Seven Ways to Give Yourself a Spiritual Checkup

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.”

(Romans 7:18-20, Living Bible)

I lay flat on the table, dressed only in my medical gown. “You’ll need these,” the technician says, and places a set of headphones over my ears. “This way we can communicate with you while you’re in the tube.”

Fantastic, I think.  I can’t wait to know how much worse it is.

Sarcasm? Absolutely. I’ve been dreading this day for ages—and now, here it is.

Part of me does want to know. I can’t make changes if I don’t. Another part of me is terrified to know. What if it has metastasized?

I can hear the technicians talking softly in the background. There’s a distinct humming noise in the room and the overhead fluorescent lights are bright.

Abruptly, the platform begins to slide me backwards into the tube in preparation for the scan.

“Don’t move,” they’ve cautioned me beforehand, but it’s hard not to squirm as the tube envelops me. I’m not usually a claustrophobic person but the tube is small and foreign. There isn’t much room inside and I feel trapped. My anxiety rises.

Breathe, I tell myself. It will be over soon. I close my eyes and count to ten, concentrating on slowing my heart rate.

“Just relax,” I hear in my headset, “this won’t take long.” I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

I think about the changes I’ve already made, hoping it’s not too late and wishing I’d started earlier. Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say.  Other trite sayings pop into my head:

Youth is wasted on the young.

If only I’d known then what I know now.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Why put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today?

You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough.

It’s not true, I think. There are a lot of things I want to change about myself, about my past choices, but I can’t. And there are things I want to do differently but I still struggle.

The low murmur of voices intrudes into my musings.

“That’s interesting,” I hear one man say. “See this mass? It’s clearly spread. You can see the start of it here and here.” Dread overwhelms me. This doesn’t sound good.

“These dark spots concern me,” another says quietly.

“Yes, that’s unfortunate for sure. This is fascinating though, look at this.” There’s a chorus of agreements, peeking my curiosity. That sounds positive. I lie there, willing it to be so, yet knowing that I can’t change what already is.

“Debbie, can you hear us okay?” I’m momentarily startled.

“Yes,” I answer.

“Good. We’re done with the scan and we’re going to bring you out, okay? Once you’re dressed we’ll go over the results with you.”

“Okay,” I mumble. The platform moves me out of the tube and I blink rapidly in the bright lights as I reorient myself to my surroundings. The moment of truth is upon me.

Minutes later I’m dressed and sitting quietly in the assessment room. The team is all there, looking at notes or conversing softly with others. One stands up abruptly, a set of results from the scan in his hand. He begins to clip them to the LED viewing board at the front of the room.

“Okay Debbie, here’s what we’re dealing with.”

I take a deep breath…and prepare to receive the results from my spiritual wellness assessment.

Being my own worst enemy

He flips the lights on and images pop up in a kaleidoscope of color. “I’m going to be completely candid with you, the news isn’t great. It’s not awful either,” he hastens to add when he sees me tearing up. “There are definitely some positive growth areas. Take this, for example.” He points to the green areas. “This represents a person’s willingness to be more intentional about life. Yours is well-developed, which is essential to being an effective Christian.”

I can see green patches here and there throughout the test results but they’re disconnected. Some are larger than others.

“Over here though,” he points to the orange sections, “this mass indicates that some of your intentions lack follow-through. That may be an indication of some bad habits that formed a long time ago but were asymptomatic until now.”

“Asymptomatic?” I ask.

“Yes, sorry,“ he explains. “Some habits lead to immediate consequences in our lives, but others we may seem to get away with, so to speak, for awhile…even years. Unfortunately those are harder to deal with because we’ve become so used to doing things a certain way. It’s hard to reverse those, in my experience.”

“I see,” I say quietly.

When he sees I have nothing more to add, he goes on. “These areas,” pointing to the parts that are lit up in red, “they tell us that your emotionally reactive side is enlarged. That suggests a higher level of impulsive decision-making than is appropriate for a Christian. It may indicate a proclivity towards overreaction, moodiness and even anger. People who struggle with this tend to speak before they think, and regret the things they say or do later.”

I sigh inwardly. I’ve known this about myself a long time. I think back to all the decisions I’ve made over the years that were emotionally based, instead of being divinely led. Not a pretty picture.

He continues on, giving me a very thorough picture of where I currently stand. When he’s done, there remains only one area that he has yet to explain.

“Um,” I start, and then hesitate. I know this can’t be good but I need to know. “What do those black spots throughout me represent?”

A moment of silence, then…”unfortunately, those indicate sin.”

When we don’t measure up

If only it were that “easy.” If only we could go have a yearly assessment that spits out results telling us exactly where we’ve grown, and where we haven’t. We could take home a report and study it thoroughly, make a plan for improvements, and then measure our efforts against the following year’s assessment.

