"Everything happens for a reason."
"Look for the positive side."
"Let go, and let God."
"Good vibes only."
I included the above examples to demonstrate the phenomenon of what is called "spiritual bypassing". Originally defined by a psychologist, Spiritual Bypassing is the tendency to avoid and ignore the real, hard, confusing, and often traumatic events and experiences of life, often by forcing positivity. It is easier to bypass the real by clinging onto these positive affirmations and generalizations, so we allow ourselves to do so, again and again.
I have been considering this phenomenon a lot as we approach the end of 2020 and the beginning of a new year. It is far easier to process a year full of trauma and heartache by pushing down and fighting against the very emotions that make us human. Oftentimes, our religious or spiritual communities have the tendency to shame us for feeling and living the human experience, not just focusing on the good parts. In 2020, this has manifested in the obsession with "getting back to normal". Oftentimes, without examining the very flaws and structural inequalities that brought us to this current moment, we find ourselves grasping for that life-before-pandemic, rushing to return to what we view as normalcy. How many of us have idolized those months before March, brushing over the issues, the pain, and the hurt that was very much present?
I found myself falling into this same trap of spiritual bypassing. Desperate for college life, eating in restaurants, getting coffee with new people, going to church, going to class in-person.... "normal". As I longed for the days before masks and social distancing, I found myself flipping back through journals of the past few years, where I detail the good and bad days. I had neglected to consider the ways I was hurting, feeling alone, feeling lost, long before quarantine began. I also had failed to consider the ways in which I have grown, the perspective and awareness and recognition I have gained. In seeking out a return to normal, what are we rushing back to? And in what ways are we forgetting and bypassing the very real hurt that existed in past seasons of life?
We are often taught to view pain and sadness as weakness, to treat grief and unpleasantness as avoidable inconveniences. Even worse, many wellness-gurus and spiritual leaders have the tendency to shame those who are unable to solve complex psychological and mental health issues with prayer/meditation and positive thinking. To seek out help is often the brave choice, especially when your community pushes the "everything happens for a reason" slogan down your throat.
As a Christian, I have perhaps experienced this pressure to bypass most from the Christian community. I have been blessed with older religious mentors who acknowledge and bring their pain to the table, not as a crutch, but to heal from it being out in the open. Other Christian leaders and pioneers have fully embraced this way of thinking. One recent example that comes to mind is Pastor of Passion City Church, Louie Giglio. Over the summer, Giglio held a conversation on race. In it, he glossed over the pain and horror of American slavery, deeming slavery a "white blessing". When we seek out the good in things that are only evil, we continue the cycle of structural inequity going unchallenged, especially in Christian communities.
It is important for us to remember- "Jesus Wept". He wept over the wages of sin, over the pain, over the fear, in spite of who He was and His intimate understandings of the workings of God. Jesus Wept. Why shouldn't we allow ourselves to feel every emotion and acknowledge it, as we walk through our days without this complete understanding?
The best way we can show up for others in this moment is ignoring the appeal of spiritual bypassing. Refuse to buy into the catchy slogans and positive affirmations as substitutes for healing. As we approach a New Year, let us embrace the entire experience of being human, learning and healing from the hard times as much as we celebrate the good times.
Further reading and teaching: www.instagram.com/aundikobler