Can a poisonous environment hinder spiritual or personal growth? The main word on everyone’s lips these days is the environment. The air we breathe, and the health of our surroundings make all the difference in how long our planet survives and how well we live while we’re here. The atmosphere is important ecologically and spiritually. Take our homes for example. In every home, there is an undercurrent, a feel. Often you can sense it when you enter a house, but more often, when interacting with the family members, you get a feel of how they engage with one another. If there’s anger, and resentment, abuse, a code of silence, one can pick it up in the body language and the words used. It all has to do with the messages that are between the verbal lines or sometimes just in the air.
When I was growing up, I received the unsaid message from my father that unless you were perfect, you would not be loved. He never said those words. He was very careful not to say it. He didn’t have to. He acted it out every day. If my sister did something independent, she was branded a troublemaker. He treated her differently, negatively, suspiciously. I never wanted that treatment. I wanted love and approval from my father. So I did everything necessary to get that love. Of course, I did my share of teenage and childhood crimes, but on the surface, I complied with every rule. I was a good girl. I was a soldier in my parent’s one person army. To my father, my sister had gone AWOL, but I was the dutiful one. The one he could brag about with As and Honors and Ivy League education.
For me, in adulthood, that translated into people-pleasing, and fear of losing approval and acceptance. Our home was so chaotic and violent, and there was so much manipulation, I never really felt safe and my parents never really talked to me about my actual life or my problems or even who I was as a person. They were too distracted with their own mess. When Christ spoke to me about my life, I needed him, and even though I felt I had the external parts of my life together, the spiritual component was a disaster.
Initially, our church environment had a lot of love, and that’s what I craved. I had new moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters in Christ. The love shown to me was incredible, and I thrived spiritually in the atmosphere.
I was sincere in my love for Christ, and I could ignore a lot of flaws because of the love of God that was in the air. However, as with all parts of life, when love and acceptance cool off, the flaws in the relationship became impossible to ignore.
Here’s how poisoned atmospheres affect your spiritual life.:
Recently, my granddaughter had a lead count that was higher than usual. We were all very alarmed. She’s nine months old. We don’t let her touch tap water, she still uses “baby” water. We gave her good food. Where was this poison coming from?
So the doctor notified the state and a guy came out and found several areas in the house that had high lead counts. On the scale of toxicity is was on the lower side but the doctor wanted to investigate the source.
The inspector said it was our old front windows!
No one could tell! Some poisons are tasteless and odorless and extremely deadly.
The inspector said that because the house was old and the front windows were the only ones that were never replaced, he suspected that this was the major culprit, spreading lead through the air. His meter reading went off the charts when he came near the windows. There were other minor places in the home with higher than normal readings, but he said that those things combined in the atmosphere could be breathed in and cause a problem.
Can this happen on a spiritual level? Of course.
If a bad substance is breathed in and is strong enough, it can make a difference in your joy or misery, peace or confusion.
Honestly, there are a lot of things you can ignore in your spiritual surroundings. There will always be a few bad actors: those who use the church for a social club, or those not interested studying their bible, then there’s always the self-righteous ones who think they’re the only ones toeing the line and don’t have any compassion for anyone but their friends of course. Then some people just want to be seen accepted and like their status, or those looking for a quick wedding night and not a marriage, the dishonest people. However, if such people are not held accountable, it can ruin the air.
What if such people are allowed to flourish and take over until the atmosphere is toxic, selfish and stagnant, and the church becomes a mixed goulash of unresolved problems, hatreds, and bitterness and you can’t seem to separate all the ingredients that made up the stew in the first place.
All of this creates a climate change. And in the words of Al Gore, an inconvenient truth.
What Makes the Truth Inconvenient?
When we see our environment is messed up and harmful to us, our initial reaction is to get away from it. But getting away can be inconvenient. This is where the problem starts. I spent years trying to fix what couldn’t be fixed, and God had to show me that I couldn’t function in lousy air and spiritually survive.
Do you still ignore dysfunction? What if the church is run by the dysfunctional people? Is that OK to endure because the doctrine is right? Does good teaching outweigh the need to breathe freely?
What if loyalty to families and particular people become more important than the gospel?
What if being on the Lord’s side becomes a conflict with the church’s agenda?
What if you try to discuss your concerns but then are tagged as an enemy of the state or a troublemaker or just ignored altogether?
What if every time you call attention to the problem, you become the problem?
All of these questions are questions that you have to work through to come to an answer.
No furniture, No Friends. My husband tells the story of how his dad took away all the furniture one year because he and his siblings just kept breaking the furniture and wouldn’t clean up the house–nine–I said, 9 kids. His dad’s solution was to throw out the couch, tables chairs etc.
It didn’t look like a home and you couldn’t be comfortable there. So for years, my husband didn’t invite anyone home. He was too embarrassed.
Sadly, I began to know exactly how that felt.
Having been in my organization for over 30 years, and knowing that it’s foolish to try and change an entire system. I found myself coming full circle. Seeking and working with God for myself. Besides I could see the writing on the wall.
O My! I’ve Been Replaced! Fun Stuff. I remember being sent an email one time by a Pastor’s wife who thought I was doing too much in the church. The email, ( I still have it) told me that I was being removed from heading up a project; that I would now be an “advisor” working with the women on a particular project and that she would now be taking over that project and she made sure to copy her husband. Ok. Fine. I’ve been replaced.
I’m just fine working in the background, but I never heard about the project again. No meetings or follow-up. It was just seemingly stomped out. Sadly, the women it was designed to help were the ones that suffered, not me. They actually had thought of it, not me. I was simply helping to organize but somehow it became all about me and political, the larger picture of helping people was lost.
Well, once a person wakes up to their surroundings, they have decisions they have to make. The struggle is not to accept dysfunction as normal. I remember telling the Lord, I didn’t want to accept political games, and bad behavior as ok. I couldn’t give in internally. I needed to hold onto what I understood to be right. I didn’t want to lower my expectations and begin to think principles don’t matter. They do matter. Environment matters. This is where people fall asleep, and start to get swallowed whole by the atmosphere. I needed to keep my inherent ethical values intact. And focus on my future in the kingdom.