Have you ever gotten your car so utterly stuck in the mud that there was just no getting it out? The more you revved the engine─ the more you tried to get unstuck─ the deeper the ruts became. No matter how determined you were to get on with your plans, you weren’t going anywhere. When all was said and done, trying to move produced the same result as doing nothing would have. You were still stuck in the muck, and stuck a bit deeper than before all that effort was expended.
Sadly, this is how many of us feel about our spiritual lives. Our old and established habits are like ruts in the brain keeping us stuck in unhelpful behavior patterns. Notice that I didn’t say “unwanted” behavior patterns. If some part of us didn’t want them, these patterns would have dissipated long ago! We may get up early for prayer and head to church every weekend. We may do “good deeds” when the opportunity arises and give of our time and resources to others. But even the best of spiritual habits can cause us to feel stuck if we’re only doing what we’ve always done without reflection or consideration of where God is leading us at this moment in time. Unless we can connect our spiritual actions and plans with the present Divine call on our hearts, we’ll still be stuck in the spiritual muck this time next year, and just a bit deeper than we are now.
With this in mind, we’re going to spend the first quarter of 2020 talking about ways to get spiritually unstuck and create a thriving connection to God and our communities. Begin by acknowledging that, in the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Trying to change without actually doing so and never bothering to change at all have the same end result. Spending too much time thinking about what to do, wondering if a certain path is right for us, or second guessing our choices may feel like progress. But more often than not, it just amounts to spinning our wheels in the muck of our own thoughts.
It’s time to stop the mental gymnastics and put some real world traction behind our wandering wonderings! Stop trying to change and start actually changing! Stop thinking about changing and actually change something. Assume that in all your thinking and praying and wondering, God has given you a clue about where you’re being led. Identify that leading and take a small step in its direction. Make it a safe and repeatable step that you can take with ease. Don’t make the first step too difficult to complete. Then as God leads, add another small step when you’re ready.
If you know God is asking you to spend more time in prayer, start with an extra 5 minutes in the morning before your feet hit the floor. Use this brief time to pray about your prayer life. Ask God to show you any obstacles that prevent prayer from being more natural for you, and to give you the strength to overcome them. Be sure to leave at least one of those 5 minutes to listen for God’s reply!
If you feel called to deepen your spiritual life through service to your community, volunteer for one hour a week to help a local organization. Pray about ways in which the gifts that you have been blessed with can be used to ease the pain, stress, or fears of others. Talk to friends about the opportunities if you’re not drawn to a specific place or cause.
The most important part of this exercise is not to create an ideal spiritual life, but to actively receive and respond to God’s call on your life. One small “yes” to God will be met with a resounding “Yes” back to you!
Janice Staab, Ph.D. www.janicestaab.com