Description of the Sample
We have analyzed data from 626 SDA from Germany (54%), Austria (27%) and the Francophone countries France, Belgium and Luxembourg (19%). Among them, 45% were women and 55% men with a mean age of 50.1 ± 15.3 years. Most had grown up as SDA (69%), with a mean number of 29.1 ± 16.1 years as a SDA. Within the sample, 13% were pastors, 12% elder, 8% deacons, 45% had other duties within the church and 21% had none (Table 1).
Most were praying privately at a daily level (85%), and 72% were attending church each week. Strictness to hold the Sabbath was variable, 24% are very strict and 49% somewhat strict (Table 1). Most are not that strict with a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle (61%). The study participants regarded Live from the Faith/Search for God and also Peaceful attitude/Respectful treatment (of others) as relevant and scored this high on both subscales. Also their Commitment to Disadvantaged and Creation and an Attitude of Poverty scored in the high-range of relevance (Table 1). With respect to the more experiential indicators of spirituality, perception of the sacred in their life (DSES-6) and also awe and subsequent gratitude (GrAw-7) scored in the mid-range.
Feelings to be ‘under pressure’ scored moderately high (mean score: 45.7 ± 28.6) with large variance. Emotional exhaustion was perceived by several of them at a ‘somewhat’ level (mean score: 37.9 ± 30.6). Their well-being (WHO-5) scored in the lower range (14.8 ± 5.4) (Table 1).
Experience of Spiritual Dryness
Within the sample, 16% experienced phases of spiritual dryness often to regularly, 38% occasionally, 34% rarely and 11% not at all (Table 2). 12% experienced often to regularly that their prayers go unanswered, and 11% had the feeling that God is distant from them regardless of their efforts to draw close to him. This does not necessarily mean they feel that God has abandoned them completely; only 4% perceived this often to regularly, 23% at least occasionally. A ‘spiritual emptiness’ was perceived by 16% often to regularly, while 21% do know the associated feeling of not being able to (emotionally) give any more. A deep longing for God was nevertheless perceived by most of them often to regularly (74%), 19% occasionally and 8% only rarely or not at all (Table 1).
With respect to their prayer life, most would see it as rich and fulfilling (46% often to regularly; 21% rarely or not at all) and most regard themselves as focused and present during prayer (69% often to regularly; 9% rarely or not at all) (Table 2). In contrast, 22% stated that their prayer life does not ‘excite’ them so much anymore (often to regularly), and 11% were rather passive during prayer and without inner involvement (often to regularly). Similarly, 14% stated that they often to regularly can really enjoy only a little in their spiritual life. An excessive spiritual demand was experienced by up to 10% often or even regularly (items Ac12 and Ac13). 17% stated that they often to regularly do not know what God wants from them, indicating emotional/spiritual distance. Finally, 15% reported that “somehow, everything got too much” for them, indicating spiritual exhaustion. Nevertheless, while several do have these perceptions, only 4% would state that they often to regularly do not care whether they find God in prayer or not (Table 2).
In order to further analyze the impact of these perceptions and behaviors related to Acedia symptoms, we performed a reliability and factor analysis with these Acedia items to combine them as a common factor. Among these ten items, two were intended as informative items (Ac1, Ac4), while the eight other address experiences of difficult prayer life and excessive spiritual demands. With a Kaiser–Meyer–Olkin value of 0.83 and a significant Bartlett test (p < 0.0001), these eight items are suitable for factor analysis. Explorative factor analysis (principal component analysis with Varimax rotation and Kaiser normalization) revealed two main factors which would explain 62% of variance (Table 3). The four-item factor Excessive Spiritual Demands has good (Cronbach’s alpha = .81) and the four-item factor Difficulties in Prayer Life has acceptable internal consistence (Cronbach’s alpha = .75). With Cronbach’s alpha = .84, the eight-item Acedia scale has good internal consistence, too.
Expression of Spiritual Dryness and Acedia Symptoms in the Sample
Women had significantly higher spiritual dryness and Acedia scores (particularly Excessive Spiritual Demands, but not Difficulties in Prayer Life) than men, while their perception of the sacred was similar (Table 4). With respect to the age cohorts, spiritual dryness and Acedia symptoms were significantly higher in younger SDAs compared to the older persons, while their perception of the sacred was significantly lower.
Interestingly, spiritual dryness was highest in persons without any duty within the SDA church and lowest in elders, pastors and deacons, while the sacred in life was inversely perceived (Table 4). Similarly, Acedia symptoms were highest in persons without any duties and lowest in deacons and pastors.
