Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan, & Juanita Ryan's new book, Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life, (InterVarsity Press, 2008).
Are you afraid that God doesn’t really love you? Do you work hard trying to earn His love, even though you know He’s promised to love you unconditionally? If so, your soul is broken, impairing your ability to receive the love and grace God wants to give you.
The good news is that you can repair your soul and start enjoying God’s love and grace to the fullest. Here’s how:
See the potential for blessing in your brokenness. Ask God to give you His perspective on your spiritual brokenness, so you can see that even your deepest moments of brokenness are opportunities for Him to bless you. Realize that God won’t reject you because of your brokenness; He will come to you as you are and lovingly help you heal.
Deal with abusive spirituality. Consider whether you may be affected by abusive spirituality. Do you think of God as a kind of bogeyman who expects you to perform perfectly in life in order to merit His love and is quick to punish you when you do something wrong? Do you tend to hide or suppress your sins rather than admitting and confessing them? Do you lose track of the fact that God loves you no matter what? Do you need to rely on anything other than God’s love to be okay in your relationship with Him? Would it feel catastrophic if you made a mistake? Are you unwilling to give up control over other people’s behavior? Do you feel compelled to pretend that you don’t struggle or have problems? Are you judgmental toward others, negatively assessing their spiritual standing compared to your own? Do you have a need to get things absolutely right in your relationship with God?
Deal with anorexic spirituality. Consider whether you may be affected by anorexic spirituality. Would you prefer not to have any needs for attention, support, help, or love from God or other people? Do you have difficulty receiving nurture from God or others? Do you experience despair that relates to your spiritual longings? Have you lost the capacity to experience spiritual longings or spiritual hopes? Are you trying to give away to others what you haven’t received yourself? Do you share the love of God with others but secretly doubt that God loves you? Are you accumulating resentments about the amount of energy you expend on giving to others and how little you’re getting back? Do you experience fear when you think about being close to God, even as part of you longs to be close to God? Do you have rigid boundaries around your spiritual self in order to protect yourself from what you fear will be coercive or intrusive assaults by God or one of God’s followers? Are you driven in your quest for spiritual perfection and unable to rest in receiving God’s love?
Deal with addictive spirituality. Consider whether you may be affected by addictive spirituality. Do you use religious practices like a drug addict uses a drug – to achieve a certain feeling? Do you believe that God accepts you only because you do the right thing, feel the right thing, or think the right thing? How comfortable are you when you abstain from a certain spiritual practice? Do you find yourself unusually irritable, restless, and depressed when you abstain from it? Do you find yourself acting out in other ways? Do you begin to mentally obsess about the thing you’ve quit? Are you able to quit for as long as you promised? Or do you find yourself coming up with an excuse for returning to the behavior before the period of time is over? Are other people telling you that your spiritual practices have done harm to your relationship? Has anyone ever said that you’re too spiritually minded to be of any earthly good? Have you ever engaged in spiritual practices more than you intended? Has your commitment to spiritual practices ever gotten in the way of other important responsibilities? Over time, have you found it necessary to gradually increase the frequency or intensity of your spiritual practices in order to feel less anxious about your relationship with God? Do you continue certain spiritual practices even thought they leave you feeling depressed, anxious, and frustrated? Does the very idea of taking a close look at your spiritual practices make you angry or resentful?
Deal with codependent spirituality. Consider whether you may be affected by codependent spirituality. Do you often try to control other people’s beliefs or behaviors and tell yourself you’re doing so because of your deep concern for them? Do you frequently feel anxious about another person’s spiritual well-being? Do you feel personally responsible for setting people straight about their beliefs or actions? Are you attempting to control someone else’s spirituality? Do you make excuses for yourself when you intrude on someone else’s spiritual life, telling yourself that it’s for their own good? Have you lost your sense of where your own spirituality ends and another person’s relationship with God begins? Do you harbor deep resentments against others for not following your spiritual advice? Are you at risk of disempowering others by using your position of authority to exert undue influence over their relationships with God? Has anyone ever said (or hinted) that your efforts to be helpful spiritually were disrespectful or shaming? Do you think God needs your help to fix the people around you?
