How Could the Enneagram Personality Test Relate to Christian Counseling?

Words can be a funny thing. Over time, their meaning can change and new words come into our vernacular. One word you might be hearing more often is “Enneagram.” For those who don’t know what it is, it might sound like a diagram. Others think it’s a medical tool, like a sonogram. Often people hear it and think it’s something scientific that doesn’t apply to them.

Today let’s unravel what it is and why it’s useful for everyone. This helpful personality tool is being used by counselors, spiritual directors, pastors, small group leaders, and everyday people. It has even been connected to the Seven Deadly Sins to help us understand our sin nature.

What is the Enneagram Personality Test?

“The Enneagram opens you to an extraordinary view of the truth about you. It can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally.” – Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, by Adele Doug Calhoun and Clare Scott Loughrige

At its most basic, it is a tool for understanding personality. As we expand from there we see it’s a valuable resource for spiritual development. It teaches us ways we’re prone to struggle, our weaknesses and strengths, and ways to find harmony.

Nine Enneagram personality types are the main focus. Though there are sub-types and wings as well, most people are concerned with their main type. Each type corresponds to a number. These types influence how we understand and interact with the world, others, God, and ourselves.

The name comes from the Greek word enneawhich means nine andgram meaning figure. Each of the nine types is mapped out into a geometric design. On this chart, we see how the other numbers interact with and influence one another. It can also show ways we lean to another number during periods of stress, trauma, or transition.

The exact origins of the Enneagram personality test are a mystery. It’s an ancient method for understanding human personality. This tool has been used by Christians and other religions around the world for centuries.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that tool came to the United States. American-trained psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo brought it here. He helped merge the nine types and modern psychological research. After bringing it to the US, one of Naranjo’s first students was a priest named Father Robert Ochs. He began teaching it as a tool at Loyola seminary. It has continued to spread and is now known by millions.

Today many of Ochs’ original students are teachers themselves. Often those who teach and offer Enneagram coaching share their lineage to Ochs. This is similar to how we share our family lineage. Coaches are available through counseling offices, churches, private practice, online, and more. You’ll find books, classes, and even a few apps available to help guide you on your journey, all thanks to one man bringing it to the US.

Using the Enneagram in everyday life

It can be far too easy to take a personality test and never think about it again. We take the test everyone on Facebook is taking, think “hm, that’s interesting,” post our results, and never think about it again. Even with a tool this transformative, this still happens. There is an urge to find out our type without exploring it so we feel like we fit in is for all of us.

Diving into our type feels vulnerable. It feels like opening ourselves up to parts we may not want to know about or face. Yet diving in has the chance to transform your life in the best of ways.

Knowing what our type looks like as healthy and unhealthy gives us tools to approach challenges. Your study will point back to yourself, as well as to how you relate to others and to God.

Benefits of the Enneagram

These are some of the ways the Enneagram has benefited people in their everyday lives:

  • Couples have found it helpful to understand their partner’s behaviors, beliefs, core longings, and struggles.
  • In the workplace, bosses and managers are using it to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and build a strong team.
  • Pastors and priests can use it to better understand themselves and their parishioners.
  • Parents have found it to be a wonderful way to relate to their adult children.
  • Our type can also give us unique insight as to how we relate with God, the areas where we sin, and spiritual disciplines that will benefit us.
  • In small groups knowing one another’s type can help group members interact with each other with more grace and kindness.

This is transformative and has changed countless lives worldwide. According to author Beth McCord “…The Gospel itself is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.” (Becoming Us: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel Centered Marriage)

Some people are private about their type. Perhaps they feel ashamed of their type or feel revealing their type will give away information they’re not ready to share. Just as we never push someone to tell us personal information, we never want to push someone to tell us their type.

Finding your Enneagram type

People are usually eager to find their types. For some, this is a quick process and they’re able to find their type within a matter of days or even hours. In other cases, it can take weeks, months, or even years.

It seems to be especially difficult to find one’s type if someone has been through trauma, chronic stress, or other challenging situations recently. In those situations, we often lean towards a different type. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to type themselves then study more or come out a chaotic life situation to realize they were actually a different type.

