On my good days I like to think I am on a spiritual journey. I feel more comfortable putting it this way, rather than saying I am spiritual. Simply to say I am spiritual seems arrogant to me. I would say that I know some people whom I consider to be spiritual. I look at their lives and actions and it is a no-brainer. I even know a couple folks who can be seen as spiritual masters. I feel like I am on the other end. Some days I feel engaged on the journey. Other days I am not sure I have even begun.
Two elements are necessary for a consistent spiritual journey. They are simple elements, but are necessary. The first element is commitment. Commitment includes the initial “yes” to a relationship with God. And then it is locking in that “yes” in a daily living out of the relationship. This is where the second element comes into the picture. That element is discipline. Discipline is the means by which we live out the “yes” in our daily lives.
When I do not feel like I am on a spiritual journey, I check these two elements. I ask whether my commitment has waned? Has it become lukewarm or half-hearted? Do I need to re-commit? Re-commitment is not an unusual step in long-term relationships. This would be true with people and, I’m confident, with God, too. To re-commit should not be an embarrassment. Rather it should be seen as a new opportunity. To re-commit does not mean I have failed; it means I exercise my will to get back at it. That’s good news!
Discipline is a very different category than commitment. I think of commitment more like an event. It is a decision. It happens. I do not get up every morning and decide whether to be committed to the people and things to which I was committed yesterday. Typically, commitments are “made” and they stay that way. Even if I begin to see a commitment wane, it usually does it over time. Discipline for me often has to be re-decided. I have long had the discipline to exercise---usually run. But discipline does not mean I automatically do it. I have to re-decide to do it today and will have to do it again tomorrow.
Discipline does not have to be hard. But it does have to be consistent. Perhaps that is where my discipline of exercise is different than my spiritual discipline. For whatever reason, I have always felt like the physical exercise was easy. Spiritual discipline has always required a higher level of intentionality. I have to monitor that spiritual discipline.
I don’t think I am unusual. Too often for Christians, spiritual can mean some beliefs. I can say I believe in God or in Jesus. Too many times, we assume belief is enough. We get lazy in assuming if I believe correctly, then I have a relationship with God or Jesus. That is all there is to it. If I don’t change my belief, my relationship is intact and healthy.
As I type those last lines, I know that is not true. Of course, I am not against beliefs. But simply to believe in God does not make a relationship. That is true of God and of other people. A relationship is built on connection, experience, interaction, conversation, etc. I don’t just believe in my daughters. I have experiences, have conversations and so forth that make relationships. The same is true for grandkids as they come along. I don’t usually think about discipline in this case, but there is a form of discipline. And that is grounded in my commitment to them.
This leads me back to my spiritual journey. I am confident I have the necessary commitment to God. Perhaps it does not feel as easy as my daughters, but that is not surprising. They are easier to see. I have their cell numbers and can call them. They use FaceTime to connect with me. I can see grandkids dancing on my cell phone. It is a bit tougher with God. I don’t have God’s number!
That is precisely where discipline comes into the picture. Because I don’t have the Divine cell number, I will need the discipline to practice the old, classic ways to touch base with God. Ignorance is not my problem. I know spiritual folks for centuries have found disciplines like prayer, meditation, study, etc. have proven to be effective means to sustain and deepen their spiritual commitment.
I know there is no other way. As far as I know, God does not do FaceTime. But God is available any time for what we might coin is HeartTime. This is different than believing in God---as valuable as that can be. I want to be less hesitant and more constant in my discipline. Wanting to do it is the first step. Putting it into practice is the next step.
I deal with my hesitancy by taking small steps into discipline. Discipline does not have to be heroic. Crawling is an acceptable form of moving for babies. Almost never does the crawling stage get skipped by going straight to walking. Maybe praying for five minutes is a spiritual crawl. But it is movement. Even if I hesitate, I can commit to five minutes. I am back on the journey.