I used to work in a wellness setting, where we often talked about 3 kinds of stress that could cause health problems: Physical, Chemical or Emotional. Physical stress is considered something that causes direct injury, such as a fall or being involved in a car accident. Chemical stress can be environmental or dietary. Emotional stress refers to life stressors such as an unhealthy work environment, relationship problems or moving. I would propose there is a fourth underlying stressor that is often undetected to Americans. I call it Spiritual Stress. This kind of stress involves more than just emotions; it is an aching of one’s soul. This stress involves a person’s deepest needs.
Are you suffering from Spiritual Stress? Below is a partial list of the causes for spiritual stress which may be exhibiting symptoms in your life.
- Your Worldview got ROCKED. Everyone has a worldview. Your worldview is the lens through which they see themselves, the world, and how they relate to it. Worldview can also be called “Theology”. Regardless of your background or religiousness, you have a set of beliefs and values that you work out of every day. Sometimes, your system gets rocked. It is very disorienting and, quite frankly, scary. Some examples of your worldview being rocked can include a new culture or environment (such as college), someone you care about attacking or challenging your worldview, reading a book that opens up a new perspective, or someone or something you trusted disappointing and hurting you deeply.
- Unrepented Sins / Withheld Forgiveness. These two ideas go together like two sides of one coin. Confession is a very old practice, but will always be relevant to humans because it fulfills one of our deepest needs: Absolution. When we wrong someone, and we do not confess or make it right through asking for forgiveness, we live with unnecessary guilt. Similarly, when we don’t forgive someone else, we carry a heavy burden. This unforgiveness often becomes a deep stirring anger that continues to simmer, and will eventually come to a boil. Whatever or whomever brings that simmer to a boil will take the brunt of this past hurt or offense, possibly causing further damage to another relationship.
- Living in the Flesh: This phrase communicates that you are relying on your own strength in life, without relying on the power source of God. Now, depending on your beliefs, you may not agree with this being a spiritual stressor. However, if you find yourself struggling with perfectionism, or constantly seeking approval from other people to feel good about yourself (performance-based acceptance), trying to control all aspects of your life, or hating the idea that you need others to thrive, you might want to consider that you are suffering on a spiritual level. Humans are great, but humans aren’t God and for some, this is a very disturbing concept.
- Religion is getting in the way of your Relationship: I could write a book on this one—many people have! Generally, if your spirituality is revolving around duty, discipline and pleasing other people’s expectations, and you are not experiencing the joy, peace and freedom of being forgiven and deeply loved, your religiosity has left your relationship with God in the dust. There should be a balance between doing (being faithful in practicing your faith) and being (allowing God’s unconditional love to fall over you regardless of your accomplishments).
- You’re Tempted to Despair: You may have never thought of despair as a temptation, but consider that when you lose hope and stop trusting that God cares for you, all that is left is despair. This statement is not to condemn you, but rather to help you see that there is always hope, and despair is a choice in all circumstances.
In Part 2, I will dive deeper into the difference between Spirituality & Religiousness, a VERY important distinction. I would love to hear what other causes of spiritual stress you know of or have experienced. Share in the comments!