Often when I see spiritual quotes or well-meaning messages such as “Success comes to those who don’t quit” I can’t help but think about lemmings and cliffs. I guess it depends on how you define success. Or that one about how God has a plan for us and everything that happens to us is part of that plan, which brings to mind someone who was pushed off a high-rise building. Is the plan for them to demonstrate defenestration? Or the one about “You should love everyone, even the people who hurt you. They need it even more.” Ok, so how does that work for the people who are suffering genocide in some of the most brutally horrific ways possible?

Many of the phrases that are being passed around as spiritual truisms are presented in a way that has no discernment. They are expressed as if they are one size fits all which causes many people confusion and actually does damage.  To someone in an abusive relationship the message that quitting is the opposite of success can reinforce their pain over leaving and any decision to put their own safety first. The idea that God or any spiritual being has a plan for us and that things happen for a reason can be soul crushing to a child of rape, to a child who is molested, and to victims of sexual assault. It makes it seem as if they signed up for this abuse and makes spirit a part of their violation. The idea that the opposite of love is hate and violence so we should love everyone can cause us to avoid our honest and appropriate feelings about a person or situation and prevent us from healing. Forcing an emotion can keep us from being authentic, take us away from our center, and distance us from Spirit, which is not the intention of the message.

Overly general spiritual messages are well-meant and can be life rafts to someone who is drowning, can be exactly what someone needs to turn their day around, or just remind us to not sweat the small stuff. However, they can also turn into bullies if we aren’t discerning. Like the game of putting “in the bathtub” after the title of every gospel hymn, it helps if we put the spiritual quote in a ridiculous scenario and see if it still holds true. Like, “we each need to slay our own dragons to follow our bliss”…unless that dragon is a HS cheerleader in a mascot costume and then things get awkward and you end up having to run away or apologize to their parents and buy everyone a burger to make up for being a jerk.