In 1950 Bob Pierce found World Vision, the largest Christian relief and development agency in the world. Today World Vision serves more than one hundred million people in over one hundred countries every year. Yet for all the good that World Vision has done and continues to do, the story of their founder is complicated.
Passionate for Jesus and for a world without hunger or disease, Bob Pierce began humbly helping children orphaned by the Korean War. Every outreach he touched grew in size and scope. Books and magazine cover stories were written about him. His friends said, “He is a man restless to win souls”; “I have never met a person with greater compassion”; and “He is a true Christian Samaritan who literally laid down his life for the needy ‘little’ people of the world.”
Bob often prayed, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” That zeal drove him to the ends of the earth, marked by a seemingly inexhaustible passion to meet spiritual and human needs wherever he saw them.
Unfortunately, his approach had disastrous consequences for his family. As one family friend stated politely, Bob’s wife, Lorraine, “knew deprivation of a different kind than those to whom her husband was ministering.”
The stark reality is that he all but abandoned his own family. He consistently put opportunities for expanded ministry and greater impact ahead of his wife and children. Bob’s relationship with his wife deteriorated over time. At one point, years passed when they did not even speak. His relationships with his two remaining children were equally strained.
Years of eighteen-hour days, unsanitary food, and constant jet lag gradually depleted Bob’s emotional reserves and made him susceptible to all kinds of physical difficulties. One biographer wrote, “The temper that he had battled all his life to control got the upper hand more and more often, and the mind that had once operated with computer-like accuracy began short-circuiting occasionally, causing a growing erraticism in his behavior.”
Bob’s oft-cited request, “Just let me burn out for God,” was sadly being fulfilled.
Bob Pierce lived a compartmentalized life, creating stark divisions between his spirituality, relationships, work, emotions, and physical health. Unfortunately, this approach to life never works well because we are integrated ecosystems.
In other words, you don’t have a soul. You are a soul.
What is Spiritual Health?
Being a “spiritual” person is in vogue these days. Practicing yoga, prayer, mindfulness, astrology, meditation, or belonging to a faith community are all part of the modern spiritual landscape of the Western world. As society becomes more spiritually diverse, the opportunity to have a meaningful spiritual practice increases as well. But having a consistent, personal spiritual practice is easier said than done because of other competing cultural narratives:
- “Stay connected at all times – be available 24/7.”
- “You are what you do – my work defines me.”
- “The worst thing is to be unaware – I need to keep an eye on the news.”
- “Making more money will make you happy.”
Western culture gives healthy spirituality lip service but on a whole, resists it. But the culture is not the only culprit when it comes to spiritual resistance. Each of us individually resists spiritual health in a variety of ways. We resist moving towards spiritual health when we choose not to grow in our own self-awareness, particularly in moments of discomfort or pain. We resist moving towards spiritual health when we separate different parts of our lives into boxes like “spiritual, secular, material.” We resist moving towards spiritual health when we neglect silence, solitude, and reflection. We resist moving towards spiritual health when we refuse to slow down.
Spiritual health is a learned ability and skill. Every person has to intentionally and repeatedly choose to grow into a spiritually healthy person over the course of their life. This is my working definition for spiritual health:
Spiritual health is the ability to know both oneself and the sacred intimately, engage in practices that cultivate a deep interior life, and live an integrated life and existence.
There are three main elements to this understanding of spiritual health that needs to be unpacked a bit more:
- Ability to know both oneself and the sacred intimately – Spiritually healthy people grow in their ability to know themselves (strengths and shadows) and the sacred in a personal way. This means that prioritizing self-awareness and seeking feedback from others is significant, as well as a lifelong endeavor to experience the sacred. Spiritual health is never abstract – it is always personal, concrete, and rooted internally.
- Ability to engage in practices that cultivate a deep interior life – Spiritually healthy people grow in their ability integrate practices in their regular life that deepen their interior life. This includes practices like solitude, silence, meditation, prayer, spending time in nature, spiritual direction, journaling, and self-examination. Spiritual health will not occur without creating space for our inner lives to grow and expand.
- Ability to live an integrated life and existence – Spiritually healthy people grow in their ability to integrate their spirituality with their entire life. This includes seeking to stay connected to the sacred during the day, rejecting spiritual/secular categories, practicing your spirituality with others, and doing your vocation with sacred intention. Spiritual health deepens as it touches every aspect of life.
