Saturday, July 18, 2009

Spiritual lies

If there's one question I hate to hear most of the time, it's "How's your spiritual walk?" It's not at all like being asked, "Hey, how's that hamstring?" or "How's your mom doing?" which can be* blown off with a quick "fine" and a handshake. How's your spiritual walk is a far more intimate and, frankly, judgmental question, because it carries powerful moral overtones.

It's a very spiritual-sounding question, and it immediately establishes the asker as a spiritual expert and maybe even a spiritual better. If you say, "fine," it gives the asker the chance to exhibit a pensive, "hmm..." and to let the askee know in no uncertain terms that the asker considers himself in a position to judge** whether that's indeed the case.

But I don't hate it for all the potential pomposity of the asker, but because it makes a liar out of the answerer. How's your spiritual walk puts the answerer immediately on the defensive, because although it may be asked with only the best of motives - or none at all - its being asked presumes a negative and morally-culpable answer. I mean, is anyone's spiritual walk all it could be? I suspect not. We all have sins and shortcomings, we all deal with setbacks, we all have those things in our lives that as soon as we think they are beat pop right back again until we begin to suspect we will only be fully rid of them when our our name is carved on a slab of granite over two dates, hopefully far apart.

But the possible answers are limited. We could tell the person the truth: that it's none of their business, but that is in bad taste and perhaps uncharitable and the asker will certainly be offended, for in all likelihood he was just making conversation***. In any case, even though it does not say anything in actuality about one's spiritual walk, it will be taken as an admission that it is poor or that you're a jerk.

So the answerer, assuming he really doesn't want to reveal his own innermost struggles to a stranger in a crowded church foyer, is forced to say something on the order of, "Hey, great, couldn't be better" or "It's not even a walk, but a brisk trot, or maybe even a canter." Hypocritical, plastic Christian, filling dead air with dead words, but there you go. We are forced into such an answer by the very fact that it's none of the person's business and our spiritual pride will not allow us to give the impression to a stranger that we are less a Christian than him. In asking such a question, we are virtually forcing the answerer to lie, to say things are fine when maybe they're not, to claim a spiritual mantle that perhaps none of us is worthy to bear.

Like many spiritual things, How's your spiritual walk has a power that needs to be respected but is not. It should cross the lips only to a person whose confidence we already share, in an environment that is proper, and on an occasion where the person can and wishes to honestly and openly share their moral, emotional, and spiritual struggles with us. When asked in that context, it can lead to a more powerful bond, a stronger friendship, and much-needed help offered between Christian brothers. When asked in passing, that spiritual power is wholly turned toward destruction.

* and is probably expected to be. I mean, you ever see the look on someone's face when they ask how you've been and you answer, "Well, I've got this chigger bite on the bottom of my sack and it itches so much I can barely sleep"? Me, neither, but I'm sure it's a shock, even though they asked.

** It's even worse when a questioner asks someone else about your spiritual walk, which wraps up both gossip and judgmentalism in one spiritual package. It's very dangerous ground for any Christian to tread.

*** Which is why, "Do you think Favre will make it through the whole season? Is a perfectly acceptable question to make in passing.

1 comment:

JN said...

How's this answer?

"Better than it used to be, not as good as I want it to be."