20 …And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” 21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”

1 Samuel 9:19–21 (NIV)

King Saul is a much maligned figure in Christian circles because of his spiritual failure. This reflects an unfortunate truth about our strange relationship with the failure of others. We tend toward “schadenfreude,” a German word defined as deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune. This “schadenfreude” grows from a self-righteous superficiality whereby we become experts at identifying the deficiencies of others while ignoring our own. I would like to replace this superficial “schadenfreude” with “Deep Spirituality,” which gives us the capacity to dig deeper and discover God anywhere, anytime, and through the experiences of anyone. This “anyone” includes King Saul, a man just like us, whose insecurities plagued him with persistent feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and loneliness.

Insecurity Ignored

20 So Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel before the Lord, and the tribe of Benjamin was chosen by lot. 21 Then he brought each family of the tribe of Benjamin before the Lord, and the family of the Matrites was chosen. And finally Saul son of Kish was chosen from among them. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared! 22 So they asked the Lord, “Where is he?” And the Lord replied, “He is hiding among the baggage.” 23 So they found him and brought him out, and he stood head and shoulders above anyone else.

1 Samuel 10:20–23 (NLT)

The speed with which we dismiss King Saul as evil in our hurry to get to good King David is born from an oversimplification of a complex life. Life is simpler when we can divide the world into good and evil, light and dark, or winners and losers, but anyone who does this is settling for the superficial rather than seeking the deep.

The deep truth about Saul is that he was not evil. He was a talented, tough, and tenacious man. He was a natural leader. These are the reasons why God selected him to be Israel’s first king. He possessed the appearance and talent necessary to be a great leader, but like all human beings, he had a weakness which if left alone would grow to dominate his life. This weakness is seen in these fateful words spoken at his coronation, “But when they looked for him, he had disappeared!” These words caused them to ask God “Where is he?” to which God responded, “He is hiding among the baggage.” Saul was strong on the outside but weak on the inside. He stood “head and shoulders above anyone else” but, despite his enormous talent, his internal insecurities drove him into hiding to avoid the eyes of human evaluation.

Rather than condemning and distancing ourselves from Saul, we should study him with great empathy, understanding the inalterable truth that no matter how great our talent or resources, insecurity ignored will undermine us all.

Moments of Darkness

26 When Saul returned to his home at Gibeah, a group of men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But there were some scoundrels who complained, “How can this man save us?” And they scorned him and refused to bring him gifts. But Saul ignored them.

1 Samuel 10:26–27 (NLT)

King Saul ignored his insecurity. When faced with criticism and negativity, he chose to ignore what people said. However, the more dangerous decision was his choice to ignore his insecurity.

Saul did not reflect on or examine his emotions or motives. This neglect of self-examination can be characteristic of Christians today. Digging deeply into our emotions and motives can be overwhelming, disturbing, and exhausting. We can feel foolish, fragile, and vulnerable. We can even end up feeling confused, humbled, and alone because we have no idea how to express or what to do with our emotions and motives. As a consequence, like Saul we just keep moving on ignoring them as a distraction. I have chosen this path myself before and can testify to the truth that ignoring insecurity is painful, not productive.

My earliest and most dominant negative emotion was insecurity. I can still remember the difficulty of my teen years, when the emotional turbulence created by my fear of rejection, failure, and losing control tormented me. These fears produced a drive and determination to succeed. While this was regularly rewarded and often praised, the unseen internal cost was high. I learned to conceal my emotions so the painful feelings produced by my insecurity couldn’t torture me. I chose to shield myself with pride, conceit, and boasting to keep the truth of my insecurity from affecting me or being revealed to others. Unfortunately, these choices made intimacy and attachment difficult, if not impossible. The capacity to love and be love eluded me.

Throughout my teen years I knew something was missing so I searched, reading extensively in the areas of science, philosophy, and history. Television had always been a source of entertainment, but during these difficult young years of raging insecurity, it also became a means for understanding what was happening to me. I consumed every teen and family program I could find. I rarely revealed anything about this search for answers, relief, or a philosophy of life that would make sense of this world where love seemed so difficult and elusive.

One day while sitting in the library I wandered over to the fiction section and began to browse. This was unusual for me since I didn’t like fiction, believing anything “made up” couldn’t be of benefit in real life. I cannot explain why, but on this occasion I selected a book entitled This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and began to read. Everything I thought and felt seemed to fill this volume, and a burst of emotion filled my heart. The characters, language, emotional struggle, and search for love and identity all made me realize my spiritual emptiness. I understand the oddness of claiming there is spirituality in the writing of Mr. Fitzgerald, but compared to what I had seen in the religious world, his writing reflected real experiences rather than contrived poses of moral superiority.

Reading Fitzgerald in my senior year of high school awakened me emotionally and sent me to college with an awareness that the “something more” I sensed existed in this life could actually be found. My next stop would be Russian literature, with Fyodor Dostoyevsky becoming a special favorite. After this, I discovered Ayn Rand and was so taken by her philosophy that I decided to make it my own, until a favorite English professor in my sophomore year laid waste to the validity of her claims. I found myself rudderless and adrift. As many spiritual people can attest, that is the point when we open up to see what has until that very moment eluded our sight. These are moments of lostness. And contrary to the judgmental perspective of the superficial, they are not necessarily days of darkness and evil but rather humility and openness.

For the first time, I decided to give the Bible a chance, and while I was being taught the basic rules, something else happened. I saw the spiritual behind the human. I realized the Bible was a book about God, not organized religion. From what I could tell, if I would embark on the journey to find him, I would finally be free from my enslaving insecurities. I have been on this journey for over three decades, and only now do I have a name for it: “Deep Spirituality” – when Christianity becomes more than being a part of organized religion, but instead knowing, understanding, and walking with God in a transformative and dynamic way.

Beyond Superficiality

The importance of what I am telling you is our journey to faith, and spirituality begins with an awareness of our pain, much of which arises from our insecurity. In this sense, spirituality does not emanate from an understanding of the rules, rituals, and traditions of a particular faith, but rather a deep awareness of our need. It is about listening to our internal whispering, which is our human spirit giving voice to needs that extend beyond our physical senses and defy human description. This is “Deep Spirituality,” not the ritualistic adherence to religious rules that produce outward religiosity without internal spiritual understanding. This spirituality reaches beyond superficiality into the transformative depths of God.

“Deep Spirituality” has helped me stop using pride, boasting, and conceit to conceal my debilitating insecurity. This journey has involved wrestling with my relationship with God and people, so I could face the deep negative emotions dominating my life – my fear of rejection rooted in feelings of unworthiness (my own self-criticisms became the reasons I was sure no one would love me); my fear of failure rooted in feelings of inadequacy (when I saw the talent and good fortune of others, I fatalistically concluded success would never be mine); and my fear of sudden disaster (the ease with which my mind could believe that, as soon as things start to go right for me, they will turn terribly wrong). My fight against insecurity continues but free of the pain, because I have learned “Deep Spirituality” is a much better answer to my insecurities than ignorance. I hope you will join me on this journey toward “Deep Spirituality,” so that together we can set ourselves free from everything limiting our human potential.

 

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Russ Ewell serves as Director of BACC Next, where he is tasked with thinking about the future.

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