The best way to begin finding your type is to read brief descriptions. Next, find additional resources and do more in-depth reading about that type and its wings. Sometimes people will choose to do a thorough study of each type over a long period of time. Then they type themselves after coming to an understanding of all the types.

There are a few apps and online quizzes that offer the ability to type yourself as well. As with anything online, some are better than others. Take them with a grain of salt as only a good way to get initial ideas. Then dive into deeper research of that type to see if it sounds like you.

You’ll find courses and books galore. There are dozens of podcasts, YouTube videos, and sermons available to help out. The Christian band Sleeping At Lasteven wrote a song based on each type. People have found them to be quite helpful when trying to discern their type.

It can be tempting to type others but don’t try. We want to relate to them better, unravel their quirks, or justify their actions. A person’s type is personal. In typing ourselves, we face aspects we may not have ever faced before. Typing oneself involves exploring things our closest friends and family may not even be aware of. It’s not possible to know what others think, feel, or experience so it’s not possible to type anyone else.

Don’t worry if this all feels overwhelming to you – it’s almost like learning a new language. Exploring with a trusted guide such as a spiritual director, pastor, priest, or counselor can be helpful. They can help you to find your type and help work through feelings that might arise. Then you can work together to figure out how to engage with God and how you understand God in light of your type. Christians are finding this to be one of the most helpful resources in understanding their own sin nature and building a strong walk with God.

The Enneagram Personality Test is also a powerful tool in the context of a counseling relationship. Working with the psychological background in mind has proven to be quite helpful. Let your counselor know if this is a tool you’re interested in exploring together.

Photos:
“Writing”, Courtesy of Green Chameleon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Discovery”, Courtesy of Noble Mitchell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ethereal Lane”, Courtesy of Casey Horner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Studying”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Ways to Relieve Stress from Your Life

When is the last time you felt stressed? What caused it? Are you stressed right now? Take a minute to consider when, during your day and week, you tend to feel the most overwhelmed and tense. When are you under the most strain? What physical and emotional signs of stress do you experience when the tension goes on for too long?

We all go through times of feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Maybe you think being constantly stressed is normal. Or, maybe you feel like it’s a completely negative condition to have that sense of emotional stress.

It’s possible, especially if you grew up in an abusive or dysfunctional household, that you’re not used to living without a feeling of constant stress and tension. But, you should know that even though feeling stressed out is a normal occurrence for everyone, you don’t have to live with chronic stress with no healthy coping mechanisms. There is hope to deal with chronic stress, to escape it when possible, and to manage it optimally if you can’t escape it.

The truth is that stress is a complex experience that affects the brain, body, and emotions. There’s no simple explanation for what causes it, how to reduce stress, and how to manage the necessary stress that’s an inevitable part of our daily lives.

But, there are some answers available to you, and more importantly, there is support if you are feeling too overwhelmed to manage life stressors on your own. Let’s talk more in detail about the meaning of stress, types of stress, ways to relieve stress, and what you can do if there’s just too much for you to manage.

Defining Stress and the Causes of Stress

According to the Cleveland Clinic:

“Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.”

In other words, not all stress is bad stress. It’s just that our bodies respond to change with physical symptoms of stress, and all of us have different thresholds for how much we can tolerate before feeling overwhelmed. Negative life experiences will inevitably affect us physically and emotionally.

So, if your body reacts to significant life events with specific responses, how can you know how much stress is too much? If you’re noticing signs of stress, or if you’re going through a long season of chronic stress, what can you do to cope? Coping with difficult experiences or life changes helps us build resiliency, the ability to emotionally navigate and withstand hard circumstances.

If we never faced the need to adjust to new situations or cope with tough experiences, we would never develop the emotional resources to manage difficulty. People who cannot cope with any form of stress end up being emotionally immature and having life and relationship difficulties. Paradoxically, the less we can cope with stress, the more stressed out we will become.

But let’s reiterate, this doesn’t mean that stress is always a good thing. In fact, chronic stress is linked to increased risk of disease and death, and it can cause physical and emotional problems, or lead to unhealthy and destructive coping mechanisms such as chronic procrastination, overeating, or substance abuse.

Causes of Stress

That’s why it’s so important to identify the causes of your stress, do what you can to reduce it, and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage your response to circumstances you can’t change.

According to WebMD, the biggest causes of stress are:

  • Work and the various difficulties inherent in a person’s job.
  • Life events such as moving, divorce, or trauma. These can be positive (marriage, the birth of a child, etc.) or negative (difficult situations, trauma, tragedy, etc.).
  • Internal feelings of fear, unrealistic expectations, or negative attitudes.

Types of Stress

Psychology Today explains that there are three types of stress:

  • Acute: An argument, a missed deadline, a car accident.
  • Episodic Stress: Regular small crises that cause accumulating tension.
  • Chronic: Serious life problems that may be fundamentally beyond our control: poverty, war, or racism. The demands are unrelenting and you don’t know when they will stop.

The Effects of Stress

Everyone has their own natural level of response to stress, but all of us have a built-in physical stress response. In the short-term, when we feel unsafe, our bodies produce “fight-or-flight” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare us to flee or overcome an attacker.

But, if we are exposed to these hormones consistently for long periods of time, we will start to notice negative health effects and signs of stress, such as digestive problems, sleep problems, headaches, flare-ups in chronic conditions, etc. Mental health issues are also common with long-term stress, including depression and anxiety.

Although you can develop positive coping mechanisms in the short term or for acute stress, chronic stress is very detrimental to health. According to Medical News Today, symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Irritability
  • Frequent illness
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

These are some of the conditions that may be a result of chronic stress:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • PTSD
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety disorders
  • A weakened immune system

Clearly, chronic stress can be a dangerous condition. Sometimes, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if you use unhealthy coping mechanisms to respond to stress. These negative patterns can cause more stress.

This means you lack the ability to move on from difficulty, change what you can in your circumstances, and respond in the best way possible that doesn’t cause you more problems on top of the original stressor.

Ways to Relieve Stress

Some causes of stress are outside of your control:

  • Maybe you or a loved one has a disease or chronic condition that you have to manage, and there’s no cure, or treatment stretches out for years.
  • Maybe you are in a toxic marriage or household, and you don’t have the means to leave.
  • Maybe you are in a destructive situation at work, but you have to keep working because you are the sole source of income for your family and other jobs are scarce.

In these situations, your feelings of being trapped and helpless can exacerbate your ongoing stress.

Even if you can’t eliminate the causes of your stress, there is still hope for you. There are resources that can help you live your best life even in the midst of a situation you can’t change. There are measures you can take to care for yourself in the midst of toxic or tragic situations.

Learning small coping mechanisms can be step #1 on the road to regaining a sense of agency in your life. There are some situations we can’t change, but we don’t have to let learned helplessness take over. Stress reduction can look like breathing, relaxation, walking, or art. You can proactively care for yourself by eating well, practicing gratitude, doing yoga, or exercising.

Verywell Mind includes the above strategies in the category of fast-acting stress relief. Sometimes, though, there are things about a situation that you do have the power to change. If this is the case, it might be time to shift into problem-solving mode:

  • Can you reduce your workload, get help from others, or cut back on caffeine and sugar?
  • Can you make a long-term plan and take the first step for getting out of a toxic situation?
  • How can you take a break, even if you can’t avoid the source of the stress altogether?

Christian Counseling to Reduce Stress

Seek counseling for stress if you need to. Feeling heard, understood, and supported is vital to help your mind, body, and emotions cope with a host of difficult stressors.

Christian counseling for stress management can help you process your emotions in a safe and compassionate environment, then take the next step to develop coping mechanisms and problem-solving strategies. Your counselor will use proven therapeutic techniques integrated with a faith-based perspective, with the goal of drawing you closer to Christ.

Contact our office today for your risk-free initial appointment.

Resources:

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/open-gently/201812/the-three-types-stress

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/causes-of-stress#2

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324.php

Photos:

“Stressed”, Courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Checking Social Media”, Courtesy of Jeshoots.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Enjoying the Sun”, Courtesy of Radu Florin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “…and breathe…”, Courtesy of Rabin Benzrihem, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Eight Truths About Therapy You Might Not Know

Many people claim that they are “aware” about the use of therapy for mental illnesses. In fact, on both the big and small screens, characters are often shown visiting a therapist to assist them with their mental or emotional issues.

Unfortunately, this “awareness” of theirs leads to the conclusion that only those in dire straits, those with no one else to talk to, or only those with the means can avail of such help. Sadly, this prevents many people from availing of needed help until it is too late, which should NOT be the case.

There is still much to clarify about therapy in this modern age.

Some Important Clarifications about Therapy

1. Therapy IS meant for all.

Aside from worries about the cost, there really is a stigma attached to the idea of therapy. People just don’t want themselves, or their loved ones, to be labelled as “crazy,” particularly in this age of social media where news can spread instantly.

Although self-respect is important, too much pride – either for oneself or for one’s family – becomes a big hindrance. Without professional help, a person suffering from mental or emotional issues has a slimmer chance of getting better and a higher chance of life becoming more difficult.

Mental and emotional problems interfere with many aspects of life, lowering the possibility of success at school, work, or at home. So the earlier a person is properly treated, the better for everyone involved.

2. Therapists are NOT there to judge their clients. They just educate impartially.

The idea of sharing one’s deepest fears and secrets can be very frightening. This is why many choose to stay quiet about such, even if a close loved one is asking.

Therapy, however, is meant to be a venue where a person CAN share these inner thoughts, fears, and desires without being judged, ridiculed, or exposed. Professional therapists know this and approach each situation with an open mind, giving unbiased advice on what to do. As they are not personally involved, it is sometimes even easier for them to notice things that family members and friends cannot see; or share the advice that loved ones with vested interests do not want to say.

When many people are involved, group therapy can become a way for all parties to share their side with an unbiased therapist managing the conversation so that negative emotions are handled well. In such a neutral environment, rocky relationships have a better chance of mending, giving hope to all concerned.

3. Therapy takes time.

Unfortunately, many try therapy thinking it will be a quick fix. But after a few sessions, they decide to opt out because it is seemingly taking too much time.

Just like many other medical conditions or emotional setbacks, therapy requires time for things to sort themselves out. Years of abuse, anger issues, low self-esteem, or addictions cannot be overcome in a week’s or even a month’s time. Sufficient time is needed for the therapist to help sort through the underlying issues, and time is necessary for the person’s heart and mind to finally accept what has happened and move forward in life.

4. Full participation is necessary.

Every person’s circumstance is different, which means the therapist has to consider what approach will work best. This is why there may be different suggestions or assignments for the person to try. If they do not work out, then something else may be suggested in the next session.

Things, however, become difficult when the client does not fully participate. Because of doubts, busyness, or pride, some clients do not accomplish their assignments, making it hard for the therapist to do their job. Full participation is a must for therapy to work well.

5. The client is in control.

Most people are not happy about always being told what to do, especially when one has invested much time and money into something. This is another reason why some shun the idea of therapy as they believe that in therapy they will simply follow someone else’s regimen, not theirs. Such thinking, however, is far from the truth.

While there are protocols that therapists follow, each therapist knows that healing cannot occur if the client is not comfortable with the process. So while there will be suggestions to follow and assignments to do, everything begins with what the person needs as communicated in the sessions. Therapists understand this and are willing to adjust according to what works best for each client.

6. Sometimes the situation may get worse before it gets better.

Since mental issues are very complex, it is often necessary to revisit painful experiences or discuss shameful thoughts or desires. Doing so, however, usually elicits negative emotions which can make the counseling process more difficult to bear. In fact, many clients feel like quitting as they wrongly believe the therapist is adding to their mental burden rather than alleviating it.

But as stated earlier, therapy takes time and requires full participation. And if there are many layers of pain that have caused the present situation, each layer needs to be addressed lest they return to haunt the client in the future. Hence, each client needs to stay the course, knowing that sometimes things have to get worse before changes can begin.

7. Therapists CAN understand what the client is going through.

Some people are hesitant to continue therapy, or even start it, because they believe that their situation is much too difficult for someone else to handle, regardless of their expertise. They think what they are going through is “too crazy” for anyone else to understand, so they opt to deal with it on their own.

Professional therapists, however, have already learned, seen, and experienced much in their training and practice. While each person’s situation is truly unique, there are still many similar emotions and desires that each client feels. So therapists CAN understand what the client is feeling, no matter how grave their circumstances. This is why they are able to help those who seek their assistance.

8. Therapy requires the right therapist.

Unlike other physical ailments, there is no single solution to each mental health problem. Every client’s background and personality have to be taken into consideration before the right steps can be made. This is why it is important that both the client and therapist are able to work well with one another.

While it may seem strange that a trained professional cannot help their client, such an occurrence happens regularly in many fields that require close communication like teaching, coaching, and even wedding planning. Sometimes particular personalities and styles fit; while other times they clash, preventing positive gains. Thus, it pays to put some effort into the search.

One good way is to ask friends for referrals as they may have had firsthand experience. It also pays to search online as many counseling websites post the expertise of their therapists. But in many instances, the “right fit” won’t be gauged until client and therapist have sat down and begun their discussions. Fortunately, therapists are aware of the need for a “good fit” so they are not hurt when a client opts to continue elsewhere.

Christian Counseling as a Better Option

Mental and emotional issues take a heavy toll on both the mind and body. But one other aspect they also hurt is the spirit. This is why even though the person may seem to be on the road to recovery, there may be inner spiritual turmoil that causes them to regress later on. So though secular therapy can be helpful to an extent, it is always better to seek Christian counseling.

Similar to secular therapy, in Christian counseling the latest therapeutic techniques will also be used to discuss and resolve the client’s mental and emotional issues. But most importantly, the faith-based counselor will introduce the client to the love and mercy of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. With prayer and meditation on God’s Word, the client’s spiritual needs will be addressed leading to a more complete recovery.

If you or a friend is suffering from a mental or emotional issue, do not hesitate anymore to seek professional help from a Christian counselor. Complete healing can only begin with the right assistance.

Photos:
“Comfort Therapy”, Courtesy of Mindy Jacobs Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Group Therapy”, Courtesy of Rudamese, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Therapy”, Courtesy of Rawpixel.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Screen time,” courtesy of Neonbrand, unsplash.com, CC0 License

How to Set and Achieve Realistic Personal Development Goals

It is important to live with intentionality. To achieve our own personal growth, we need to set goals and make active progress forward. These can’t just be any goals. They need to be specific goals covering three aspects. These goals need to be guided by purpose, give you direction, and need to be made thoughtfully and well.

Imagine a motor boat. It has all the normal parts an engine, propeller, rudder, compass, and hull. The engine and the propeller allow it to move forward. This is your purpose. The rudder and the compass help it navigate the seas. This is your direction. And finally, the hull makes sure it makes it through stormy seas. This is a thoughtful, well made decision to help you get through adversity. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Personal Development Goals: Guided by Purpose

The first aspect of goals we will examine is the purpose. A good goal is guided by purpose. Every goal should move you toward a purpose, and more importantly, toward your purpose.

To put it simply, the purpose of a goal is knowing what you want to achieve.

As a result, you can set goals like this in all sorts of realms whether it be financial, spiritual, personal, romantic, etc. The idea of a goal is to keep us heading in a direction with a purpose rather than vaguely moving forward.

What can be more difficult to determine is to ask “what is your purpose?” “What are you supposed to do?” “Why did God create you?” To help you orient yourself, consider a few general principles about human purpose. We exist for the glory and joy of God and should live in a way that honors our calling to him. We should live for others, willing to give up things for ourselves.

Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

This verse speaks of offering ourselves upon the altar, which could be translated to giving up ourselves for his mission and calling on our lives.

When we consider our personal development goals, we consider them in connection with our general calling as children of God. Once you move beyond our general calling given by God, you can begin to consider your individual purpose and calling. Maybe you haven’t really considered your individual purpose before if so, that’s okay!

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the ominous question of “what do you want to do in your life?” especially among younger people. What helps eliminate some of the stress is to re-frame the question, asking “who do you want to be?” This often helps people release some of the pressure to perform and focus on who they want to be.

By focusing on who you want to be, you are able to move beyond work. Perhaps you would like to have more space for your passion. Or maybe your passion can become your work. Or maybe you want to be able to provide well for your family and you know that requires long hours.

Making decisions regarding who you want to be can turn into your individual purpose. Then, you just need to make sure your goals line up with this purpose, and you will be headed in the right direction (or as MxPx put it: free to do what you want to be).

Finding Your Purpose

As you start to think about your purpose, remember the importance of prayer. It is a good place to start. Ask God to speak to you and show you what he has for you. What you feel called to might be scary or risky. It might not even totally make sense financially, but remember money can’t grant you fulfillment. Remember the verse from Romans 12, it calls us to sacrifice, not comfort and riches.

Also, remember this will require trial and error. You will likely need to explore a few different paths before you find what exactly is your purpose and that’s okay! Your story doesn’t have to match the timeline of a friend or a sibling, it’s yours. Sometimes it will take years to fully discover your purpose and that’s okay. You will figure it out along the way as you move forward.

Lastly, when you do find your purpose, keep in mind that it probably will (and probably should) influence all areas of your life (social, personal, professional, spiritual). Finding your purpose reorients your life. It isn’t just a hobby or a side hustle. It will produce meaningful and significant changes to your life!

Goals Give Direction

The second important aspect of personal development goals is to provide direction. If you’ve ever wondered what you are doing with your life and felt like you were going nowhere, then you probably weren’t setting up goals guided by your direction.

It may be helpful to think of personal development in both the short-term and the long-term. First, start with the long-term — Where do you want to be? When do you want to be there?

Start with the short term. What do you need to do to get headed in the right direction? Are you considering ministry, then maybe you should look into seminary or pastoral internships? Or maybe you want to get into web design? Then it would probably be good to find a coding bootcamp to get started.

When it comes to direction, a contradiction exists. You need to start with something small that moves you forward. Even reading this article is a good step. But on the other hand, you need to remember that achieving your greater goals takes time.

In order to achieve your personal development goals, you will need to have patience, motivation, and energy. It takes time to accomplish goals, which is okay, but the waiting can be frustrating, especially when you are eager to move forward. It can feel like if you don’t start right now, that you will never be able to accomplish your goals, but remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Another note about direction is to start big. Think as if there were not obstacles. Imagine where you would go if nothing stood in your way. You can deal with obstacles better when you know where you are headed. Even when you know where you are going, obstacles remain obstacles.

But if you don’t have a larger vision, simple obstacles can turn into full on roadblocks. By thinking big from the beginning, you will be able to stay focused on what lies behind the problems, so you can face the difficulty as it comes.

Goals are Manageable When Made Well

Finally, personal development goals need to be made in such a way that sets you up for success. If your plan is to “get to Mars,” you’re not likely to achieve your goal. But, if you are in NASA or the Air Force, then maybe it might work out.

The best goals can be defined as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound). To help illustrate this definition, let’s consider someone with a passion for wildlife working on a biology degree so they can work on a creation care team. Their love for animals and desire to help care for them give them direction and purpose.

But, they are struggling in some important courses and currently have D’s.

Specific goals include a higher desired grade, not simply “doing better.”

This is also a measurable goal because if you work hard, you will see your grade raise.

Other goals will be more difficult to measure, which may force you to think more creatively about how to quantify your given circumstances.

The goal needs to be achievable,

which means that an A might not be possible to achieve halfway through the semester, but you can still try for a B. Setting unrealistic goals can be discouraging.

Goals need to be relevant.

For example, cutting out TV may help improve your grades, but isn’t directly relevant. It is better to set an amount of time you want to study for or to get a tutor.

Lastly, it should be time bound,

which means you need to have a deadline. It can’t be ambiguous and open ended.

Making time bound goals helps you create checkpoints, thereby making them more measurable. For example, you could decide to study for two hours a night for two weeks in order to get an A on a test. The is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. Each goal will look different, but you should always have an end date.

How Christian Counseling Can Help

If this article has you excited, but you still feel apprehensive the amount of work you need to do or don’t know where to start, that’s okay.

A great way to jumpstart your personal development is counseling. Counselors can help you understand your passion and purpose so you can establish personal development goals and overcome any obstacles you face. They are a force of clarity and accountability as you seek to grow.

When we try to do things alone, it’s very easy to get distracted or lose track, but a regular counseling session can help keep you on track toward your long-term goals. So don’t just sit there! Get started on your personal development today.

Photos:
“Boating”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wish for it”, Courtesy of SOCIAL CUT, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man on Arrow”, Courtesy of Smart, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Goals,” courtesy of rawpixel.com, pexels.com, CC0 License

What is Spiritual Development and Why Does it Matter?

Over the thousands of years that have passed since Jesus lived here on earth, theologians have defined spiritual development in a variety of ways. Since we live in an increasingly pluralist and secular culture, spiritual development can have widely different meanings depending on who is defining it.

A general definition to start with is that spiritual development is a belief in a higher reality, something that exists outside of the material reality.

For those who follow Christ, the meaning of spiritual development is more specific. According to Acts 17:28, “… in him we live and move and have our being.” Our core nature, desire for significance and purpose, and our sense of belonging are derived from God himself, as he transforms us through Jesus Christ and his infallible, unchanging Word.

Romans 12:2 powerfully exhorts us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This is a concise biblical summary of the purpose of spiritual development.

The truth that comes from God and his design for us, change us from the inside out in everything we do. He has given us all of our intelligence, skills, and abilities, and he requires that we steward those gifts according to his will. The more we develop spiritually, the more we align our wills with God’s will for our lives and for all of creation.

To put it simply, we can define spiritual development as becoming more like Jesus each day.

Spiritual Development as a Process

Spiritual development is not an instant transformation, but a lifelong journey of maturing and becoming Christ-like. God provides daily grace and power to his children as he refines them into his image. In Scripture, we see God’s refining spoken of as a process or journey. Here are several passages to illustrate:

  • Jesus says to his disciples, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
  • “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
  • We don’t grow in isolation; we are sanctified in fellowship with Christ’s body, the church. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, andteachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Spiritual Guidance in Spiritual Development

It’s important to receive spiritual guidance from fellow Christians, but this doesn’t have to take place in an authoritarian context. A spiritual guide should be a helper who walks in step with the Holy Spirit. Counseling and coaching can be contexts for this supportive role.

One area in which spiritual guidance is important is correcting inaccurate beliefs about God’s attributes. Ignorance and lies about who God is need to be revealed and refuted for true spiritual growth to take place. Believing the truth about God and understanding who he really is, allows us to be restored and healed when receiving spiritual guidance. God’s love heals us so that we can live for him.

In this setting, spiritual guidance helps to reshape our inner thinking and belief systems, which we then carry out into the world around us. God is not only our personal Lord and Savior but One Who loves justice and peace in the world at large.

As we grow in Christ, we will become more aware of God’s immanent presence and guidance in our everyday lives. In attempting to carry out his will on a practical level, he will be with you. His manifest presence can be cherished even in the day-to-day mundane tasks of life.

It’s important to embrace the reality of God’s immanent, caring nature for his children, while also remembering his utter sovereignty over every human issue, from individuals to nations to the entire created universe. He reveals himself to us by means of the Holy Spirit through his Word, as well as through our circumstances, other believers, prayers, and the church, guiding us on our journey with him.

Spiritual Development as Counseling and Coaching

One way to look at spiritual development is through the lens of progressive stages. Erik Erikson has popularly described the stages of a human lifespan, and we can use these to describe the stages of development in our faith. Christian psychologists Yvonne Bissonnette Tate and Stephen Parker have correlated Erikson’s model to a spiritual growth model.

When a Christian is first born again, this stage can be called spiritual infancy. It is characterized, just as in Erikson’s model, by the tension between trust and mistrust, or a strong faith in God vs. despair and sadness, and a feeling that God is unreliable. For a believer, this tension is resolved by embracing hope in Christ through faith, which will last a lifetime.

Erikson’s model concludes with the stage of adulthood, which in the Christian walk relates to spiritual maturity, that is, a Christian who has grown up into wisdom and sanctification. This Christian is equipped to be a spiritual guide to other believers as they grow in their own faith.

