Thursday, September 27, 2007

Spiritual Nutrition

Earlier this week I had lunch with a dear friend and we caught up on each other’s lives with all their challenges and joys. I was reminded yet again how satisfying and indeed essential good friendships and enriching relationships are in life. I have shared with you before the excruciating (and continuing) slowness of my pilgrimage out of introversion and into relational participation, so I will not belabor that topic. But suffice it to say that I am more and more convinced that the vital ingredient of happiness in general and of spiritual growth in particular is healthy and enriching relationships.

A recent Breakpoint essay (“A True Friend”; 9/24/07) cited a Duke University researcher’s conclusion that 25% of Americans have no one with whom they can have a meaningful conversation, and 50% have two or fewer people like that in their lives. Significantly, this kind of social isolation is associated with a greater likelihood of addiction and depression. Is it a coincidence that increasing numbers of Americans are experiencing these? We have our Blackberries, instant messaging, cell phones, email, MySpace, and personal blogs, but it’s the relational equivalent of fast food, far inferior to the healthy nutrition of deep friendships and enriching relationships.

The Breakpoint essay notes that the absence of personal friendships is also a sign of spiritual malnutrition. As Mindy Caliguire asks in her new small-group study guide, Spiritual Friendship, “What do you do when you can’t stand the thought of praying, when the words of the Bible seem plastic and false… when you have been doing everything ‘right’ and the bottom falls out?” In times like these, our spiritual friends help pull us through, serving as God’s “hands and fingers taking hold of me,” as one Puritan prayer puts it.

At West Houston we are putting a lot of emphasis on our small group ministry. Participating in a Life Group is one of the three “connections” we are urging folks to make as a regular part of their spiritual life. To be sure, we cannot have the kind of deep, personal friendships I mention above with an entire Life Group, though for the purpose of sharing our life, encouraging and praying for one another, and “sharpening” one another as Christ-followers, Life Groups are hugely valuable. But it may be that in your Life Group you develop a bond with one or two people and pursue that friendship outside of the group. Or, at the least, you exercise your relational muscles by giving of yourself to the group, blessing others, and being blessed by your participation. I was saddened, humbled, and also strangely inspired when a single mother in Los Angeles, in response to my question, “Do you have any close friends?” told me, “You and Angela.” I didn’t consider us particularly close, but the fact that we cared about her, regularly inquired about her, and took the time to talk to her and encourage her, was spiritual food for her soul. You never know how much someone will be blessed by your care and goodwill.

Some of the staff members and I are undertaking a weight-loss challenge together (64 pounds lost so far, 83 to go!). It’s a lot of fun, and very satisfying. We’re forming new habits involving food choices and good nutrition. Let’s remember also the spiritual nutrition of friendships.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How true your words are and boy how they have hit home with me! I don't feel that I have any friends that I can confide in. I am a very likeable person and people tend to be drawn to me for confiding in me....but I don't feel that I can do the same with any of them. I have drifted away from the Life Groups where I live...but maybe it's time to reconnect.

Thanks for the reminder!

5:26 PM  

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