Next to the giant textbooks in my backpack, Sacred Pathways felt small—the David amid many Goliaths. But this slim volume, required reading for my master’s degree in counseling, altered the way I saw myself as an introvert. Author Gary Thomas says, “God has given us different personalities and temperaments. It’s only natural that these differences should be reflected in our worship.”18
On the day I got Sacred Pathways, I stole glances at it during class instead of taking notes. I read more before I went to sleep, the pages lit by my bedside lamp, my husband snoring beside me. “What is a ‘sacred pathway’? Put very simply, it describes the way we relate to God, how we draw near to him. Do we have just one pathway? Not necessarily. Most of us, however, will naturally have a predisposition for relating to God, which is our predominant spiritual temperament.”19
Thomas shares nine primary spiritual pathways.
Note: I’ve used the same titles as Thomas but adapted the descriptions based on my personal experience and studying them in more depth since I first read the book.
Highlight or put an X by the two or three descriptions that resonate most with you.
- Naturalists: Loving God Outdoors. I feel closest to God when I’m surrounded by his creation.
- Sensates: Loving God with the Senses. I feel closest to God through experiences that involve my senses, such as hearing music, tasting communion, or seeing art.
- Traditionalists: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol. I feel closest to God through repetition and routine, such as singing familiar songs and carrying on traditions.
- Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity. I feel closest to God when I can minimize external distractions and material concerns so I can lead a simple, inward-focused life.
- Activists: Loving God through Confrontation. I feel closest to God when I’m confronting injustice, advocating for the oppressed, or standing up to evil.
- Caregivers: Loving God by Loving Others. I feel closest to God through meeting the needs of others (these needs can be practical, emotional, or spiritual).__Enthusiasts: Loving God with Mystery and Celebration. I feel closest to God through emotions, celebrations, and special occasions—especially those involving rejoicing and gladness.
- Contemplatives: Loving God through Adoration. I feel closest to God through spiritual intimacy, quiet moments when I’m fully focused on my personal relationship with him.
- Intellectuals: Loving God with the Mind. I feel closest to God when I learn something new or have an aha moment that helps me grow in my understanding of him, others, and/or myself.
Your top two or three descriptions are likely your most predominant sacred pathways. (You can find more detail about each in the Sacred Pathways book or take an online assessment at groupleaders.org/spiritual-pathways-assessment.)
If you didn’t resonate with any of the sacred pathways listed, that’s okay. Nine pathways feels like it leaves room for one more—yours. Pause and ask yourself, “When do I feel closest to God?” Your answer is a sacred pathway for you.
Having predominant pathways doesn’t mean we never use the other sacred pathways. All of them are part of a lifetime of loving God, others, and ourselves. But understanding how we do so differently frees us.
Nothing is wrong with you if you don’t feel close to God in the same ways as others. Just as there’s nothing wrong with them if they don’t feel close to God in the same ways you do.
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved. . . . Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus replied . . . “What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”20
It’s easy to ask, “What about him? What about her? What about them?” Jesus doesn’t give Peter a long answer or even an explanation. He repeats the invitation to follow him; he does the same with us.
God doesn’t compare us to anyone else, and we don’t have to either.
Gerth, Holley. 2020. The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.