We enrolled 603 participants from Germany, Austria and the Francophone countries France, Belgium and Switzerland who have responded to the coping strategies items (Table 1). The proportion of women and men is quite balanced (45% and 55%); their mean age is 50.1 ± 15.1 years. Among them, 33% have leading roles in the church (pastor, elder, deacon), 45% other duties and 22% no duties in the church. SDA in leading roles are significantly older than those with other duties (52.9 ± 13.3 vs 48.4 ± 14.9; p = .002, Mann–Whitney-U test) and in trend also compared to those without duties (52.9 ± 13.3 vs 49.0 ± 17.0; p = .077). However, the age is not significantly different when those without any duties were compared with those who have a duty in the church (49.0 ± 17.0 vs 50.2 ± 14,4; n.s., Mann–Whitney-U test).
A deep longing for God was a bit higher in SDAs in leading roles (F = 7.03, p = .001), less often in persons > 60 year of age (F = 3.76, p = .024), and in trend by women (F = 3.61, p = .058) (data not shown).
SDAs´ well-being is in the lower midrange; feelings of being under pressure and perception of emotional exhaustion are a moderate range, however, with strong variance (indicating that several of them do experience burdening situations).
Finding Ways to Cope with Phases of Spiritual Dryness
15% stated that they did not or only rarely find ways to cope with phases of spiritual dryness and 30% sometimes (these were regarded as less effective copers), 35% often and 19% regularly (they were regarded as effective copers).
Here SDAs with leading roles in the church were significantly more able to find strategies than those without any duty (Table 2). This ability was not gender related (F = 0.93, n.s.), but lowest in younger persons (< 40 years) (F = 3.08, p = .047).
Perceptions When Phases of Spiritual Dryness were Overcome
After these phases, 12% reported that these feelings inspired them regularly to help others, 27% often, 26% sometimes, 22% rarely, and 14% not at all. Deeper spiritual clarity and depth after these phases were regularly observed by 14%, by 27% often, 32% sometimes, 14% rarely, and 12% not at all.
Those without any duty in the church had the lowest urge to help and spiritual depth after these phases compared to those with leading roles or other duties (Table 2). When the SDAs analyzed herein were effective to find ways to cope with these phases, they significantly more often experienced spiritual depth and helped others. Helping others was slightly lower in younger persons (< 40 years) compared to the other ages (F = 4.65, p = .010), while there were no age-related differences for inner depth (F = 0.51, n.s.). Women experienced inner depth slightly more often than men (F = 5.89, p = .016), while there were no gender-related differences for helping others after overcoming these phases (F = 0.00, n.s.). Therefore, it is important to analyze which strategies were used.
Strategies to Cope with Phases of Spiritual Dryness
As shown in Table 3, the most often used strategies to cope were Devotion/Trust in God and Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading, followed by Openness (whatever may come), Talks with others (i.e., family. friends), and Self-Care (i.e., leisure. sport. holidays); less relevant were Avoidance strategies (i.e., suppression, inner withdrawal) and Consultation of spiritual advisor/pastor; Consultation of psychotherapists was the least relevant strategy to cope.
Interestingly, phases of spiritual dryness were experienced significantly more often by persons without duties in the church as compared to those with leading roles or other duties, and they also found strategies to cope less often (Table 3). With respect to the coping strategies, the spirituality-related strategies were less often used by persons without duties, particularly Spiritual retreats, Devotion/Trust in God and Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading, but also Voluntary work for the benefit of others was less often utilized. All other strategies were not related to the duty in the church.
Those who stated that they have found ways to cope with spiritual dryness (often or even regularly) had significantly lower spiritual dryness cores, while those who were less able to cope (not at all, rarely or sometimes only) had the highest spiritual dryness scores (Table 3). Both coping groups showed significant differences in their use of Devotion/Trust in God, which were mainly used by those who often to regularly find ways to cope with spiritual dryness, and Avoidance strategies, which were used less often by those who regularly find ways to cope and more often by those who did not or rarely only find ways to cope (Table 3). Consultation of a psychotherapist was a little higher in the less effective spiritual dryness copers; further Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading and also Openness were slightly higher in the good copers compared to the poor copers.
The Consultation of psychotherapists differed between women and men, which was more often used by men than women (F = 8.80, p = .003); also Avoidance strategies were a bit more often used by men compared to women (F = 4.82, p = .028) (data not shown). All other strategies did not significantly differ between women and men. With respect to age, there was a weak difference for Self-Care, which was highest in persons < 40 years of age (F = 3.13, p = .044), while all other strategies showed no significant age-related differences (data not shown).