Life’s not like that. There’s no spiritual MRI device that measures godly character or quantifies self-improvement. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t know. In fact, God tells us to conduct our own self-examination (check out 2 Corinthians 13:5, James 1:23-25, Lamentations 3:40, 1 Corinthians 11:28-32). A good reason to do this (besides the fact that God says to) is because sometimes we sabotage our spiritual efforts—we become one of our own worst enemies.

For example, if you are…

  • Beating yourself up for things you can’t change or control
  • Caring more about others’ opinions of you than God’s
  • Repeating the same choices, even though the consequences hurt
  • Making excuses for wrong or hurtful behaviors
  • Setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations
  • Wallowing in self-pity when you make mistakes or sin
  • Waiting passively for circumstances (or others) to change instead of being proactive
  • Playing the martyr

…then you may be getting in your own way.

 It’s time to take a closer look at yourself. Here’s are seven ways to give yourself a spiritual checkup:

1. Schedule time

A thorough self-examination requires time and effort. It’s not something that can be done haphazardly or on the fly. Schedule an “appointment” with yourself, much like you would with a doctor. Put it on your calendar with reminder notifications until it becomes part of your regular routine. Before you allot a time frame though, consider what you want to achieve and how long it will take. Also, you need a quiet place, free of disruptions if possible. A journal and Bible are important tools to have with you too!

2. Define the areas to be examined in writing

When you set out to do a self-examination you can choose to examine every aspect of your personal growth and health, or you can focus on a specific area. For example, perhaps you’ve been trying to pray more—or more effectively—so you choose to focus only on your progress in that area. Or perhaps you want to do a thorough assessment of your spiritual health, so you consider as many aspects of that as you can: your relationship with God and others, your character development, your church attendance, etc.

A journal is an important tool for this because it gives you a place to record your intentions (and your findings). You’ll need this when you want to reflect on the progress you’ve made, or to remind you of what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve been journaling for over 30 years now, and every now and then I like to go back and read what I’ve written at different stages of my life—and see my journey as a woman.

3.  Establish your standard of measurement

Your standard of measurement for spiritual wellness is God’s Word.  That’s why your Bible is an essential tool. You have to know what God says about being spiritually well (as opposed to others’ interpretations of the scriptures). Part of your wellness check then is to actually read the scriptures and determine God’s standard. Only then can you measure yourself accurately.

4. Ask God for help

Ask God to give you understanding and wisdom as you read, especially about things that seem complicated—or contradictory. God knows you better than anyone, even better than you know yourself. He can help you apply that understanding to your own life.

A Johari window (see image) is a technique that was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham to help us understand our relationship with ourselves and others better (1). Notice that the four quadrants identify four aspects of ourselves: our open self, blind self, hidden self and unknown self. This is a useful tool for self-examination.

How open are you with yourself and others? What keeps you from being open? What faults or weaknesses do you have that you may be blind to but others see clearly? How can you become more aware of them? Though there may be things unknown to you or others, God knows everything about you. So ask Him to lift the blinders from your eyes.

5. Be honest and take responsibility

If you ask God to help you see yourself, He will. Once you do though, don’t deny the truth of what He’s revealed, or walk away and ignore it. That defeats the whole purpose. Although it’s not easy, try to acknowledge your weaknesses, flaws and sins. But don’t use them to endlessly beat yourself up! We all fall short (Romans 3:23). That’s just the way it is. So take responsibility for your choices, and then ask God to help you make better ones from this day forward.

6. Be specific with your new intentions

Once you’ve identified areas you want to change, be specific about those changes. Avoid using broad, sweeping statements like:

I want to be a better person.

I want to be kinder and more loving.

Instead, determine measurable ways that you can clearly track your progress on, like:

Today I will perform an act of service for my husband by _______________.

Today I intend to speak my teenager’s love language by _______________.

Today I will help my colleague by ________________.

Today I will show more patience with myself by ________________.

7. Tune out the judgmental self-talk

Most self-talk, at least for women, is negative. We second-guess ourselves, overanalyze, worry excessively and become hypercritical—of ourselves and others. Stop it. It’s not helpful, it’s hurtful. God loves you. He loves you despite your flaws. That knowledge should change everything. It should give you incentive to move forward—to be kind and patient with your shortcomings and others’.

It’s done. Your spiritual MRI is complete and the analysis is in front of you. Now what? Spiritual wellness is essential for living God’s purpose for you, and for achieving well-being in every other aspect of your life. If you want positive “test” results then spiritual wellness needs to be your highest priority, not just something you do once or twice a year. Ask God for spiritual healing (forgiveness) and for a clean bill of health every day going forward. Take your struggles to Him and ask Him to help you focus on what matters. The past is behind you, the future hasn’t happened. Today though, that’s a different matter.

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