The following is an excerpt from The Family, 4th Edition, by Jack Balswick and Judith Balswick.
Family members being responsible to one another while not being responsible for one another’s spirituality—an important distinction—characterizes healthy family spirituality. Spiritual differentiation means that each member is ultimately formed through a personal relationship with Christ and God’s Spirit.
In spiritual enmeshment, the spiritual trials or doubts experienced by one member precipitates a crisis that threatens the faith of the whole family. Honest differences are hard to tolerate because members are overly invested in being of one mind on spiritual matters. Any expressed difference sends members into a reactive panic mode, and honest doubt and questions are interpreted as a personal affront to the family faith. Such a state of spiritual fusion puts all family members under duress, leading to shaming and judgmental tactics to bring the straying member back into the fold. It might be helpful to make a distinction between spiritual overdependence and spiritual interdependence among family members.
The opposite end of spiritual fusion is spiritual disconnection and indifference. In this case, a low level of spiritual differentiation leaves family members cut off from one another’s spiritual lives. In spiritually disengaged families, individual spiritual lives are kept private. Spiritual joys and struggles are not shared, resulting in disconnection. The family misses out on the spiritual meaning that emerges when members openly express their beliefs and spiritual visions. What is needed is neither spiritual independence nor spiritual dependence but rather spiritual interdependence.
The spiritually differentiated family, in contrast to the spiritually fused or disengaged family, allows members to share their spiritual lives in a way that expands and connects. Family relationships become the means for growth because spiritual differences become a catalyst for spiritual differentiation. In a spiritually differentiated family, the personal faith of each family member can remain firm regardless of what is happening in the life of another member.
At the same time, the doubts, struggles, and questioning experienced by one family member can serve as a catalyst for dialogue and personal self-examination before God for the others. Interest, concern, and support are given for the others’ spiritual lives. Bringing resources to bear creates a beneficial balanced perspective.
©2014 by Jack O. Balswick and Judith K. Balswick. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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