My spiritual life is usually a complete mess.
I look at my bookshelves and marvel that anyone even attempts to write books about spirituality, all those pieces of paper bound together with string and glue, with all their chapters and subheadings and beginnings and endings and ability to be alphabetized. All that cohesion.
My spiritual journey is not so hygienic. I experience an exasperating lack of linearity. My road is more akin to an unpredictable wandering through Wonderland that refuses the rules of time and space, where the quickest way from Point A to Point B is not always the straight line that stretches in between.
I very much want to be transformed into the image of Christ. I do. I want to move forward, but too often it seems like I am actually moving backwards. Frustration comes next: I should know better, I should know how to do this by now, why am I not moving forward? But the harder I try, the more I can’t get it right and the more I end up walking in circles. I don’t know what else to do and so I just sit down and wait — what else can I do? I pound my fists in frustration, pound them again, and then once more, just to make my point. I live in the place of waiting, and I write myself a Waiting Psalm: “Surely waiting will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of Waiting forever. Amen.”
Then. After that long, long period of waiting and stuck-ness and sliding backwards, I feel wind on my face and realize that am moving again. A sudden moment of clarity, like a gift, and I realize in a flash that I am much further down the road than I had even dared to dream, that somehow my waiting has been my working.
Sometimes, after a particularly good leg of the journey, I look back and say with pride, “That was a particularly good leg of the journey.” And I forget, I forget, I forget that it had almost nothing to do with me, it had almost everything to do with Him. But I have already forgotten about all of that and so I pin a badge on my own shirt that says, “I Am A Very Good Walker.” And I like to believe that I know exactly how I got to where I am, so then I try to repeat my strategy, try to bottle the lightning, squint my eyes shut and click my heels. I open my eyes, and I am not where I expected to be. I have moved back to an old place and now must re-walk a stretch of road that I once rejoiced in leaving behind. And again I beat the ground and say, “Here again? Didn’t I do this part already?”
Sometimes I meet people on this road, and I can tell by the way they talk and by the way they listen and by the way they are – I can tell that they have been on this road longer than I have, and I sure do like them a whole, whole lot. So I watch how they do it and try to put my feet in their footprints, hurry to walk beside them whenever I can. I listen when they talk and think about their words, and if those words are intended for me in particular, whoa buddy, you can bet I pay really good attention and absorb those words unfiltered, right into my heart. Then I start to think about them too much, those people and those words, and find that I am stumbling more than usual because I am not walking as much as I am watching them watch me walk. And then for one second, just for one second, I stop paying attention and look down, and when I look up again, they are gone. Which is best, because I should have known all along that they can’t tell me who I am, they can’t tell me how to walk my own road. And I am sad and a little embarrassed but eventually thankful that Someone saw fit to rescue me from my misplaced focus.
At some point I become accustomed to it all, the strangeness of this road. I relax. I stop thinking about getting from Point A to Point B. Then I forget that a Point A or a Point B ever existed at all: they were just places I made up, places I misunderstood as beginnings and endings. I walk, sometimes I run, sometimes I repeat, sometimes I wait; sometimes I am happy to do all these things and sometimes I am not. And now when I meet people, we walk together for a little while, and I am glad about that too. And even though I still strain to pay attention when they are around, I have at least learned to recognize the signs of my straining. For now, that is enough; I give myself permission to let it be enough, because — what else can I do? For now, this is the place of my waiting.
Then I forget all of these things and I relearn them again, and this time I am a little less impatient with my relearning.
This, today, is what I understand to be true about spiritual life.