This post is also featured in this week's newsletter from St. John's Episcopal Church in Decatur, Alabama. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn more about what God is doing in and through the disciples of our parish, click here.
Many of us set resolutions for ourselves when the calendar year begins. We decide that this is the year when we will lose those fifteen pounds that we have been carrying around for at least fifteen years. By February, of course, most of us have given up. The terrible truth about human nature is that it is far easier to make a resolution than to make the lifestyle change it takes to keep it. The good news, however, is that God has an answer for that predicament known as grace. Instead of self-improvement, we believe in God-improvement—that Jesus’ death and resurrection show us that God has the power and the will to transform us even when we fail to do it on our own.
Still, we benefit from taking stock of our physical, financial, mental, and spiritual health from time to time. Although they might not express them as resolutions, many people look to the start of the school year as a good opportunity to resume a healthful rhythm. Whether we have school-aged children or not, as summer gives way to autumn, we feel that pull to get back into a routine of earlier bedtimes, daily exercise, and regular attendance at church. Of course, being a part of a community of faith is far more than merely showing up at church, but taking the time and effort to darken the door is a good way to start.
This year, as I am transitioning out of the school holidays and into the rigors of fall, I have noticed the shape of my spiritual life showing up in an unexpected place. On my computer, when I launch a new tab on my internet browser, I am offered a shortcut to the ten websites I visit most frequently, and the specific shortcuts that pop up say a lot about my life and work and walk with God.
Some of them are stalwart friends that never change—my Netvibes newsfeed, my e-mail inbox, my Google calendar, and Facebook. These are the websites that I visit several times every day whether I am in town or travelling with my family. They are always there, and their rank among my most frequent sites never changes. The other six, however, fluctuate depending on my daily habits. When I am on vacation, I do not publish posts on my blog, so the shortcut links to that blog as well as to the Bible Gateway website and the online Greek interlinear Bible I use for research as well as the Twitter-based website I use to distribute those posts disappear from my frequent sites. Almost always, the websites for the Sunday lectionary and the Daily Office appear somewhere, but, if I have not been diligent in my daily prayers, they drop down in the rankings. Every once in a while, they disappear completely, and I am reminded, as I type in those website addresses manually, that my spiritual rhythm must be out of balance.
What is it that awakens within you a recognition that the pattern of prayer, study, worship, and Christian service, which typically sustain you day after day, is out of balance? If you do not use the internet to guide your daily spiritual practices, where does a period of neglect show up? You certainly do not need a list of frequent websites to know that something is missing. Maybe you feel like you are carrying around a little more anxiety than usual. Maybe the news channel you watch is stirring up more anger in you than it used to. Maybe you feel more distant not only from God but also from your spouse or children or friends. Maybe your outlook on life has gone from bright to partly cloudy or altogether uncertain. How might you notice that now is a good time to return to the daily, weekly, and monthly spiritual disciplines that have undergirded your faith in the past?
Not unlike losing fifteen pounds, renewing your spiritual life does not happen all at once. It takes time. It takes practice. Unlike self-help, which is built upon our own efforts, Christian spiritual practices are not the origin of our relationship with God but a response to it. God already loves you—whether you go to church, whether you say your prayers, whether you read the bible, or whether you help other people in Jesus’ name. God loves you just the same no matter what, and, because of that love, God is inviting you into an intimate relationship with him. The relationship God offers us is not like the relationships we have on earth—relationships that over time deteriorate with neglect. God’s love for you and God’s choice of you as one of his beloved children does not depend on whether you nurture that relationship at all. Of course, the benefits of that love and that relationship—like peace and joy and hope and love—are more fully manifest in the lives of those who tend that relationship daily, but you do not have to be a spiritual champion to know God’s love and reflect it in the world.
Take a moment and think about your spiritual health. No matter how fleeting they are, how do you spend those quiet moments that life gives you? Do you miss talking with God? Do you hear God inviting you to return to him? God’s arms are always open, and, as the psalmist reminds us, no matter how far we run, God is there. Start small. Make a few tiny changes in your life—like waking up ten minutes earlier to say thank you to God for a new day. No matter how small they are, God takes the offerings of our lives and honors them. God’s love is certain. How we respond to love is the pursuit of our lives.