I will never forget my first emotion-amplifying, senses-enlivening encounter within a Worship experience. There’s an invigorating and motivating quality to the atmosphere. Being together with others and seeing God move in tangible ways stirs our affection for Him.
We were then forewarned about an inevitable spiritual challenge that would follow. Returning to the challenges of the outside world would bring about hardships and struggles. To navigate this, we were encouraged to persevere and diligently practice spiritual disciplines.
I want to raises some concerns about this potentially dangerous message!
As far as we can interpret, there are no biblical examples of individuals actively seeking religious, mystical, or ecstatic experiences. There are however many accounts of people having religious, mystical, (not sure I’d call them ecstatic) experiences. Such as the Holy Spirit descending upon the gathered at Pentecost, Abraham’s reverence before the unconsumed burning bush, Moses’ communing with God on Mount Sinai, and Mary and Joseph’s angelic encounters, all occurred unexpectedly—demonstrating that they transpired according to God’s divine plan rather than human pursuit.
None of these encounters with God were sought after by those to whom they happened. They unexpectedly happened…because God wanted them to happen.
Seeking these spiritual experiences, turns life into a euphoric supernatural facade.
I think we would all agree we are to seek God, to seek a relationship with Him not simply an experience. In our modern world the line between these two has become hard to see. To differentiate between these two pursuits, I want to look at development.
1. DEPENDENCE: During early childhood, children are dependent on their adults for meeting their basic needs, both physical and emotional. The emotional experience for a child whose needs are met, is a feeling of intense emotional comfort and security before a spurt of curiosity to venture forth moves them to explore the world. Inevitably at some point alarm will move the child to again seek out connection, and upon finding rest the process begins again.
This emotional support for comfort and security is healthy in a child or dependent. We call this emotional dependency. This is when a child depends on an caregiver to provide constant attention, approval, and support because they are unable to give it to themselves – this is natural and developmentally appropriate. Sometimes we see adults constantly seek that same comfort others, especially from a romantic partner. As a adult this is unhealthy and the need will never be met.
2. INDEPENDENCE: During the teenage transition, changes in the brain as a result of development, cause a child to seek autonomy, to differentiate themselves from their caregivers. They seek to try novel things by themselves, and to seek out new connections and support networks. A healthy transition to adulthood is always facilitated by having a safe place to come back to while recognizing the need to become their own person.
3. INTERDEPENDENCE: More balanced and mutually beneficial types of relationships begin to form. An adult can acknowledge that while individuals may have their own needs and desires, they can also support and depend on each other in various ways. An adult can maintain a sense of autonomy while still being emotionally connected. Secure attachments formed in childhood serve as a foundation for healthy interdependent relationships later in life.
Where does this leave us?
The search for these spiritual experiences to feel connected to God is a form of emotional DEPENDENCE. We are seeking that intense emotional comfort and security. The truth is, this is not our time to be dependent. Unfortunately, this form of dependence on God is what many young Christians believe the message from the front is informing them to try and do.
In our society we have also mistaken INDEPENDENCE as our goal of adulthood. I recently witnessed the results of this mistaken goal for an elderly person. As we get older, it is more dependence that is needed and this person became more alarmed as they were less and less able to look after themselves.
All adults have the potential of healthy INTERDEPENDENT relationships, where we can give and receive emotional support and share responsibilities. Even a mature relationship with God is characterized in this way where we maintaining a sense of individuality and separateness with our own free will, while also remaining emotionally connected to God. We feel connection and we feel agency at the same time.
This mixing of emotions or maturity, provides us with the capacity to be responsible. We are able to respond to the needs of others and by doing so make disciples. We are able to provide a space for others to become mature.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 — Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
I hope you can see emotional dependence is an appropriate and needed experience for a child, but as adults this emotional experience of dependence is only going to keep us stuck.
We give maturity space to unfold as we encourage and build one another up!