About three years ago, I started eating a vegan diet. The reasons weren’t really ethical. The main reason was that, at age 50, I was beginning to have some worrisome health issues just like my father and grandfather. To make it more relevant, my brother-in-law dropped dead of heart condition while at the gym working out at age 48. Both my father and grandfather had heart episodes and later had bypass surgery. In case you don’t know, this is when a surgeon cuts open the chest, spreads the ribs and uses a vein from the leg to bypass around the blocked artery or arteries in the heart. This very expensive surgery actually does nothing to solve the issue other than subvert or bypass if for a short time. My father and grandfather are witness to that in that they died early. Bypassing doesn’t solve the root issues, it just makes a person feel better until the issues reappears in different ways or in different parts of the body. Most of us have a proclivity for spiritual bypassing.
A spiritual bypass or spiritual bypassing is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks” Robert August Masters talks about this is his book, Spiritual Bypassing. The subtitle to his book is informative. It states, “the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs.” As a pastor and as a participant in many churches, I have seen this consistently and persistently in churches of all shapes and sizes. Just like we have an epidemic of heart disease that we are treating with surgical bypass, we have an epidemic of internal wounds and unresolved emotional wounds that we are spiritually avoiding with our words and practices. When we get stressed, we default to spiritual languages and practices to avoid dealing with the real issue. Often, I would resort to my spiritual language and practice to deflect dealing with the issues I really needed to. It’s kind of like a suit of armor meant to deflect any real examination.
Being in the Tea Shop brought down these guards. Some of my close friends at Heart Connexion Ministries like to emphasize we need have experiences that get us past the watchful dragons in our lives that keep us from growing. Spiritual bypassing is a defense that we somehow have to subvert in order to get to the root of our issues. The language barrier of the Tea Shop distracted me long enough to experience some real intimacy and get past my fears of communing with someone different than me. In past times, it would have been easy to spiritually bypass the experience and avoid the intimate contact with someone different by saying spiritual things like, “it felt kind of dark in there” or “I had a check in my spirit,” “so we left that Tea Shop.” Other times I would tell people, “I will pray for you” or I would give people spiritual platitudes instead of truly listening or sitting with them. Then I would feel all spiritual even though I would be avoiding the very experience that might have brought healing. What usually is true about those types of situations is that I am simply afraid or unsure of myself—it’s not really a spiritual problem, but I make it out to be so I don’t have to deal with my own insecurities and issues.
Later in the night, the owner asked, through our guide, what year we were born. We discovered Laura and I were both born in the year of the dragon. They convinced us to buy some beautiful little dragon statues. They were painted gold and intricately detailed. Now that the statues are in my house, they have at least a couple of purposes for me. First, they remind me of the Tea Shop experience and the people we interacted with that night. But also, the dragons remind me of my proclivity to bypass real intimacy and true healing when I allow my watchful dragons to deflect what really should occur. Genuine community, even if it is half way around the world, is where I find healing. I have learned that we are wounded in community and we need to find healing there as well. There is something magical that happens when hearts connect and experience each other with an attitude of grace and acceptance. As long as I avoid the urge to bypass, I can do the deep work that only comes in community with others. A man with no name from the other side of the world that spoke a different language and practiced another religion brought healing to my soul and life to my practices because the situation dictated that we didn’t have time to bypass the necessary.
Physically, I am much better. My whole-food plant-based diet and moderate exercise has reversed a lot of my heart disease. I recently had a stress test and performed admirably. I have no guarantees that I will be without complications, but the outlook is better. Spiritually speaking, I am also healthier. I work very hard not to bypass the spiritual and emotional issues in my life with spiritual language that doesn’t really solve the problem. I am learning to “sit” with problems and own them instead of trying to bypass them. I am learning to empathize with people instead of trying to find them a quick solution to their issues. Sometimes life just “sucks” and we need to admit that and face it. I am learning to truly listen to the hearts of those that cross my path instead of fixing them or promising them what is not true. Even when I sound spiritual, I try now to stop and ask whether I am bypassing the hard work that really needs to take place.
Eating better, exercising, and implementing better practices in my life takes hard work. Avoiding the hard work by making excuses or bypassing around the problem usually only makes the issue more serious. It takes discipline to change my diet, but It would be much harder work to have open heart surgery. It is hard work to work through my heart issues in community, but it is much harder when those wounds fester and become more established in my soul. I am happy that I am finding communities that help promote genuine focus on my “heart” issues instead of those that bypass and avoid to root causes. I am finding the courage to step into situations like the Tea Shop that get past my watchful dragons and help me find rest for my soul.
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