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In the Spotlight

Three Types of Spirituality

Contributed by Michael Pollitt, Deputy Director National Chaplain Center

White couple with eyes closed, forehead to forehead

We can live on junk food, at least for a while. However, junk food is not for healthy eating. Junk food is for pleasure. In time, we pay the price of our food choice. We have poorer health. In a like way, if we feed our inner spirit with pleasing but not healthy matter, over time we become poorer in spirit.

Religious spirituality

There are three types of spirituality. There is religious spirituality. Most of us know this kind. It involves belief in a being greater than oneself, church, and prayer. Some people try to be like the masters of spirituality in their church. Other people find their spirituality in the books of religions. It does not matter where or how they find their spirituality. For many people, their religious beliefs shape and define their spiritual lives. They are inseparable.

Non-religious spirituality

A second type of spirituality is non-religious spirituality. It centers on doing something positive. This gives a sense of peace in one¿s spirit. Non-religious spiritual acts often mean creating things or making something by hand. This act gives a sense of satisfaction. Fans of the television show NCIS may recall a scene. After Agent Gibbs solves a disturbing crime, he retreats to his basement. There he quietly, carefully works on his hand made boat. The message is simple. The act of creating something fed his soul. The acts of destruction he saw took away his sense of peace. Building something of beauty gives back his inner peace. His spirit is nourished back to health. Making the boat gives meaning and purpose to his life. This is an example of non-religious spirituality.

Toxic spirituality

The third kind of spirituality is toxic, or pseudo-spirituality. More often than not, this involves an action or the use of a substance. At first, this causes a good feeling, a rush. Too much use of drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, and the like all provide the person with a rush or feeling high. Even exercise, when done in excess, can make us feel good at first.

The action is repeated often to try to get back that good feeling. After all, it is only natural to seek things that make us feel good about ourselves. People want to believe that their lives have meaning. The problem comes up when such actions take over our lives. The action becomes meaning itself for us.

Choose life

An older white couple reading

Once we see these different types of spirituality, we can make a choice. I doubt that any of us would choose a spirituality that kills. That is what toxins do. Toxins kill. We would choose a spirituality that brings growth and life. Religious and non-religious spirituality bring growth and life. Toxic spirituality brings death. Sadly, the choice is not always easy to make. The task for you is simple, yet most important: Choose life!

Read More

Managing Stress (MedlinePlus) 

How Can Spirituality Affect Your Family's Health? (Nemours Foundation)

Offering Spiritual Support for Family and Friends (PDF) (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization) 

Spirituality and Stress Relief: Make the Connection (Mayo Clinic)

Updated January 12, 2016