What’s the first thing you do when you feel spiritually stuck? Do you think about how it feels to be stuck? Scan your life to see what you’re stuck in? Make a list of alternatives to being spiritually stuck and try to activate one of them? While all of these options may produce some positive results, fully extracting yourself from spiritual stuckness requires a prior step: extracting yourself from yourself.
It’s easy to get stuck in spiritual ruts when we and our efforts become the center of our spiritual practices. This is as true for our personal and private spiritual practices as it is for our community engagement. Whether we’re serving up hot meals to the homeless, reading scripture and praying for our neighbors, or teaching children to be kind, repetition of the same practices can, over time, lessen their impact on us and those we serve. The weight of our missteps and failures, lack of financial resources to support our work, or lack of appreciation of our efforts by those we seek to help, can cause us to focus more on the difficulties we have in living up to our callings rather than on the One who gave us the calling in the first place.
What once was clearly a divine leading degenerates into, at best, a mere daily habit and at worst, a source of stress and distress. Our spiritual practices become less and less able to draw us into a deeper connection with God, our fellow human beings, and all of creation. We may well have begun these practices in response to the honest call of God on our hearts. And we may once have felt the depth of our faith increase with every ladle of soup, every intercession we’ve spoken, and every smile prompted by a child sharing unselfishly. But unless our practices are constantly infused with the Love that first inspired them, they will eventually begin to wither like leaves on a winter branch.
This doesn’t mean that we must jettison all the things we’re currently doing in favor of new spiritual activities (although God often calls us to do just that). The same spiritual practices we’ve done for what seems like forever may still work. We may just need a slight adjustment in our attitude towards them: an attitude of praise. Begin every spiritual practice with a word of praise to God. Praise God not only for loving us without limit, but for extending to us the privilege of sharing that Love with all persons and creatures we encounter. Praising the Source of both our calling and our success in our calling pulls us out of ourselves, out of what our spiritual practices have become under our own supervision.
Root all spiritual practices, new or longstanding, in praise to the One who calls us to do a good work in this world, to be a place where the Spirit can work miracles of love and grace. Instead of wondering how we can do more for God and our neighbor, begin every day by acknowledging that God is the one who makes all our spiritual practices possible and powerful. Praise brings us back to the infancy of our calling to take up these practices, reminding us of the childlike faith and fascination we had when the calling was new and we had not yet figured out what God wanted of us. Then, we needed God’s daily input just to more forward and were utterly open to being taught and shown what to do.
Whether it feels that way or not, we always need God’s input to know what we’re being called to do. Experience may make it easier for us to chart a path; but constantly praising the Source of our calling will insure that the path we chart is fruitful and joyful.
Janice Staab, Ph.D. www.janicestaab.com