Posted on Leave a comment

Spiritual pathways: one size does not fit all

When it comes to spirituality, to growing closer to God, one size does not fit all. Yet often we not only try the ‘standard’ pathways ourselves, but we also only teach them to our students. If our students ask us (or to put it more correctly: of we want our students to know) how to grow in their faith, what do we tell them? I’m guessing it’ll be something along these lines: do quiet time, read your Bible and pray. Oh, and go to church every Sunday obviously.

We seem to prescribe one general one-size-fits-all spiritual pathway for everyone, even though we know very well people are very different from each other. Just look at the sixteen basic personality temperaments according to the Myers-Briggs test: introvert/extravert, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling and judging/perceptive. I’m an extravert, sensing, feeling, judging type, whereas my husband is an extravert, intuitive, thinking, perceptive type (yes, we are the classic example of ‘opposites attract’!).

How is it possible that we would both be able to find ourselves in one single pathway to God? We’re different on all accounts!

There is no one-size-fits-all spiritual pathway to grow closer to God

It’s the same when you look at how we express our love. Most of us are aware that people express their love differently, the book The 5 Love Languages was a huge bestseller. I’m a caretaker for instance (‘acts of service’ is how Gary Chapman calls it), I show my love for my husband and my son by taking care of them, making sure I buy their favorite foods, do those things that matter to them. My husband shows his love in spending time with me and our son. We express our love for each other differently, but we love each other the same.

Why should it be different with God? Why should I have to express my love for God the same way my husband does?

I struggled with this a lot, always feeling guilty and ‘not good enough’ because somehow the quiet time, praying and church-going it just didn’t work for me. Then a few years back me and my husband went on a youth workers’ conference where we heard about the concept of spiritual pathways. The session we heard was based on a book called Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God, written by Gary Thomas and we immediately bought and read the book. It was an incredible eye-opener and it encouraged us to seek other pathways to get closer to God, to express our love for Him.

Gary Thomas shows these nine spiritual pathways:

  1. Naturalists: loving God outdoors
  2. Sensates: loving God with the senses
  3. Traditionalists: loving God through rituals and symbols
  4. Ascetics: loving God in solitude and simplicity
  5. Activists: loving God through confrontation
  6. Caregivers: loving God by loving others
  7. Enthusiasts: loving God with mystery and celebration
  8. Contemplatives: loving God through adoration
  9. Intellectuals: loving God with the mind

All of them are different ways of growing closer to God, of loving God, but all of them are equal. No one spiritual pathway is better than another, they’re just different. Most of us will have one preferred pathway and one or two secondary ones. If you’re wondering which one is yours, just experiment. You’ll know it when you’ve found it, as it will truly bring you closer to God.

We not only enthusiastically embraced what we had learned, but we also started teaching our newfound knowledge on spiritual pathways to our students. We could see the difference in made for them as well. It brings freedom and creativity to worship God outside of the known, standard pathways.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m still a big fan of reading the Bible, praying and going to church. But let’s not tell our students that that’s the only way to grow. Tell them to take their Bible with them as they go on a hike and then read the Psalms from a mountaintop. Tell them to experiment with silent prayer, as they light a candle in their own room to draw near to God. Tell them to paint a painting, compose music, make a photograph or write down a prayer. Tell them there is only One Way to God to get saved, but there are many ways to draw near to Him. Tell them there’s freedom in worship, freedom in love and freedom in Christ.

How do you draw close to God? Have you found your spiritual pathway yet? How are you teaching your students to grow?

[Image via Free Images, Peter Hellebrand]
Posted on Leave a comment

0 thoughts on “Spiritual pathways: one size does not fit all

  1. Thanks for this (and for tweeting the link just now!). I’m aware that others connect with God differently to me (especially my husband) and do my best to teach the young people that there isn’t just one way, but it is difficult! I naturally lean towards journalling and sung worship is important for me too, and so these emphases come across in my teaching. I have come to the conclusion that the more adults the young people have in their lives the more examples they have, so that’s what I’m trying to do.

    1. It’s good to be aware of your own spiritual path because as you’ve already discovered, it will show up in your teaching. That’s why teaching together with people with different ‘paths’ is always good, it brings variety. But you can also consciously prepare your sessions such as to include more paths and thus speak to more young people. It’s great that you’re trying this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *