When I was a trainee psychologist, the belief in the ‘inner strength’ of the client and therapist was very important to me. It made sense. It seemed deep. I wanted to know more. But I was upset because the person’s spiritual and faith dimensions were not mentioned as part of this conceptualisation. Eventually the more congruent thing for me was to withdraw from graduate studies and pay attention to my longings and yearnings.
I found solace by going on pilgrimage, attending a Christian retreat for young adults and volunteering. I noticed a depth to the conversations with homeless men and women at a drop-in shelter, something I could not explain in psychological terms. I was able to tune into glimpses of hope in the midst of great hardship. I felt like I was experiencing God in the depth of the heart, and this motivated me to continue my journey.
Wilfulness to willingness
I received a further insight during a 30-day silent retreat in England. I realised that it was better to turn from a closed fist of wilfulness and stubbornness to an open hand of willingness and gentleness. My road from the head to the heart was based on listening, noticing and pondering rather than analysing, rationalising and doubting. My faith and spiritual life grew and I became excited to what God and the world was calling me to.
‘Inner strength’ is best understood, I think, when we treat psychology and spirituality like two legs. To walk, we need them both. Psychology enables us to develop tools and resources that promote awareness and a keen sense of reality, while spirituality (with faith for me) enables us to be filled with depth and meaning and to shine a little more. Together, they bring balance and harmony to a wounded world.