Correlations Between Strategies to Cope and Indicators of Spirituality and Well-being
Some strategies were moderately to strongly interrelated (Table 4), i.e., Devotion/Trust in God were strongly related to Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading, and moderately with Openness. Talking with a spiritual advisor/pastor was moderately related with talking with family and friends or with a psychotherapist. Avoidance strategies were inversely and weakly related with Devotion/Trust in God. Interestingly, Avoidance was positively related to consultation with a psychotherapist, although marginally only. All other strategies were either not at all or marginally to weakly interrelated (Table 4).
Both spirituality-related strategies (Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading and Devotion/Trust in God) were moderately related to Living from the Faith, Perception of the Sacred and inversely with Spiritual Dryness and Acedia (Table 4). However, Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading as a strategy was marginally only associated with well-being and lower emotional exhaustion, while Devotion/Trust in God was at least weakly related with both well-being indicators. All other strategies were not at all or only marginally related to indicators of spirituality or well-being. In contrast, Avoidance strategies were not relevantly related to Living from Faith or Perception of the Sacred, but marginally positive with Spiritual Dryness and Acedia, and weakly with reduced well-being, emotional exhaustion and feelings of pressure (Table 4).
Will SDAs´ religious practices have an effect on the utilized coping strategies? Frequency of private prayer was moderately related to the coping strategies Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading, and weakly with Devotion/Trust in God, but was not relevantly related to the other strategies, while frequency of attending the Sabbath service was marginally only related with spiritual coping strategies (Table 4).
With respect to the reactions when phases of spiritual dryness were overcome, it was found that none of the coping strategies showed relevant associations with the perception of greater spiritual serenity and depth, while the inspiration to help others more was weakly associated with concrete Voluntary work for others as a strategy, and also with Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading, Devotion/Trust in God and participating in Spiritual retreats (Table 4).
Predictors of Spiritual Dryness and Finding Ways to Cope
The aforementioned strategies are the reactions toward the experience of spiritual dryness. Whether these phases were in fact prevented by the respective usage cannot be answered. Instead, one can ask whether these coping strategies may buffer the perception of spiritual dryness, and furthermore which variables could predict whether the persons have found ways to cope with spiritual dryness or not. For that purpose stepwise regression analyses were performed.
It was found that spiritual dryness was predicted by four strategies: Avoidance (Beta = .26, T = 6.26, p < .0001), low Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading (Beta = − .16, T = -3.30, p = .001), low Voluntary work: helping others (Beta = − .11, T = − 2.63, p = .009), and low Devotion/Trust in God (Beta = − .12, T = 2.46, p = .014). This model explains 18% of variance only (Avoidance strategy alone would predict 10% of variance).
The ability to find ways to cope with spiritual dryness was predicted (“buffered”) by five variables: low Acedia (Beta = − .12, T = − 2.30, p = .022), Living from the Faith (Beta = .22, T = 4.86, p < .0001), low emotional exhaustion (Beta = − .17, T = − 3.20, p = .001), well-being (Beta = .12, T = 2.22, p = .027) and by duties in the church (Beta = .09, T = 2.12, p = .034). This model explains 24% of variance (14% by Acedia alone). Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading, Devotion/Trust in God, Avoidance strategies, Perception of the Sacred and age had no significant independent influence in this model.
Distribution of Spiritual Dryness Cluster Types and Effectiveness of Coping with Spiritual Dryness
Based on the categorical variable spiritual dryness and the continual variables well-being (WHO5), Perception of the Sacred (DSES-6), Acedia´s Excessive Spiritual Demands, Acedia´ Difficulties in Prayer Life and emotional exhaustion (VAS) one may find three cluster of SDAs´ spiritual dryness experience (Büssing et al. 2020b). As shown in Table 5, there is a clear separation of Cluster types and their ability to find ways to cope with spiritual dryness. Persons in Cluster 1 (high spiritual dryness and Acedia, low perception of the sacred, low well-being and high emotional exhaustion) have a higher proportion of less effective copers, while persons in the contrasting Cluster 3 (low spiritual dryness and low acedia, high perception of the sacred, high well-being and low emotional exhaustion) have a high proportion of effective copers. SDAs in Cluster 2 (which is a moderate intermix of the characteristics of Clusters 1 and 3) have a higher proportion of effective copers, but less clear-cut compared to Cluster 3 SDAs.
Within these three clusters, analyses of variance revealed significant differences in mean values of Avoidance strategies (F = 31.53, p < 0.0001), Private prayer/Meditation/Scripture reading (F = 18.39, p < .0001), Devotion/Trust in God (F = 15.79, p < .0001), Voluntary work: helping others (F = 8.72, p < 0.0001), Openness (whatever may come) (F = 6.65, p = 0.001), and Consultation of psychotherapists (F = 4.16, p = .016), which were lowest in persons of Cluster 1 (data not shown).