“For most of my adult life, I’ve been struggling to find a spiritual practice that works for me,” someone told me in confidence. In separate conversations, others have privately confessed their struggles. I, too, have had a decadeslong wandering-in-the-wilderness debacle while seeking devotional, prayerful or meditative discipline.

As other Lutherans have struggled with the task of finding a spiritual life that works for them, I’m learning I’m not alone.

In New England, I’ve witnessed 20 years of various surveys and inventories indicating the disappointing results of Lutheran spirituality. We consistently see weak scores in “passionate spirituality,” “spiritual vitality” or other names given to that research category. This isn’t just a phenomenon of the least religious part of the country; it also happens to be the case in Michigan, Montana and Mississippi.

Holy Cow! Consulting, which conducts congregational assessments through an instrument used in over 4,000 U.S. congregations, confirms that mainline Protestants tend to be weak in this area.

What’s going on with our spiritual practice, an area so central to our lives as Christians?

Thanks to the help of a few hundred friends, extensive research and a penchant for asking hard questions, I’ve concluded that we’ve been doing this spirituality piece backward.

The last 50 years of adult Christian education has sent a message that spirituality is a compartment in your life. The unintended message has been: “Yes, we know you have your daily life, but let us teach you how to set aside a separate time for spirituality.” We’ve produced tons of curriculum, books, video and audio courses. It’s all been great, but it hasn’t always worked. Yes, there are some who have benefited, but for many ELCA members, it’s been a bust.

I, too, have had a decadeslong wandering-in-the-wilderness debacle while seeking devotional, prayerful or meditative discipline.

What if we were to flip the idea of spiritual growth on its head?

Instead of going off to a separate time and place to spiritually practice, let’s begin with people’s everyday lives—the breathing, walking, working, spending, arguing, moving, challenging aspects of daily living. Could it be that in the ordinary, everyday aspects of life, we are practicing faithfulness? Is this a form of spirituality?

Over the last year, I invited people to tell me their stories of encounters with God. I was suspicious as to whether or not anyone would respond, but to my pleasant surprise, I received hundreds of stories, vignettes and testimonials. Lutherans have told me their experiences of the sacred in their daily lives. People sent me tales of passionate spirituality lived in the daily walk of life. Some of them heartbreaking and others heartwarming.

This experience led me to a mission: helping give voice to people’s everyday spirituality, and with it, my hope that we can rediscover the presence of God in our daily lives.

Why is this all so important?

I believe the heart of our struggle in contemporary culture is a spiritual one. Underneath all the pressing problems of modern life—social injustice, economic insecurity, the challenge of raising children or the instability of civic life (including churches)—is fundamentally a spiritual struggle. Reclaiming an ancient practice of viewing all of life as sacred, but doing so through a modern, experience-based approach, might be a way forward.

Visit jameshazelwood.net to order Everyday Spirituality: Discover a Life of Hope, Peace, and Meaning and for other resources, including a study guide and a card game for small groups and congregational gatherings, to help people connect with the grace of God in their everyday lives.

James Hazelwood
James Hazelwood is bishop of the New England Synod.

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