Spiritual Growth: The Challenge of Modern Times

Nil desperandum (never despair).


To grow spiritually in a world that is defined by power, money, and influence is an almost Herculean task. Modern conveniences, electronic equipment, gadgets, and tools as well as entertainment through television, magazines, and the Internet have seemingly predisposed many of us to confine our attention mostly to our physical needs and wants. As a result, our concepts of self-worth and self-meaning have become muddled and confused. So the question is, how can we learn to strike a new balance between the material and spiritual aspects of our lives? What does it mean to grow spiritually?

To grow spiritually is to look inward.

Introspection goes well beyond just recalling to mind the things that happened in the last day, week, or month. You need to look closely and reflect on your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and motivations. Periodically making the time to examine your experiences, the decisions you make, the relationships you have, and the things you engage in can help provide you with useful insights. These insights can cover a lot of ground- your life goals, the good traits you need to work on sustaining, and the less admirable traits you want to try to discard. Moreover, it gives you clues on how to act, react, and conduct yourself in the midst of any situation.

Like any other life-skill, introspection can be learned. But it requires courage. It takes courage and the willingness to seek the truths that lie within you.

If you decide to be introspective, keep these three things in mind.

  • Be objective
  • Be forgiving of yourself
  • Focus on the areas that you think are due for improvement.

To grow spiritually is to develop your potential.

Religion and science have very different views on matters pertaining to the human spirit. Religion views people as spiritual beings temporarily living on Earth, while science tends to view the spirit as one of many dimensions of an individual.

Mastery of the self is a recurring theme in most teachings, both Western and eastern. The needs of the body are recognized but placed beneath the needs of the spirit. Beliefs, values, morality, rules, experiences, and good works provide a blueprint to ensure the growth of the spiritual being.

In psychological terms, realizing one’s full potential is to self-actualize. Maslow identified several human needs: physiological, security, belongingness, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualization, and self-transcendence. When you have satisfied the basic physiological and emotional needs, spiritual or existential needs come next. Fulfilling each need leads to the total development of the individual.

Maybe an easier way to see the difference, and this is a huge generalization, is that, Christianity and Islam see self-development as a means toward serving God better, while psychology views self-development as an end in itself.

To grow spiritually is to search for meaning.

Religions that believe in the existence of God such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam suppose that the purpose of the human life is to serve the Creator and act in accordance with His will. Several theories in psychology, on the other hand, propose that we ourselves ultimately give meaning to our lives.

Whether we believe that life’s meaning is pre-determined or self-directed, to grow in spirit is to realize that we do not exist, just for the sake of existence. We do not know the meaning of our lives at birth. But, we gain knowledge and wisdom from our interactions with people and from our actions and reactions to the situations we find ourselves in.

As we discover this meaning, there are certain beliefs and values that we reject and while there are others that we affirm. Our lives have purpose. This purpose puts all of our physical, emotional, and intellectual potentials to good use, sustains us during the trying times, and gives us something to look forward to, A goal to achieve, a destination to reach. A person without purpose or meaning is like a drifting ship at sea.

To grow spiritually is to recognize interconnections.

Religions stress the concept of our relatedness to all of creation, both living and inanimate. Thus we think of other people as our “brothers and sisters” even if there are no direct blood relations. This relatedness is clearly seen in the concept of ecology, the interaction between living and non-living things. In psychology, connectedness is a characteristic of self-transcendence, the highest human need according to Maslow.

Recognizing your connection to all things tends to make you feel more humble and respectful of everything. It makes you appreciate and everything and everyone around you. It moves you to go beyond your comfort zone and reach out to other people, and become a better steward of all other things around you.

Growth is a process, so to grow in spirit is a one day at a time journey. You will take many steps forward and then a few steps back, but the important thing is that you keep learning. And, from this knowledge, further spiritual growth is made possible.


photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/2864168894/sizes/z/in/photostream/

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