Which Way is THE Way?

By Keith Miller | April 18, 2011

Dear Keith,

How come some people like you keep going into your inner life and wrestling with deep problems all the time and yet claim to have the Holy Spirit?  I don’t do this, and I’m a happy committed Christian.  My wife is like you and says I’m just not sensitive to spiritual things.  But I know some great Christian leaders who say they don’t have to wrestle the way you do (and they imply that your faith must not be very strong if you have to wallow around inside yourself after you become a Christian).

How about this?  Who’s right, you or them?


That’s a good question.

I believe that there are (at least) two basics types of personalities.  One (of which I’m an example) is the person who must look at the inner struggles and the meaning of the darkness and light he (or she) sees within—almost for survival.  I can no more help my need to find out what life behind my face is like—however scary the darkness or however unacceptable the discoveries—than I can stop breathing.  When I became a Christian, I was told to confess my sins against God and other people and ask forgiveness.  To do that I have had to go inside to recall how and when I had hurt other people and God (because I couldn’t remember many sins.  And it was very difficult for me to go to people I had harmed, confess my sin against them and ask them and God for forgiveness.  But when I finished that task, I experienced a new kind of freedom and love for other people and for God that I just hadn’t experienced before.  And the big surprise was I even loved myself more easily.

Those of us who are like this often see the Gospel in terms of a struggle between light and darkness within.  We come to God with the question (whether we can articulate it or not): “Will the light overcome the darkness or will I be overwhelmed?”

When we are grasped by the Living Christ inside where the world cannot see, we suddenly realize that we are loved and that the Light is and will always be victorious in the end.  At such times we can live with and face more often the darkness within ourselves and in the world we see outside of ourselves.  And we have a fresh passion to tell the story and sing the song that there is Light, Life and Hope in Jesus Christ, for those who are compelled to face the mystery of life.

On the other hand, there are many people (no one knows which group is larger because we don’t talk much about our inner fears and longings) who live their whole lives being primarily conscious of the world and people outside themselves.  These men and women may get baptized and confirmed but not think much about what is going on inside their own lives and motives.  Some of these may come to God in a different way if and when they experience first hand a situation or relationship they can’t control in their outer circumstances.  But as long as they can’t see evidence that they are powerless to save themselves, they may not ever be aware that they actually need a savior.  They feel that they can help God get his work done.  And these people often get lots done in the Church and in the world and may become great leaders in the church.

But I think that for either group to claim that its way is the way is a kind of spiritual blindness and naiveté.  For those of us who must go on the inner journey to discover and confess to God and ask forgiveness for their sins and harm we have caused in the past there is a Gospel of redemption and possible reconciliation with those we have harmed.  And for those who—for whatever reason—are not compelled to open themselves to the depths within, I would bet that there is also a Gospel of Redemption and Love that I don’t understand (because of the amazing grace of God I have experienced when I didn’t even know what I needed).  I just don’t know how those people discover the sins of the past that they have done or know what to confess and with whom they need to be reconciled.  For years I had no idea that I was hurting the people I loved most with my self-centeredness, so I could not hear what it means to hear the words, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healthy.” (James 5:16)

Your question was who’s right—you or them (those Christian leaders who don’t have inner issues).  I’m sorry I can’t help you.  I feel closer to God and more at peace than I ever have but I am also more aware of the power  of my self-centeredness and need to be right, and how much more I need God’s help in order not to try to fix people who are different from me.

Thank you for writing.  I hope this is a good time in your life.  If you ever find yourself having to deal with inner problems in your life or religion, write again.  I might be able to help more then. 

Lord, thank you for the wonderful diversity among your children and that you evidently love and communicate with every personality as each can hear you.  Remind me when I need it that my way of approaching you is not the only way to approach you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Have you been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That’s the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We don’t condemn people who don’t do it our way. All techniques, spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to the moon. But the moon is the important thing, not the pointing fingers.

– Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

Im hoarse from calling for help, Bleary-eyed from searching the sky for God.

– David, Psalm 69:3, The Message

I’m happy from the inside out, and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed.

– David, Psalm 16:9, The Message

6 comments | Add One

  1. caren - 04/18/2011 at 2:07 pm

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Kathy - 04/19/2011 at 3:18 am

    Good Morning Keith,
    I agree that no one is right or wrong on this matter, but I do think that some of us live in the light after we receive true forgiveness. I have asked for forgiveness and truly heard God in my heart tell me that I am forgiven as long as I have learned from that sin. I have turned that sin into a learning experience and become a better person for it, and so I live in the light of God’s grace and forgiveness. I choose not to dwell in the darkness of past sins, because for me God has asked me to get passed that part of my life and move onto doing his work in the light. We all hear God the way he wants us to if we are truly listening, and because of that listening our spiritual faith can seem so different from others. The biggest lesson I have learned in the past few years is that God is the only one to judge our faith, and we all should be accepting and non-judgemental of how each of us experience our spirituality.

  3. Ted Miller - 04/19/2011 at 9:34 pm

    Keith, How do you stop yourself from trying to help out in someones life ,when you know you’ve already experienced the problem you can see them headed towards? You understand, Unsoliciated advice!

  4. maggie kumiega - 04/26/2011 at 2:22 pm

    I really identified with the question answered April 18, 2011. I am one who is always searching at what lies behind my face and my motivations for my actions. My frustration is feeling as if I don’t fit in with the larger christian community. I’ve even been told I need to let go and stop being so introspective. I was much more comfortable in the 12 Step program, into which the Lord had led me. Years ago when I was in counseling, his favored phrase to me was “fish swim with like fish” and I am always trying to fit in with those who are not of the same thought. I didn’t think that would be a problem within Christian community – apparently it is. I have never experienced being so well loved by anyone who would accept and forgive me in my worst fault, except for my Loving Father God through relationship with Jesus. I identify with David in Psalm 69:3 and 16:9. I was so very co-dependant since the age of 3. I still struggle and must keep reminding myself that I do fit in – I fit into Jesus the Christ – and to keep my focus that truth, rather than on what others keep trying to tell me, which is actually their truth. I feel lonely lots of the time.
    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  5. Keith Miller - 05/3/2011 at 9:15 am

    Thanks for your comment, Maggie. Jesus and Paul evidently felt very lonely at times. When one sees almost anything from a different perspective than they have had in the past–and speaks or writes about their new take (on just about anything), some people get threatened, or worried, that you may be saying that they are wrong or might not respect them unless they change too. I realize that I don’t know much about most things, so I try to remember to say things like, “It seems to me…” or “I recently realized that (something I’d never considered) may be true.”

  6. Keith Miller - 05/3/2011 at 9:18 am

    Ted, unless I am in a relationship with a person in which I am their teacher or counselor, I am very hesitant before trying to change or fix anyone – even grown family members. Sometimes when people ask me directly to help, I will ask them, “Do you want me to give you some ideas about how I’ve tried to deal with this issue?” or “What I think about this situation?” Even Jesus sometimes asked people who came to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

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