Spiritual Life as a Road Trip

The following article is largely based on chapter two of my ebook, Spiritual Growth: Live the Questions, Love the Journey, available on Amazon – for a brief period (seeking additional reviews) for just $.99!

Becoming Adult, Becoming Spiritually Aware

Are we all spiritual? My firm belief is that we are. To even speak of ourselves as “I” or “me” reflects this. Where does this sense of “me-ness” come from? Purely neurons firing in our brains?

Defining “spiritual” differs greatly within differing worldviews, religions and their sects, and from person to person. Presuming we are in some sense spiritual, as one aspect of our lives, we can expect a process of development, of change and growth in that aspect, can’t we? We often hear the process of seeking… looking for what is real, what is lasting and satisfying… as the journey up a mountain. At the pinnacle is supposedly God.

I find that metaphor helpful in only a limited way. I don’t see that we only “get to God” after an arduous process (or a life-transforming experience of faith, via the “grace of God”, as many of my Christian brothers and sisters might put it). Rather, God is in everything, surrounding everything, including us. Yet God is “larger”, beyond all else.

But still I’ll suggest a similar metaphor for the psychology of faith development… that of an extended road trip. Particularly if one is presuming that the journey, not just the destination, is the goal. So this is a trip in which one may meander, and certainly stop frequently to relish the sights, sounds, smells. It is a trip with stages which are not always obvious yet generally can be identified. And this trip, if you imagine it as guided by GPS service, has “dead spots” in which all signals seem to be lost… and so are we. But not lost forever, nor hopefully for long.

In this and a few upcoming articles, we’ll begin to look at these stages as they develop coming into adulthood and through adult life. The transitions between them can be challenging. They may involve disruption of relationships or of one’s inner sense of identity or security, as beliefs shift. My previous summary (of Ch.1) on the “psychology of spiritual journeying” spoke a bit further about this, here.

Rites of Passage

Anthropologists of the last century have well described the widespread practice of societies clearly marking the transition from childhood to adulthood with a “rite of passage”. Western culture has largely lost this kind of practice, though certain markers or accomplishments function similarly:

  • Confirmation in certain churches, usually around 13 (as in Bar and Bat Mitzvahs) or 14
  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Graduating (high school or college)
  • Moving out on one’s own

With the exception (sometimes) of confirmation, these do not deal with spiritual life. Yet new mental abilities emerge in the same time period:

  • Ways to evaluate beliefs
  • How to interpret one’s experiences in life context and comparatively with others’
  • Various “abstract” thinking abilities

This is when kids transitioning to adulthood often begin asking deeply spiritual, philosophical, exploratory questions. It is when needs change, and sometimes interests with them, as self-discovery is blossoming. Thus, a lot of both pulling back from and plunging into churches happens, often rapidly.

People at this stage, whether in teen years or at a later age, need the input of older people who have been through this and come out more mature, balanced and integrated. (Not everyone does.) They can help novice adults become contributing, compassionate members of society regardless of specific beliefs they hold now or will later. They are guides on the spiritual road trip we all are on, whether aware of it or not.

The Journey and Your Vocation

What does the spiritual journey have to do with your vocation? Anything? If so, how does that work?

Let’s say you are in college or college bound. A lot has been said over the years about faith and the university. Are people losing faith at college? A lot of church leaders think so. Christian apologists (defenders of orthodoxy, generally speaking) are very active trying to shore up the faith of college students particularly. Based on my studies of higher education and the exploration of both spiritual matters and one’s vocation… developing each of them… I believe this development is best done at the same time. And in a way that seeks to keep them integrated.

They actually are interrelated, but we often fail to see this. This has become almost a cliche: “Follow your bliss”. Or do what you are passionate about. Almost always this tracks closely with what you are good at. Unfortunately, young adults, due largely to failures in our educational and support systems (as mentioned above), seldom have a deep understanding of either their strongest interests and abilities or how these may be applied in a sustaining vocation… something that can at least “pay the bills”. A vague, general sense is common, but seldom more, as far as I can see.

 

Exploring Deeper for a Better Fit

To get more specific, what I’m encouraging is to give yourself, if you a young adult not fully set on a form of spirituality or on your vocational vision, a period to get to know yourself. Get to know the ways contributing, satisfied adults have been able to effectively integrate spirituality and career. In some cases, this will be largely parallel tracks rather than a single merged one. Nothing wrong with that. But maybe you will find a vocation of service that is more directly “spiritual” or that incorporates your spiritual drive.

A common and growing practice is to take a year or two after high school or perhaps after college to explore options, perhaps while working for a service agency that provides your basic needs but not an hourly wage or much beyond a small stipend. Such opportunities are abundant though little known in most circles.

Build Your Base First, Commit Slowly

There is so much more to say regarding the early maturing stages of developing one’s faith or spirituality. I’ll cover more of it in later installments. A final suggestion for now:

Don’t rush the process of drawing conclusions on the thorny, controversial issues that are often considered crucial by religious leaders and laity alike.

Things like the triune nature of God, the means of salvation, the prophetic future, and much else. Rather, build a broad and solid base of knowledge and experiences. Get to know the thinking and spirituality of people from other religions and other denominations if you are Christian by belief or affiliation.

If you have had a dramatic or “turn around” spiritual experience, honor it for what it is and has done for you. But resist the tendency to adopt any particular theology which tries to explain what it indicates or should mean to you. In this open period after such an experience one is also vulnerable. Vulnerable to misconceptions and to commitments to a belief system or to a group of people that you may later come to find unsuitable or just plain wrong.

What are your experiences related to the issues above? Have you found a satisfying vocation or a promising direction for one, whether it is the same as your income-producing job or not? 

4 thoughts on “Spiritual Life as a Road Trip”

    • Thanks, Norlyn. Indeed, spirituality is more than a personal thing. Even the few rare “monks” generally have some kind of community. The rest of us want and need a significant community, and the inclusive kind represented by “Beloved Community” calls forth what is best within us and is most impacting for our broader society.

      Reply
  1. This is a very interesting question, and one I honestly struggle with. I think this is in large part because I didn’t form any sort of “base” of spirituality until my career was well-established. I fell entirely out of Evangelical Christianity at an early age and never looked back until my late 30s. As I began to lean into my growing curiosity, I felt a growing ambition (a “calling”, some might say? ;)) to create community spaces where people could bring their own doubts, questions, and curiosity and be honest about their spiritual journey. I was raised in a faith that discouraged questions and frowned upon any sort of intellectual curiosity that might open a person to other perspectives – the people still in these environments but who are struggling with changing viewpoints on spirituality are the people I most empathize with. To this end, I created SeekersAnonymous.org, and have started two local “Chapters”, one in Orlando and one in the DC Metro area. I believe that this is my spiritual road trip and it has provided far more meaning and fulfillment that my 20+ year career. Unfortunately, it does -not- “pay the bills”, so for now I operate on two parallel paths. Thank you for your work, it is an inspiration.

    Reply
    • Thanks much for sharing, Ed. Good to know of your story and your efforts. You may know of the large Facebook groups of “Exvangelicals” and “Progressive Christians” (and I’m sure many others, similar, and many blogs… so sad we lost Rachel Held Evans last year. She was the “real deal”). I’m going to visit your site asap, do what I can to support you and it. I also intend to collaborate more broadly and deeply with various others I know doing great work toward good knowledge, collective wisdom, spread of compassion… core of the “gospel” as well as humanitarian (secular) efforts.

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