Spiritual Struggle and Spiritual Growth of Bereft College Students in a Christian Evangelical University

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Rhodes, Melinda G. and Walker, Andrea C. Ph.D. (2021) "Spiritual Struggle and Spiritual Growth of Bereft College Students in a Christian Evangelical University," Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology: Vol. 6 : No. 2 , 309-32.

This article examines spiritual struggle in bereft Christian evangelical students and how struggle might potentiate spiritual growth. The death loss of a close person can result in shattered assumptions about the world that trigger spiritual questions and struggle (Chen, 1997; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2006; Pargament et al., 1998), and spiritual struggle can be a catalyst for growth (Lord & Gramling, 2014; Magyar-Russell et al., 2014; Pargament et al., 1998; Pargament et al., 2011). To our knowledge, spiritual growth has not been measured utilizing the actual voices of those struggling with the loss, nor has it been measured in Christian evangelical populations who may find it more threatening to yield to spiritual questioning. The Spirit-centered Change Model (Buker, 2015) guides our conceptualization of spiritual growth from a Christian evangelical perspective. Utilizing a mixed methods design, bereft college students (n=161) at a Christian evangelical university answered questionnaires about religious coping, daily spiritual experiences, meaning in life, and open-ended questions about their spiritual growth and how students’ beliefs about God had changed after the loss. Compared to non-bereft peers, bereft students reported higher daily spiritual experiences, but bereft students who struggled spiritually reported less meaning and daily spiritual experiences than bereft students who did not struggle. Narrative responses indicated that spiritual struggle simultaneously tended to reflect more expansive beliefs around God and a deepened spirituality, according to the Spirit-centered Change Model. Results reflect a first empirical step toward measuring spiritual growth as epistemological change.