Spirituality for Today – January 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 6

Religion and Spirituality

By Delbert Teachout

Someone once told me that religion is what we do on Sunday and spirituality is what we do the rest of the week. That bothered me. I thought, "I do the same thing every day so what is the difference?" I made it a point to learn the difference in a way I could understand. Working as a program director in a men's rescue mission where the main goal is to help men find a relationship in Christ, I observed the difference first hand. Some men began to practice religious behaviors but had no spirituality. Other men found spirituality and a new life. The first group could not understand how to incorporate their religious beliefs into their spirituality.

A photo of the sun rising over a snowy mountain scene

Various dictionaries tend to define religion as a commitment to a religious faith or practice. It involves the beliefs and practices around the religion that members of that religion feel comfortable with.

Religion can improve our spirituality because the same rituals that improve our religion, can also improve our spirituality.

Factors of Spirituality

Three factors define spirituality: our relationship with our own self, our relationship with others, and our relationship with God. All three relationships are concerned with the condition of our heart.

The first factor is our relationship with the self. What motivates us? What are the enduring values that help us decide whether or not to do a certain behavior? What makes us continue to do what is morally right every day? Some of us would say our family is our enduring value. Some of us would say it's our children. Some of us would say it's our relationship with God. Others of us want to be able to live a normal life, have a home, a job, and a few things that make life comfortable, and that is good enough for us. Or we may have nothing of value that motivates us. These are representations of our spirituality.

The second factor is our relationship with others in the world. I often say to my clients that frogs live in swamps, snakes live in the grass, and birds live in the air. Then I ask them where they see themselves fitting into the world. Where do they feel a sense of belonging? How do they relate with others in the world? Some have told me they belong at home with their family; some have said they belong in a church; some talk about their work. Many men tell me they are still trying to find out where they fit. Many say they have no friends or close relationships. Some of these men may be forty or fifty years old and they are still trying to figure out where they are supposed to fit. Their answers give an indication of how they see the world.

The third factor is our relationship with God. What influence does God have on our life? How much do we turn to God for guidance? Do we spend time with God? Many will argue that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. If we miss that, we miss the true essence of Christianity.

Matters of the Heart

All these issues are matters of the heart. Everything that happens to us and everything we do goes through our heart. We have feelings when we are unemployed or when we get promoted. We have feelings when we get married or when we are divorced. We have feelings when bad things happen and when good things happen. Everything goes through the heart. All our internal thoughts, all our external situations, and all our interpersonal relationships influence our heart; therefore, they influence our spirituality.

How we feel about ourselves, about God, or about the world is what we do every day. This is a measure of our spirituality. For true spirituality to occur, we need to continually turn to God to transform our feelings so that we love ourselves, love God, and love others.

Spirituality means saying to the self, "I am a valuable person. I am so valuable that God wants to talk to me. I am so valuable that I do not need to do things that are illegal or immoral to fit in. I am so valuable that I can relate to others in my life as equals in God's sight. I am so valuable Christ died for me."

Spirituality is love in practice. I am able to view myself as God views me, someone who is capable of sin but who God loves so much he sent his son to die for me. Because he loves me, I can love me; and because he forgives me I can forgive myself. I need to view God as being strong when I am weak, as someone who will never leave me nor forsake me. Then I can have a relationship with God that will endure past the Sunday morning service. I am able to see others in the world not as adversaries but as people who God loves as much as he loves me. Spirituality means having a relationship with myself, God, and the world which allows me freedom to live reasonably happy.

Daily prayer keeps us in touch with God. Confession and forgiveness remove hardness in the heart and help us maintain good relationships with others in our lives. Scripture readings give us encouragement and guidance for the day.

If we practice these religious behaviors our heart is changed and our view of the self, the world, and God is changed. If we don't practice them they have the opposite effect; we will have a hard heart, hate ourselves and the world, and blame God for all our problems.

Spirituality is a condition of the heart. We always live according to the condition of our heart. That is why we say we believe something with all our heart. If the belief is in our hearts, it will manifest itself in our behavior.