Is it time for Christians to tidy up our beliefs and spiritual practices?
That is the perhaps inevitable question being tossed around among Christians and #evangelicals of late due to the popularity of the best-selling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the toxic beliefs and practices that have wounded so many sincere believers. On the surface, it’s a perfect match.
A friend of mine who grew up in a particularly restricting and toxic fundamentalist church posted a provocative picture with a Bible in a trash can and the caption, “It didn’t spark joy.” That about cuts to the heart of the matter when religion and spirituality are at their worst.
Joy is not a foreign concept in the Christian faith. It is promised to those who put their hope in God, and it’s the kind of joy that no one can steal.
Conversations about taking inventory of our beliefs and practices in order to spot the restricting and toxic elements certainly appeals to me. On the surface there is a commonsense wisdom to spiritual tidying up.
And yet, I can’t help feeling a bit of unease in comparing a method of tidying up physical possessions, many of which were acquired under our consumer society’s promise of personal fulfillment and joy, with a kind of spiritual housecleaning under the same terms. It makes me wonder if we’re talking about a different kind of discernment and even a different kind of joy.
That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with tidying up in its own place. Rather, I don’t know if a spiritual version of tidying up could cause plenty of problems in its own right.
Both versions of tidying up could essentially ask the same question about our possessions and beliefs: Does this thing/belief deliver what it promised? In a sense, we could describe this as discernment or even an Examen.
However, spiritual tidying up becomes tricky when we consider that tidying up our homes involves material things we hold and possess. Spiritual tidying up is often about finding that we are being held by a loving God despite our illusions about ourselves and religion.The belief or practice itself shouldn’t be expected to spark joy. Perhaps the better question is, “Does this obscure God?” If God is obscured, then we will surely struggle to find the kind of joy and life that Jesus promised in Him.
Expecting our beliefs, practices, and even the Bible itself to deliver on sparking joy is a subtle detour from the joy of God, but it is a detour nonetheless. I am all in favor of cleaning out the toxic elements of the Christian faith and replacing them with discerning practices such as the Examen and reclaiming the Bible for devotional meditation rather than apologetics.
My concern is whether we are asking the right questions when tidying up and that we don’t expect our beliefs, whether life-giving or toxic, to do more than is possible. We may think we’re creating the conditions for sparking spiritual joy, when in reality we’re just setting ourselves up for another disappointment.
My prayer for Christians, especially those who grew up in toxic, joyless churches, is that they’ll have the freedom to ask of their practices and beliefs: “Does this spark awareness of God?” May they find presence of God as they move toward the answer to that question.
If You Want to Read More…
You can read more about my journey into contemplative prayer and my recovery from anxious Christianity in my newly revised and expanded book: Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians