(edited for space)
Richard Foster says it best: “Superficiality is the curse of our age.” I believe he’s right. We’re a megabyte, skim the surface, only the highlights, please culture. If you can’t condense it to 140 characters, we have no time for you.
So, what’s the problem with that? Well, look around. For starters, anxiety, depression and suicide rates are through the roof. We’re starving for wisdom and discernment, to the point that we can no longer differentiate between real news and fake news.
We need to flip the script, and I believe we can. We don’t have to allow speed and productivity to enslave us. I believe God created us for depth. Superficiality is, therefore, a spiritual problem. One that deserves a spiritual answer.
In God’s economy, character trumps reputation, integrity supersedes information, and who you are inside matters much more than who others say you are.
I want to propose several practices to push back against superficiality. You can call them disciplines or habits. Whatever cranks your car. You will notice several mainstay practices (Bible reading, prayer, worship, etc.) are missing. I’m not asking you to abandon those. My goal, however, is to specifically introduce you to practices that develop deep roots.
1. The Practice of Starting With “Yes”
For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory. (2 Cor. 1:20)
For some strange reason, we find our identity more from what we’re against than what we’re for. To start with “yes” is to start with love and acceptance. Rather than categorizing our neighbor as gay, black, white, Muslim, Republican or weird, we see them first as God’s image bearers.
This doesn’t eliminate “no.” God knows a timely “no” can be liberating. But we don’t start there. We start with yes.
Superficiality doesn’t look inside. There’s simply no time. So, we quickly attach labels and stereotype rather than seeing people the way God sees them. To start with “yes” requires slowing down and seeing the image of God. When we start with “yes,” we reflect God’s character. Let’s not forget that love is, first and foremost, patient.
2. The Practice of Living With Purpose
“If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step towards pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business.” —Steven Pressfield
Meaning is food for the soul. Without it, you can’t live. You can still breathe, of course, but you will be spiritually dead. Hope gives way to cynicism, love dies and fear fills the void.
Without meaning and purpose, hope and love give way to fear and cynicism. When you find something that ignites your soul, makes the world a better place, connects you with other people and most importantly with God, there’s really no place for stuff like addiction and binge-watching Netflix. Something awakens in you. Life makes sense, and love runs wild. You care more about people, and your intentions take precedent over your actions.
Meaning requires stick-to-it-ness and persistence. Living for something larger than you will inevitably bring disappointment, but it also inevitably brings patience and empathy.
3. The Practice of Contemplation/Meditation
“What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart”. —Richard Foster
I know. Contemplation sounds too Buddhist and meditation sounds too hipster. I would call this discipline “prayer,” but for most Christians, prayer is more a few minutes in the lap of some Divine Santa than a transformative discipline.
Contemplation is the practice of being still, disconnecting from everything to be with ourselves and God. Contemplation clears the mind and heart, creating space for God stuff like love, grace and peace.
Contemplation is a lost practice in Western culture because it doesn’t feel productive. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, tell your boss you need a 30-minute contemplation break every day and see what happens. Two words: Pink. Slip.
But contemplation is more than productive—it’s transformative. Recent studies link stillness and meditation with increases in empathy and emotional intelligence, as well as decreases in stress, depression, anxiety and even inflammation.
Most importantly, stillness allows God to come in to your life. If I could force you to implement one of these practices, I would pick this one.
4. The Practice of Accepting Suffering and Pain
”There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” —Louis L’ Amour
Let’s be honest, for most of us (myself included) life is a glorified soap opera. I’ve never personally watched one, but considering the same shows feature the same actors for decades, I get the general idea. In soap operas, there’s a lot of drama and cat fighting. People marry and divorce. A girl sleeps with her best friend’s man. Then, they marry, and the guy mysteriously dies. There’s a lot of action. But nothing really happens.
Suffering, for a reason I can’t explain, comes to us like a cold bucket of water in a deep sleep. It wakes us from our slumber, life’s hamster wheel, and reorients our priorities.
Suffering will make a theologian out of anyone. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know what I mean.
Suffering is inevitable. So, why is it a spiritual discipline? Because a culture predicated on speed would much rather avoid suffering than learn from it. We would much rather deny, numb or medicate pain than grow from it.
The practice of suffering means you learn from pain rather than run from it. The practice of accepting suffering means you give pain, discomfort and their subsequent emotions your full attention. When hard times come, you don’t run or medicate. You cry, mourn and grieve, but most of all, you trust. You don’t lose hope, and you learn from pain. You have faith that something better is waiting on the other side.