Spiritual pain has many sources and in many cases the causes overlap, interact and impact each other. In this chapter we will explore some of these causes as a precursor to our exploration of spiritual pain among people of faith in the Biblical record.
Shame disguised as guilt. Guilt is an appropriate reaction to the realization that I have done something wrong. I have violated my moral code or I have hurt others by my actions. When I feel this way, I am motivated to seek forgiveness and when possible make amends. I can forgive myself and accept forgiveness from God and others. Guilt is a healthy response to moral failure since it is based on acceptance of my humanity. Shame, on the other hand, focuses my attention on what an awful person I am to have done such a thing. I spend all my time brooding, reflecting on how terrible I am and how undeserving I am of forgiveness. In this state, I neither seek nor accept forgiveness. I am ashamed, but I do nothing about it. I wallow in spiritual despair without any hope of escape. The tragedy here is that we often confuse guilt and shame. We are wallowing in shame and think this is the appropriate response to wrong doing. Although both guilt and shame cause us to feel bad about what we have done, the critical difference is that one leads to repentance and the other leads to spiritual pain.
Perfectionism. Perfectionism is the unrelenting drive to achieve the absolute best that is possible in every way and at all times, whether spiritually, morally or physically. From the spiritual perspective, this belief gives rise to numerous unhealthy attempts to appear perfect to God and others. Inevitably, we fail and experience deep feelings of unworthiness and shame. As noted above, shame then leads me to believe I don’t deserve any consideration from God, whether of forgiveness or other blessings. The really sad thing is that most persons know it is impossible to achieve this ideal, but seem unable to prevent themselves from trying anyway. I am therefore trapped in a vicious cycle; on the one hand I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and shame therefore I try to be perfect, on the other hand the harder I try and fail the more unworthy I feel. Unfortunately, some religious leaders reinforce such feelings by teaching followers that God expects perfection as a condition for his acceptance. Perfectionism is often linked to some forms of mental illness such Eating Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
To be continued next week