Longing for God’s Closeness
As stated above, even though they may experience these phases of spiritual dryness, most have a longing for God. This longing can be categorized with respect to its frequency as regularly (34% high), often (39% moderately) and occasionally/seldom/not at all (27% low). As shown in Table 5, there were no significant differences between these longing categories with respect to the experience of spiritual dryness, while Acedia’s Difficulties in Prayer Life particularly was significantly higher in persons with a low longing for God. The same is true for their perception of the sacred, which was significantly lower in persons with low longing compared to those with moderate and high longing for God’s closeness. Acedia’s Excessive Spiritual Demands was not significantly differently perceived in these three groups.
To analyze how the experience of spiritual dryness is related to indicators of Acedia, and how both are related to indicators of spirituality on the one hand and indicators of reduced well-being on the other hand, we performed correlation analyses (Table 6).
Spiritual dryness was strongly interrelated with both Acedia subscales. Therefore, the correlations with the other measures are rather similar. Both are strongly inversely related to perception of the sacred and moderately negatively with Live from the Faith/Search for God, gratitude/awe and frequency of prayer life. Both were moderately to strongly related to emotional exhaustion, feelings of being ‘under pressure’ and reduced well-being.
Specific aspects of SDA’s spirituality such as frequency of church attendance and strictness to hold the Sabbath were weakly related to spiritual dryness and both Acedia subscales, while the strictness of a vegetarian lifestyle was marginally only related (Table 6). Further, Peaceful attitude/Respectful treatment, Commitment to Disadvantaged and Creation and an Attitude of Poverty were weakly negatively associated, too.
In contrast, their longing for God was not relevantly related to spiritual dryness, and marginally negatively only with lower Acedia scores (Table 6).
Predictors of Spiritual Dryness
So far there were several significant associations between spiritual dryness on the one hand and indicators of spirituality and reduced well-being on the other hand; we further observed differences related to socio-demographic data. To analyze which of these variables would predict spiritual dryness, we performed regression analyses in different steps. First, we analyzed the influence of gender, age cohorts, recruiting country (Germany versus other), or being without a duty within the church. However, these four variables would predict only 9% of variance and are thus less relevant; here ‘no duty’ (Beta = 0.15, T = 3.64, p < 0.0001) and country (Beta = 0.13, T = 3.21, p = 0.001) were the best, but weak predictors. In the following regression models, none of these were of significant relevance, and they were thus excluded.
As shown in Table 7, the next model tested involved feelings of being ‘under pressure’ (VAS), emotional exhaustion (VAS), well-being (WHO-5), Live from the Faith/Search for God (FraSpir), perception of the sacred (DSES-6) and gratitude/awe (GrAw-7). This model would explain 56% of variance. Here, perception of the sacred was the best predictor, followed by emotional exhaustion and low well-being; gratitude/awe had a marginal effect, while feeling ‘under pressure’ and Live from the Faith/Search for God had no significant effect.
Then, both Acedia subscales were added to the regression model, which now would explain 68% of variance. Here, the best predictors were Acedia’s Excessive Spiritual Demands and low perception of the sacred and further Acedia’s Difficulties in Prayer Life. Additional weak predictors were emotional exhaustion and low well-being. Acedia’s Excessive Spiritual Demands alone would predict 49% of variance, as verified with a stepwise regression analysis; perception of the sacred would add 14% of explained variance and Acedia’s Difficulties in Prayer further 2%, the other two variables would finally add further 2% of explained variance.
On basis of the categorical variable spiritual dryness and the continual variables well-being (WHO-5), perception of the sacred (DSES-6), Acedia’s Excessive Spiritual Demands, Acedia’ Difficulties in Prayer Life and emotional exhaustion (VAS), we performed a Z-valued two-step cluster analysis (N = 602). The predictor influences for spiritual dryness (1.00) are Acedia’s Excessive Spiritual Demands (0.32), perception of the sacred (0.28), Acedia’s Difficulties Prayer Life (0.27), well-being (0.17) and emotional exhaustion (0.14).
We found three clusters of SDAs’ spiritual dryness experience (Table 8). The sharpest differences were between Cluster 1 and Cluster 3, with high scores for spiritual dryness and both Acedia subscales, low well-being, low perception of the sacred and high emotional exhaustion in Cluster 1 (31%), while Cluster 3 (38%) shows high perception of the sacred, high well-being, low emotional exhaustion, low spiritual dryness and low Acedia. The respective scores of these variables were in an intermediate range within Cluster 2 (31%).