A Christian counselor or coach should be trying to help clientsto mature spiritually or reach the “spiritual adult” stage. Counseling can reveal barriers to maturity, and obstacles like isolation, misplaced shame, unconfessed sin, and unbelief.

In counseling, it’s possible to evaluate a client’s maturity level and stage of development, and then mentor the client in areas of trusting God, resisting temptation through his strength, pursuing him on a daily basis, and cultivating a love motivation to work for him.

By the power of his Spirit, God can use Christian counseling as a tool for growth in the life of a believer. Clients often find comfort in knowing their issues are understood by an empathetic listener, and they find encouragement as they are reminded of ways the Lord is working in their lives.

Spiritual Development: Purpose

Our ultimate purpose as believers is to glorify God by seeking righteousness found only in Christ Jesus. God has promised us that we will only find complete happiness in an eternal relationship with him. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). As followers of Christ, we should find our greatest purpose and passion in seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Again, we must remember that sanctification is a process. God’s love compels Christians to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). This is both our eternal destiny and our temporal pursuit.

Scripture portrays spiritual growth as a growing to maturity: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Motivation to mature spiritually comes, as we have seen, because we are compelled by the love of Christ, and also because we are called to put our selfish desires to death and clothe ourselves with Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We can see a correlation with this death to self in the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous. All members begin by admitting that their lives are a mess and that they are powerless over their addiction.

In the same way, we cannot save ourselves from sin and its consequences; we are completely powerless on our own to live our lives according to God’s will. This teaches a theology of sin, which is paramount to our faith.

As believers, we will not attain perfection this side of heaven, and certainly not by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. The second step of AA is to acknowledge that God alone is able to do the work of restoration. Step three requires submission of yourself to the Lord.

Though obviously, not every Christian is an alcoholic, these principles are a fitting reminder of the fact that we are all addicted to sin. This addiction will stunt our spiritual development.

Addiction, in the Biblical worldview, is a form of idolatry and prevents us from giving God his due worship.  It can run the gamut from the seemingly innocuous (television, food, social media, or even idolizing family or a ministry role) to the illegal (drugs, theft, illicit sex, etc.).

To grow spiritually, we must pursue God with a heart of genuine worship, knowing that we are imperfect creatures and surrendering our full hearts and lives to him in every area. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

Spiritual Development: Purpose from Calling

It’s common for a believer to feel conflicted about discerning what the will of God is versus their own personal desires. A calling is one way to describe God’s will in an individual’s life.

Calling is defined as follows: “A calling is a transcendent summons, experienced as originating beyond the self, to approach a particular life role in a manner oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness and that holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation” (Dik & Duffy, 2009, p. 427).

The word calling is often used to refer to vocational ministry but also applies to any profession in which a believer may be engaged. This emphasis grew stronger during the Protestant Reformation when the reformers emphasized the doctrine that all believers are priests who can come to God on their own through Christ.

One study has found that men who decided to become Catholic priests placed a high level of importance on integrating their identity as priests with a strong sense of self.

We can correlate this to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers; Christians who embrace this doctrine can find a stronger purpose in their individual vocations. God’s will is transcendent, or high above us, yet it is also immanent, interacting with our personal identities and lives.

A separate study on calling and purpose discovered that people who believe God causes events also perceive him as having sovereign control over every situation. Trusting that God is sovereign helps us to perceive his will in our lives.

People who are able to see their vocation as a calling tend to have better outlooks on their careers and lives. But beyond simply achieving personal benefit, it’s important to seek God’s will in our careers and vocations.

We are God’s instruments in the world: “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

Regardless of a Christian’s particular job in the workplace, all of us are called to be instruments of justice and righteousness in accordance with God’s revealed will.

Discerning God’s will takes place in the context of the body of believers. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).

A Christian counselor or coach can help you connect to a local church, and embrace patterns of servant leadership as you live out your purpose and calling in the world.

Photos
“His Word,” Courtesy of jclk8888, Pixabay.com, CC0 License;  “Worship,” courtesy of Zac Durant, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “On my knees,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fervent prayer,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License