Growing into spiritually healthy people takes time, intentionality, and deepening self-awareness. Start by becoming familiar with your Spiritual Personality.Spiritual health is never abstract – it is always personal, concrete, and rooted internally. ~ Matt Alexander Click To Tweet
The Spiritual Personalities tool is one of the best resources to help us grow into spiritually healthy people. Each person has a unique spiritual temperament/ personality that helps them to connect to the sacred in a personal way. However, it is easy for many faith traditions to take a “one-size fits all” approach. The Spiritual Personalities tool articulates and unearths nine different ways that people tend to most naturally connect to God.
|Traditionalist||Loves God in ritual and symbol. They enter into the mystery of the divine through written prayers, liturgies, icons, and traditions.|
|Naturalist||Loves God by being outdoors. Time in the mountains, garden, forest, or water awakens them to the presence and beauty of God.|
|Contemplative||Loves God in adoration and intimacy. Quieter disciplines like solitude, meditation, and journaling cultivate their life with the sacred.|
|Creative||Loves God through creativity and celebration. They express their love through poetry, songs, art, dance, and/or acts of joy.|
|Activist||Loves God in acts of mercy and justice. They are compelled by a vision of the world where the healing presence of God is fully experienced.|
|Caregiver||Loves God by serving others. They feel energized rather than drained after serving someone in need.|
|Intellectual||Loves God in knowledge and wisdom. They grow in their experience of the sacred by deepening their understanding of the divine.|
|Visionary||Loves God through big dreams. They feel closest to God when they put their energy and “calling” towards a significant goal that serves others.|
|Socialite||Loves God by being in community. Being in close relationship with a group of people is very important for this person to grow spiritually.|
Most people will have 1-2 primary Spiritual Personalities that keep them centered in the sacred and rooted in God’s presence. Discovering our Spiritual Personalities and embracing who we are is an important step towards spiritual health.
I Have a Dream
On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream”, speech before 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Towards the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared notes and spontaneously spoke of the dream of a future America that could be realized.
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.“
A compelling dream and vision for the future is really important when we are attempting to move towards health. Moving towards spiritual health is hard work and it would be much easier to forget about it entirely. Without a vision of what life could be like we are unlikely to attempt this challenging path. If we pursue spiritual health it will mean facing our uneasiness with silence and solitude, confronting our addiction to busyness and noise, letting go of old ways of relating to the divine, and exploring the shadows of our own lives. If we go on this journey, what will life look like on the other side? Will it have been worth it?
Growing into a spiritually healthy person is challenging, but there is tremendous fruit on the other side. Healthy trees grow fruit, and as we grow in spiritual health there will be “fruit” that grows in our lives. Here are a few examples of “fruit” that will grow as we pursue spiritual health:
- Intimacy and personal connection with the sacred.
- Inner freedom and peace as we release our anxiety, control, and frustration.
- Integration with our relationships, work, emotions, and all aspects of life.
- The ability to be fully present and attentive to others, yourself, and the divine.
- Love, patience, and empathy for other people.
A life of integration, freedom, and love is available for those who seek to grow in spiritual health. Taking the Attentive Path is not easy, but it will grow fruit.If we pursue spiritual health it will mean facing our uneasiness with silence and solitude, confronting our addiction to busyness and noise, letting go of old ways of relating to the divine, and exploring the shadows of our own lives. ~ Matt… Click To Tweet
This post is part of the You Are a Soul Series:
- Part 1: You Are a Soul
- Part 2: Emotional Health
- Part 3: Relational Health
- Part 4: Spiritual Health
- Part 5: Physical Health
- Part 6: Mental Health
- Part 7: Vocational Health
- Part 8: Crafting a Rhythm of Life
 The Emotionally Healthy Church, Pete Scazzero, p. 40.
 “How Millenials replaced religion with astrology and crystals” by Jessica Roy. https://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-millennials-religion-zodiac-tarot-crystals-astrology-20190710-story.html
 This is adapted from Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.
 In this article I use the terms “the sacred,” “God,”, and “the divine” interchangeably.
 “I Have a Dream…” by Martin Luther King, Jr. https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf
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