There’s a particular sickness you might have if you grew up in Church World1. The sickness? Spiritual Accomplishment Urgency Syndrome. The symptoms often include:
- You feel a need to be at all church activities. Even if you don’t go, you feel guilty about it.
- You feel guilty because you don’t pray enough, or read the Bible enough.
- You feel guilty because you haven’t taken on a new ministry role at church. (Maybe you’re even avoiding going to church because you don’t want to have the conversation about not being willing or ready to serve.)
- You secretly believe that pastors, evangelists, Christian writers and musicians are a little bit more committed to their faith than other people. After all, they are the ones who really have gone “all in.”
- You hate the idea of witnessing (it feels so invasive) but feel guitly for not doing it.
- You doubt God’s care for you sometimes, and then feel guilty because of it.
- You don’t pray at meals in public, but feel a little anxious and guilty because of it.
- You’ve not read the latest powerful Christian book that everyone at church is reading, and you don’t really want to (and you feel a little guilty about it.)
Do you notice a theme? Are you feeling a little guilty about it?
There’s another way this illness manifests itself. For a season, you actually do all these things. You serve, and pray, and read, and give, and witness, and study, and you do it with all your might—and yet, when you catch a moment alone with your heart, you fear that God doesn’t really love you or accept you or forgive you.
This sickness is draining all the joy out of your life. It’s leading you away from a more engaged and intentional spiritual life.
In his book, Radically Normal: You Don’t have to live Crazy to follow Jesus, Josh Kelley (Website / Facebook / Twitter) tackles this sickness, and offers a perspective that may help you find healing and a much more meaningful, and enjoyable spiritual life.
How peculiar are you?
I grew up in a faith community that constantly talked about how we were meant to be a “peculiar people.” “Live in the world, but not of the world,” I heard over and over again. The heroes who were held up to inspire us were missionaries doing battle with witch doctors, evangelists taking the gospel to the streets, families who gave away everything they had to support Christian education. Inspiring stories!
These stories came with an unspoken dark side. Normal people, people with normal jobs, just trying to make ends meet, they just weren’t as spiritual. They had to pay their bills, but it was a sad sacrifice that they couldn’t really give their all for Jesus. This led to a two-tiered community. The really spiritual people who gave their all. And the rest of us. Our role was to show up, to do our little volunteer bit, and to give. But that was definitely less than the ideal.
Combine this crazy view with a strong sense of legalism, and you had a whole community of people who always felt they could never do enough. Their faith was a treadmill, one that went a little too fast, and the off switch was just out of reach.
Josh Kelly experienced something like this, and perhaps so have you. But this picture of spirituality is all baggage. Even worse, it leads many of us to just throw our hands up in despair, assuming that we can’t really have a spiritual life amid the commitments and obligations of our day-to-day life.
What is Normal, anyway?
Josh digs into scripture (and a lot of C.S. Lewis) to tackle this myth, and offer a sign post to a different kind of life. Out of his pastoral experience, and a long season of when he had to work in an enviroment that wasn’t his first choice, Josh shares story after story of how God unpacked his expectations and helped him experience grace and purpose in the daily and mundane things of life.
The whole book is a critique of our view of what’s “normal.” Folks who’ve come down with Spiritual Accomplishment Urgency Syndrome feel that normal must be hyper-commitment where every hour and every dollar is leveraged to it’s fullest potential to spread the Gospel.
But since they can’t really live that way (I mean, does paying the water bill advance the gospel? What about having a Netflix account?) they feel constant guilt and shame about not being enough. Christians who have decided not to walk this treadmill often think they’ve chosen a “normal” life, and yet feel a nagging guilt about how they are following Jesus.
So what is a normal Christian life? The normal Christian life that Josh proposes is one saturated in Grace. This is the antidote to our never-ending drive to perform and accomplish. He writes:
“Enough is one of the most devastating words in the Christian’s vocabulary. How can you know when you’re doing enough? It’s simple. You are never doing enough. There are always more prayers to pray and verses to read. This is one of the most neglected aspects of grace—even at our very best, we can never practice the spiritual disciplines enough. In the end, its still about relying on God’s grace and trusting Jesus to do what we cannot. Spiritual health isn’t found in obsessively trying to do it all but gratefully playing the part he’s given us.” 2
In this radically normal life everything takes on divine importance. Taking care of the kids, working a sales job, camping, talking with your neighbors, making decision about how to spend money and time. God wants to be integrated into all of this.
The outcome is not a day with more hours spent praying, reading the Bible, and doing church projects. The outcome is very nearly the same day you had before, but now it’s tinged with the presence of God, and weighted by divine purpose. As we live more and more this way, we find ourselves experiencing less of the anxious drive to perform. Instead, we might find ourselves experiencing our day-to-day lives more, and even seeing God present in those moments in ways we never did before.
* This is an Affiliate Link. If you purchase the book by clicking on this link, I will receive an infinitesimal kick-back for the referral. I promise to use my ill-gotten gains to buy more books to read or possibly frivolous electronics. See my full Disclosure Statement.
- this is Andy Stanley’s name for the deep sub-culture of evangelical Christianity where the church, church activities, and good church behavior are an overwhelming presence in your life. If you grew up going to church more than once a week, went to church schools, or had any kind of legalistic Christian upbringing, you grew up in Church World. It’s not like Disney World. ▲
- Josh Kelley, Radically Normal, p. 107 ▲