Stepping Stones to Eden: Spiritual Life and Growth
I pray, therefore, that I may not lose courage in these afflictions of mine for your sakes, and which serve to your honor. Thanks to this, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name, that He may grant you, in keeping with the wealth of His glory, to be empowered with strength in the inner self by His Spirit; that through faith the Christ may dwell in your hearts; that you may be rooted and grounded in love, so that you may have power to understand fully with all the saints what is the breadth, the length, the depth, and the height, in fact to know the all knowledge-surpassing love of Christ; so you may be filled up to the whole fullness of God.
Now to Him, who is able with the power that works within us, to do everything immeasurably far beyond what we pray or think of, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations for ever and ever. Amen.
Saint Paul, Ephesians 3:13-19
What an inspiring prayer, in essence, to be filled up to the whole fullness of God, empowered with strength in the inner self by God’s Spirit! This prayer is an increasingly obtainable reality for those who seek and bow before God with an earnest heart. It is no small thing to have inner strength, full understanding, being anointed with love abiding constantly in our hearts and to be filled with the whole fullness of God by the power of God’s spirit at work in us! Whether or not the body is healthy, you can have “wholeness of life!”
Yet, Paul prays for courage to face his “afflictions” for the sake of others. Many who have gone through the valley of death, despair, and even mental illness, will testify privately that the promised inner strength and hope is given to us by the Spirit who sustains us when there is no other hope.
One day was a definite turning point for me. I was on hands and knees scouring the floor under the kitchen table, thinking I might never be well again. I began to pray. Something I hadn’t done for a long time. Despairingly I poured out my fears. Tears plopped into the scrub water. I honestly admitted my anger and my disappointment, to God and to myself, that God had let it happen.
I surrendered my struggle. God could do with me as God pleased as a partner with me. I could not control the future. I realized that if Jesus himself was called crazy, who was I to be exempt from such trials? Then it was as if God said, “What has taken you so long to say so? I am here.” A sweet release, peace, courage, and hope flooded my soul. The dam broke. Tears flooded my face as I sobbed my relief. It was good to be on speaking terms again.
My personal experiences—in study and research for self-help information, as a patient, mental health unit staff nurse, graduate student, teacher and clinical supervisor of nursing students, consultant,and in personal counseling–have confirmed the spiritual, psychological, and physiological principles which counteract the ill effects of stress on mind, body, and spirit.
Although my personal trials were terrible blows to my pride, they have worked to improve my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. My prayer is that you may be helped by the Holy Spirit as you read and then that you may help others.
Now let us go deeper into the psychological-spiritual concepts that have proven valuable in renewing, maintaining, and revitalizing our life.
In New Testament times, faith, hope, and love were considered the greatest of all God’s gifts. Irvin Yalom, while researching group therapy, discovered that Hope is one of the “healing factors” in participants’ recovery. People of faith who have read I Corinthians 13 in the New Testament will not be surprised. They are well aware of the power of faith, hope, and love. Two other factors discovered by Yalom are “interpersonal learning” and the ”universality of experience.” As we talk about the experiences and problems we have had and what has strengthened us, we give hope to others.
One of the most difficult problems in my spiritual life has been to reconcile “what I think should or ought to be” with “what I think is.” You could say that a discrepancy exists between values and actions, between beliefs and experience. “Cognitive” techniques have helped me moderate my expectations of self and others.
Our expectations of ourselves may be higher than God’s expectations. For example, if we believe we should be at peace with all people at all times while doing God’s will, the discordant vibrations that will be experienced in the soul and mind will nearly tear us apart. We’ve tried to do what is impossible for us to do. Even God, with whom all things are possible, does not please everyone at all times.
At the other end of the pendulum, I have sometimes expected too little of myself, afraid to trust God’s power in me to do more than I imagined could be done. God “knows our frame,” how we are made, our weaknesses, our strengths, our capabilities, and gives his Spirit to help us in times of need.
When we find it impossible to live up to our ideas of spirituality, we need a way to bring our experience and our spirituality together into a new reality, a wholeness, that works consistently in our own lives. As we do that, self-concept changes. We develop a new identity for self. A whole self develops who accepts its own good and bad, puts the bad behind, and goes on with the good.
One example is Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God, published by The Peter Pauper Press in 1963). Brother Lawrence gave up meditating on his shortcomings to meditate on God’s grace and goodness to strengthen him in his daily work. This practice inspires me to do more than I could otherwise. It lifts my mind away from myself to our gracious, loving God and turns everyday experiences into “Eden experiences”.
As you wrestle to understand God’s truth for you, I suggest that you bow your heart and mind before God, ask the Spirit to reveal to you what you need to know, and make you oblivious to all that would hinder you while you examine the following stepping stones to the Eden experience. Our Source of Energy and Life, Our Spiritual Family, Entrance to the Family of God, Born of God’s Love, Our New Identity, New Responsibility. Suffering, Gifts for Growing, Methods of Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Nutrition, A Healthy Family Model, and The Coming of Community.
References from the Jewish and Christian scriptures are given as often as possible for the ideas presented in the following articles. Some scriptures are quoted extensively in case you do not have a Bible. The scriptures used in these sections are from both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible, primarily from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the Modern Language Bible (MLB). The MLB is more attuned to psychology in its translation of Greek into English.
Many of the teachings of Jesus and the newly developing assembly around him are tied closely to the Jewish Torah and Old Testament prophetic promises in the Bible. In the book of Matthew, the early part of Acts, the Book of Hebrews, and part of Peter’s letters in the New Testament, this is particularly evident. Christianity has deep roots in Judaism which tells us of people who walked and talked with God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 NRSV.