Spiritual bypassing occurs when faith enables the avoidance of hard issues. While it often appears in the spiritual but not religious realm, spiritual bypassing undergirds contemporary Christian theology.

Learning this, and adapting my faith accordingly, significantly changed my life.

Welcome to 50-for-50. This post is part of a collection of 50 things I’m doing involving the number 5 to celebrate my 50th trip around the sun. Over the next year, I will highlight 50 lessons from my life that have the greatest impact on who I am today. You can read all 50 lessons here or sign up for a full 50-for-50 weekly recaps here.

spiritual bypassing gets you nowhere
A path that feels spiritual, but takes you nowhere. Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Mainstream Bypassing

Just think positive.

Avoid negativity.

Do what makes you feel good.

So much of pop spirituality obsesses with idea of being in the light that it forgets what light does … light reveals what the darkness hides.

To actually be in the light means to boldly step into that which is hard, to embrace what you like least about yourself, and to take accountability for your actions.

The path of avoidance is the true darkness, which makes so much of pop spirituality darkness pretending to be light.

But the problem is not limited to pop spirituality.

Spiritual Bypassing and Christianity

“You have all kinds of grace for the perpetrator, but no mercy for the victim.”

I cannot understate how those words, spoken to me by my then wife lingered, echoing through my being long after her lips voiced them.

The words critiqued a faith focused on forgiveness without any sense of accountability for harm done to others.

It is an easy place to find yourself when you embrace Western Christianity where the basic formula says:

  • you sin
  • Jesus dies in your place
  • you are forgiven

But what happens to the people you harm when you sin?

The common response is that God forgave them so we should forgive too. What they did is inconsequential. The depth of the harm is insignificant. After all, it is forgiven.

Ultimately, her words brought me to the conclusion that I grew up with a faith that amplified shame while dismissing guilt.

In other words, on one hand, it manipulated that innate sense of inadequacy in hopes of making me confess my sin and embrace forgiveness. On the other hand, the forgiveness ignored the consequences of the very real things I did that harmed other people.

To make things even worse, shame fuels those harmful behaviors. This means faith as I knew it not only invited me to bypass the consequences of my actions, but it indirectly encouraged the actions it enabled me to bypass.

Bringing Light to the Darkness

So how, whether we embrace the story of Jesus, another faith tradition, or a traditionless spirituality, do we avoid spiritual bypassing?

We step into the very things we want to avoid.

To enabled this, I reworked my faith.

Why was I so bent on avoiding the consequence of my actions? When I should have felt guilt, I felt shame. There was no distinction between doing something wrong and being wrong. This is understandable when you grow up believing you deserve God’s wrath, but understandable doesn’t make it okay, especially when others become collateral damage of your inner war.

That is why the Christianity I embrace today disempowers shame so guilt can become a teacher. Jesus didn’t die so God could be loving towards me, he died to reveal just how loving God is. If I am beloved despite my failings, then there is no reason for shame to riddle my inner world. There is however plenty of reason to feel guilt, and when I do I know I need to take accountability for my actions, embrace the consequences, and to figure out how to adapt moving forward.

It’s a spirituality of engagement over bypassing.

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