Harold G. Koenig, MD, co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, says in working with patients who are struggling with their spiritual connections he encourages them to talk.
“I ask them to tell me more about their trouble connecting with God. I want to know about their experience in this area,” he says.
Koenig says it’s usually a past experience that blocks this relationship or something they did that they can’t forgive themselves for.
“I think God is trying to get to us in every way possible to initiate this connection and there are things that block this, such as negative experiences with religion or with religious persons in their past. I want them to be able to feel the forgiveness and forgive others, and sometimes that means God or God’s frail servants.”
Koenig says he doesn’t evangelize but rather tries to provide an environment where they can proceed along a spiritual path to grow and feel love and to know God wants the best for them and can transform the worst into something that is better.
“You develop a relationship by talking to someone. Prayer, mediation, reading the inspired words contained in scripture,” Koenig says, adding that he encourages engagement in a faith community for those who are isolated and open to the idea.
For beginners, Koenig recommends the following:
> Find someone in your faith tradition whose life and behavior exemplify the teachings of that tradition. Ask that person what you can read to get started.
> Search for a place of worship to identify a group of like-minded believers who are friendly, welcoming, and whose minister preaches sermons that are inspiring and practical. Get involved in this group–go to meetings outside services, donate some time each week to help with the group’s ministries, work on establishing relationships.
> Find a time each day to talk with your God or higher power about whatever in your life is troubling you–and whatever in your life you are grateful for. Talk to God just like you would a trusted friend. Begin with five minutes a day in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. You may use or surround yourself with one or more religious symbols or you can play soft, inspirational music. Extend the time each week by five minutes until you reach 30 minutes a day, and then discipline yourself to stick to it.