6 Religious Misnomers About Personal Transformation (Part I):
1. Transformation happens at a point in time.
I remember back in the day, being asked to write out my “personal testimony.” The three parts of a good testimony were: (1) How messed up I was before meeting Christ and getting saved; (2) My getting-saved/ come-to-Jesus experience; (3) How my life miraculously changed with Jesus now in my life.
This idea of transformation can be detrimental. Rather than fully engaging a process of personal growth and doing the personal work involved, we become passive, waiting for the next big God-experience or encounter to miraculously change, transform, fix, or heal us. Transformation is not something that happens ‘to’ you or someone (including God) does ‘to’ you. If you’re waiting for transformation to happen in your life, you’re going to be waiting a loooong time.
Your active, ongoing, and evolving relationship with yourself, God, others and life is all part of personal transformation. Even “miraculous moments” of transformation are preceded by all kids of factors that made such a moment possible.
People sometimes feel shame (what’s wrong with me) because they have not had one of those God-miraculously-changed/healed-me experiences. People pray day after day that God will change, transform, fix or heal them, and feel betrayed that it doesn’t happen.
The scriptures say we already have everything we need for life and wholeness. But it’s a journey to discover, access and re-condition ourselves according to the truth of we are and what we have. I wish God would just zap me and be done with it. Not gonna happen! The reality is that personal growth and true transformation isn’t for the faint of heart, which is why everyone isn’t doing it.
The personal work of transformation is messy. It will take you to places you’ve spent your whole life running from, ask you to let go of those things you have held onto for comfort and security, confront you in areas that feel too much to bear, require you to do the very thing you know you cannot do, and drive you to the very end of yourself where you must face your fears, and be vulnerable.
Transformation is not a linear process – a line of growth and maturation steadily going up. It’s one step forward, two steps back. It doesn’t happen all at once… it happens in bits and pieces and stages over time. For every one breakthrough, there are five breakdowns.
Audrey Lorde once described herself by saying, “I am my best work – a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.” That sounds about right. Transformation is not something that happens at a point in time. Transformation is happening all the time, and sometimes we don’t even recognize it. I’m not even sure it’s advisable to make transformation a goal as if it is something to achieve. Life is inherently a transformative process – it’s like a dance. You just have to keep dancing.
2. Transformation is overcoming, improving, fixing or transcending your humanity.
Brené Brown wrote, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Too often the underlying premise of religion is that human beings are inherently bad, born “sinners,” and repulsive to and deserving of God’s wrath because of our natural state of being. It may not be articulated quite this way but for all intents and purposes the so-called “Gospel” of Christianity-gone-astray demands people to essentially say, “God, please forgive me for being me.” I don’t get why these people don’t consider that we were created in the image of God. Factoring that in, the request would more accurately be, “God, please forgive me for being the me that you made me to be.” Huh???
Religion insists that at the core we are bad – that something is inherently wrong with us that needs to be fixed and overcome. Well, actually, it doesn’t even say it can even be fixed, just forgiven. This message gets pounded in our head continuously, and it erodes that part of us, which Brené Brown pointed out, we need intact to be capable of growth. Religion sabotages our relationship with ourselves, eliminating the possibility of ever taking on the fullness of who God created us to be.
Part of this view includes a faulty understanding of something that religion enjoys focusing on, “sin.” Contrary to what many of us have been told, sin is falling short of experiencing the love, peace, freedom, wholeness, and well-being that God desires for every person. Sin is an orientation toward illusion and falsity – it’s a diminishment of our true identity as good and beautiful children of God. Each person is shadowed to some degree by a false self, and when we give expression to that false self we sow seeds of disharmony in our world. God’s love and acceptance of each of us does not fluctuate based on where we are on the journey or in the process of becoming who we really are. Transformation is not behavior modification but a fundamental and profound shift in knowing who we are. Spiritual battle is the conflict between the false and true self.
It has always seemed curious to me the double-standard for a religious leader to say essentially, “You are human, which means you are a sinner, which means you cannot trust yourself. So instead, trust me and what I tell you.”
Too often religion cuts us off at the knees by telling us all the things that we can’t do or not capable of… because we are flawed, defective, broken, inadequate, and worse.
Transformation isn’t about depending on a higher power outside of you, it’s about accessing the divine resources inside of you.
Transformation isn’t about seeking forgiveness for who and what you are, it’s about bringing full-expression to who and what you are.
Transformation is not about overcoming yourself, it’s about shedding the story that diminishes your worth, and writing a new one that honors it.
Transformation is not an apology for yourself, it’s staking claim to yourself.
Why is it that we want to demonize our humanity when Jesus came to demonstrate the power and beauty of it? The problem isn’t that we are too human; it’s that we are not human enough.
3. Be leery and protect yourself from outside influences.
Isaac Newton stated, in his first law of motion, that: “An object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” I think this law of emotion applies to our personal and spiritual growth and evolution.
Religion can sometimes be a hindrance to our growth journey by creating a separatist mentality among it’s members. When we become entrenched in a particular sub-culture we cut ourselves off from connection and relationship with others outside that sub-culture, which significantly limits who and what is contributing to our journey of growth and transformation. In other words, the “us” and “them” mentality is just as detrimental to “us” as “them” – it’s a “lose, lose” scenario that stunts our growth.
Thinking of Newton’s first law of motion, when we are locked away in our religious sub-culture, there is little or no “unbalanced force” present. This can easily create an environment of “groupthink,” which is the psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity results in a minimization of conflict and an absence of critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. Rather than critically evaluating information, the group members begin to form quick opinions that match the group consensus. Groupthink seems to occur most often when a respected or persuasive leader is present, inspiring members to agree with his or her opinion.
I have an Inbox filled with emails from people who share they never felt church was a place they could be honest about their questions and doubts, and instead were sometimes demonized as a result of respectfully questioning the prevalent view. People who express differences of opinion or who want to probe and explore beyond the status quo are often viewed as a threat in their religious sub-culture.
Contrary to popular belief, just like you don’t become a Big Mac by walking into a McDonald’s, a person isn’t going to become an Atheist, Buddhist, or whatever because they have a friend who is or because they want to explore and increase their understanding of views and beliefs that are different from their religious sub-culture. Sometimes it feels like religious leaders don’t give people much credit or trust to think for themselves.
I have good friends who are Atheists, Buddhists, Wiccans, Catholics and about everything else under the sun, and my friendships with them have contributed much to my own growth journey. I have learned that EVERY human being knows something that I need to know.
The only way to keep groupthink going is through fear and ignorance – fear of diverging from the prevailing view, and a mischaracterization of other views and beliefs, which is nothing more than ignorance. But sadly, it works on too many people.
There’s much more to say about this than I have time for right now, and so I’ll have to come back to it later.