RESOLVING OUR PERSONAL AND SPIRITUAL CONFLICTS
As spiritual beings on our human journeys, we face or sometimes we are saddened and overwhelmed by numerous spiritual issues and they inhibit our flow in relationship with God, others and ourselves. What do we do to ameliorate our situation? The world and particularly the environments we find ourselves are so challenging and demanding today. The world is becoming less Christian by the day. The arrows of relativism and narcissism are becoming too strong and our parents too are affected. Priests are leaving the active ministry of the ordained ministry and above all the moral relativistic culture of the time and day has almost corrupted our powers of reason and faith or we are almost blindfolded and seemed not to know again what is right and what is wrong? What is the way forward? Our chief spiritual resource is prayer. However as we try to pray our way through let us embrace also the time tested approaches offered below.
Let us proceed on our journey of resolution and recovery by clarifying our construct – personal spiritual conflicts. Personal and spiritual conflicts are all the struggles we go through life and if not resolved, they may impede our opportunities to enjoy the freedom and joy that comes from our relationship with God. They are the struggles against sadness in the midst of affluence, anger, habitual sins and addiction of all kinds, anxieties, depression, stress, fears, the false self and its antics. Others are the search for meaning, faith crisis, the meaning of death, frustrations and disappointments.
Now, it seems as if our personal and spiritual conflicts are just coming closer to us or there were not there before. So, we are only realizing them now or we may have battled with them and thought we had defeated and eradicated them from our precious lives. However, the first point to note immediately is that all our personal and spiritual conflicts have their roots in our psychological experiences. Our situations are getting worse it seems because we perceive a lot from some unfriendly media and the inimical public. So, in a nutshell there are two worlds at war in us and the battle is which world will win?
The first way to begin resolving our personal and spiritual conflicts is getting to their roots. There could be many of such roots and a noticeable example would be the assessment of our first growth and developmental foundations that are registered in our childhood. We grew up from the domain of woundedness (what is called original sin and its effects in Catholic doctrines) and we easily forget it and/or we think we are over with it. The fact here is that our early beginnings can never over power us. But there is a condition to back up our submission and affirmation; that is, if we are aware of it and work to refine and redeem it or supply the missing needs of that era of our growth. Otherwise, it can take us unawares and pull us down. For instance, a child who could not receive praises, affections, or affirmations from his father and other male authority figures would find it very difficult to understand and appreciate God as a Father let alone love God wholeheartedly. The same is true about a child who experiences awkward attitude from a mother; it would be difficult for such a child to understand and appreciate the Blessed Virgin Mary as a Mother. No doubt, the grace of God can take care of our psychosocial needs; nevertheless, the popular Ancient Greece adage stands clearly here: “God helps those who help themselves.” This is always true and truest in our discourse.
Recall the story of healing by Jesus at the pool at Bethzatha (John 5:1-16). The man in need of healing was asked by Jesus: “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked the man such a question because He respected his freedom of choice. We have the freedom to help ourselves, the freedom to apply self-initiative. So, our task here is to examine our trauma and sadness in our early family life. Early childhood experiences, especially from a dysfunctional background that was not acknowledged and treated could lead to a chain of effects like fear – anger – mistrust – insecurity – and distorted relationship.
Mental approach. On a good day, everyone thinks! And according to Richard Rohr we all have addictions and an example of such addiction is the fact that at least we are all addicted to the way we think. Thinking is a core characteristic of every human being. We think in order to affirm our uniqueness, in order to create or invent new things and in order to solve problems or to handle challenging moments. Thinking also endows us with the ability to unlock several opportunities. Thinking is about generating and supplying information to the brain. Hence: “The brain is a system in which things happen according to the nature of the system. What happens in the brain is information. And the way it happens is thinking” (De Bono, 2015:12). However, many times our gift of thinking has become a source of our problems. Given the reign of imperfections and the devaluation of spiritual and moral values, thinking has become a very tasking issue. Scott Peck asserts that one of our major dilemmas in life is simplistic thinking or the failure to think at all. He gave an instance where we usually say it is not a problem but that is the problem. In a sense, most of our thinking, left to itself, is distorted, unreal, biased, partial, uninformed and judgmental. Examples of such thinking include: rigid beliefs and overblown convictions, jumping into conclusions, over/hasty generalisations, blaming oneself for collective responsibility, projecting and affirming a poor image of oneself, refusing to accept compliments, disqualifying oneself out of low self-esteem, magnifying little things, attachment to emotional reasoning, relying on “should” or “must” statements and so on and so forth.
The task of the mental approach of resolving our personal and spiritual conflicts is first of all, to remember that we carry not just our past memories but the pain or love associated with those memories. Secondly, we need to recall and reflect on our negative and positive memories and allow our positive memories to heal our negative memories. It is a journey back to the reservoir of our positive memories (love and strengths). This is in line with the St. Ignatius’ rules for discernment of spirits. He says, when we are feeling depressed or in desolation, we should go back to our positive memories or our consolation and take love once again from such memories and heal the negative memories (going back to positive memories). This is the application of what is called love power. We love because God has first loved us (1John 4:10). Therefore, our mental operations instead of being governed by our will power only are also informed by love power.
Emotional approach. There are many ways to emotionally approach our personal and spiritual conflicts. One of the unique ways is through forgiveness. We can forgive mentally by our decision to do so but forgiveness too can be emotionally exercised. Forgiveness can be expressed any time of the day, but it is particularly effective during our examination of conscience which usually comes up at the end of the day. Here, the Pauline teaching would become very apt because we need to prevent anger in particular and other conflicting threats (mental or emotional) from being carried into the next day (Eph. 4:26). This being the case, the sun does not go down on one’s anger and other personal and spiritual conflicts. We can truly forgive emotionally by being empathetic to the one who offended us, the one who inflicts hurt. How? The one who offends us is a weak person and in need of help. It is what you have in you that interprets a deficiency in another person. But without the spiritual eyes and lens you would be feeling that you are oppressed and offended. The truth is that the one who hurts you lacks the essential grace to act becomingly. Therefore, you cannot become unbecoming like him/her. You have to go ahead of him/her by exercising the power and gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness is necessary after reviewing one’s family life and the different stages or years of growth and development. To forgive from the emotional approach is to talk about those issues that hurts in a therapy and counselling session in order to be offered a professional space that is governed and regulated by the policy of confidentiality. Again, to forgive according to the emotional approach is a “choice.” I must admit that the choice is not easy, nevertheless, you and I need to free ourselves from the emotional prison of anger, hatred, and bitterness by forgiving (McGraw, 2002). When you and I forgive, we give ourselves the permission to move on in life irrespective of the dishonour of anger, hatred, bitterness and other personal and spiritual conflicts. More so, you could let the offence to go by the application of the rules of understanding and tolerance. Finally, we can forgive through prayers and the grace of the sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacrament offers the love of God and empowers us beyond our imagination to move out of ourselves and forgive others.
We have gathered that as people aspiring to love God wholeheartedly through the spiritual life, we are not immune from personal and spiritual conflicts. The challenge is not so much about the reality of personal and spiritual conflicts as the failure to acknowledge the conflicts and try to do something about them. It is hoped that if the tripartite suggestions offered in this piece are applied with the grace of God, transformation and stability in our turbulent world will surely take place. God bless our efforts and crown our spiritual growth processes with success and faithfulness, Amen.
Fr. John-Mary Atep