Identify distorted images you may have of God. What do you really believe about God? How does that compare with what He says about Himself in the Bible? How connected are your formal theological convictions and your real spiritual commitments – the way you actually interact with God in everyday life? For example, do you agree with the belief that God’s love is unconditional, yet still fear that He doesn’t love you when you make mistakes? Or, do you believe that God is patient, yet still think He has abandoned you because you’ve been struggling with the same character problems for a long time? What images of God inform your daily life? Sit down with a pen and some paper, then write as many descriptive words as you can about how you picture God when you’re alone or when you’re anxious. List any fears you have when you think about God. Then read biblical passages like 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 that describe God’s true qualities. Consider how the ways you see God compare to what He actually is like. Are you viewing God in any false ways – ways that aren’t consistent with the biblical truth about Him? If the God of your experience is anything other than the God of love and grace – and if your self-image is anything other than someone who is dearly loved by God – you need to rebuild your spiritual life from the ground up.
Start to rebuild your spiritual life. Turn away from your unhealthy approaches to spirituality and distorted views of God. Pray for the humility and courage you need to pursue God in new ways. Allow God’s love to quiet your heart, and ask Him to transform your attitudes, so you can g from shaming yourself to seeing yourself as God sees you, from trying harder to relying on grace, from blaming others to owning your own life, from despair to staying open to hope, and from isolation to seeking help and support.
Rely on God’s help. Although your own resources are limited, there is no limit to God’s power. Surrender every part of your life to Him, trusting Him to guide you and letting His grace flow into your life. Give up your futile attempts to be spiritual enough, good enough, or smart enough to run your life. Instead, pray about each person and situation you’re concerned about, offering your concerns to God and expecting Him to do what’s best. Listen to the messages God wants to give you through prayer, Bible reading, and meditation. Let go of self-reliance and striving, and rely on God for what you need.
Work through your struggles. Ask God to give you the honesty and humility you need to admit the truth about your struggles, confess them to God and other people, and make amends however you can. Start telling others about how God is working in your life. Whenever you have a natural opportunity, share something about your need for God’s grace and how powerfully God’s grace is healing you.
Live in community. Find a safe and supportive community of believers to continue your spiritual rebuilding work. Look for people who protect confidentiality instead of gossiping, identify with what you’re going through without giving unwanted advice, take responsibility rather than blaming, share leadership instead of forcing decisions on others, and express grace rather than judgment. Consider joining a support group or finding someone you trust to meet with you regularly to encourage you in your spiritual growth.
Pass your blessings on to others. Thank God for the love and grace you’re experiencing in your life by sharing love and grace with other people. Forgive the people who hurt you by asking God to help you see their brokenness and need for grace, and to empower you to extend grace to them just as God has given it to you. Serve other people in healthy ways – not by trying to earn God’s love or make yourself feel important through service, but by simply responding when God calls you to serve, as a way of thanking Him for His love.
Adapted from Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life, copyright 2008 by Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan, and Juanita Ryan. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Jeff VanVonderen is a speaker and consultant in the areas of addiction, family systems and recovery. He is one of the featured interventionists on the Arts & Entertainment Network show Intervention. He is the author of Good News for the Chemically Dependent, Families Where Grace Is in Place, When God’s People Let You Down, Tired of Trying to Measure Up and The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.
Dale Ryan is CEO of Christian Recovery International. He is also an assistant professor of recovery ministry and director of the Fuller Institute for Recovery Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has consulted with ministries in several countries who are seeking to develop support groups for alcoholics and addicts and their families. He is a coauthor of The Twelve Steps: A Spiritual Kindergarten, Rooted in God’s Love and Bible study guides published by InterVarsity Press.
Juanita Ryan is a clinical nurse specialist with an M.S.N. in psychiatric mental health nursing. She has taught mental health nursing at Bethel University, Rio Hondo Community College and Biola University. She is currently a therapist in private practice at Brea Family Counseling Center in Brea, California. She is the coauthor of The Twelve Steps: A Spiritual Kindergarten and the author or coauthor of over thirty InterVarsity Press Bible studies.