. We’re stuck being someone we aren’t, perpetually producing an image of ourselves to others and even to ourselves by believing correctly. This often leads to a rigidity in ability to adapt to life’s challenges and we end up cut off from ourselves, others and particularly from God. It’s hard to detect on our own because so much of the process is unconscious.
Research scientists have compiled a strong body of evidence that spiritual techniques are associated with stress relief and declines in depression and anxiety. (Here’s a link to a short summary piece on this from HuffPost: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/prayer-improves-health_b_9…). The relationship between prayer and spiritual health has been measured and participants’ feel closer to God and report a stronger sense of identity which may explain the symptom relief related to depression and anxiety; however, if a person is unconsciously repeating old patterns of thoughts and feelings as s/he relates to God (which is often the case when practices and beliefs are held over longer periods of time), the benefits may disappear. What’s happening within at more unconscious levels is that the person has shifted from an earlier openness about genuine feelings of need, fault or anxiety and is bypassing these negative feelings by shaping their prayer to meet expected demands that reflect their past experience with early caregivers more than a present and genuine encounter with divine Love.
So prayer must be practiced with a ruthless openness. We must pause and assess what we actually feel, think and believe in the moment and wonder what hidden yearnings may be active just under the surface of our awareness. I believe, but help my unbelief (Mark 9:24) is a needed and curative prayer for us all. More on this next week.