Sunday, September 2, 2012

Developing Spiritual Muscles

Last Saturday, I took my son on a hiking expedition with the Elko County Art Club.  The last hike, mind you, that I had been on was in the sixth grade.  Undaunted by facts, and having visions of great photography and a terrific time outdoors with my son, I forged ahead oblivious to reality.

At first, I attempted to keep up with everyone else's pace.  This was unrealistic.  My poor body was used to walking long distances in town, but walking on flat, even surfaces is not at all the same as trying to walk up rocky paths at steep angles.  My muscles simply were not up for the task.  This is when I began to see that my physical hike was, in many ways, much like the spiritual journey a new convert makes to the faith.

Spiritual Muscles

Growing in faith is a matter of developing your spiritual muscles.  It won't happen all at once.  Religion is basically exercise equipment for the soul - it works best when it's applied daily over a long period of time.  Just as you will hurt your physical muscles if you try to push yourself too hard exercising, the same is true of your spiritual muscles, too.

Here is my advice to all those who are just beginning to find their faith, and to those who love them:

1. Take it easy

Just as your body has physical muscles, your soul has spirit muscles.  Those who have been away from the faith for a while have let those muscles lapse, and those who have never been in the faith to begin with have muscles that are very weak.  Do not expect those muscles to be able to keep up with those who have been working out their faith every day for a long time.

For those who are just starting this journey, take it easy on yourself and don't try to do too many devotions all at once.  Focus on the areas that are within reach.  If you haven't been going to Mass on Sundays, set a goal for yourself to go every Sunday.  If you don't make it, confess and try again the next Sunday.

For those who love them: Don't push too hard.  It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget that their endurance for all things faith related is low.  They cannot handle what you can handle yet.  Give them room to grow into the faith.

2. Persevere

I struggled mightily getting up the side of that mountain, but I did make it.  The key was in not giving up.  Remember: You are never closer to the finish line than when you most feel like you can't go one more step.  It was true for me, too.  Just a few feet from the Island Lakes, I seriously wondered whether I would ever get there and whether it would be better to just quit and head back to the car.  However, having experienced this phenomena several times, I knew this just meant I needed to keep pushing because the end was close.

For those who are just starting this journey: Don't ever give up.  It's a long journey and there are going to be a lot of heartaches and doubts along the way.  Trust me, the view at the end of the journey is spectacular and you will not want to miss out.  It is worth every ounce of effort you will put into it.

For those who love them:  I would probably not have been able to make that journey up the mountain had my son not stayed with me the whole way.  He carried my backpack for me, was patient and nonjudgmental of my failings.  Unlike the others who passed ahead, he accepted me where I was and accepted my limitations.  His quiet presence and cheerful patience were exactly what I needed.  It is the same thing the new convert needs from you. They need to hear you cheer them on. They need reassurance that they are headed the right direction. Most of all, though, they need for you to be patient with their failings and present in their lives.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

That journey I made up the mountain was torture, and I started that journey carrying 15 pounds in a backpack.  It was a hard enough hike for someone like me without the added weight, but I didn't want to feel weak so I didn't ask for help.  I struggled on like this for the better part of a mile because of pride.  It was, again, my son who rescued me by noticing my struggle and offering to take the backpack.

For those who are starting this journey: Do not be afraid to ask for help.  Don't let your pride trap you into carrying burdens your soul just isn't ready to handle.  When it is offered, don't brush it off.  Take advantage of the help.  Believe me when I tell you that a faith journey is hard enough without you adding additional weight to your load.

For those who love them: Be observant.  Asking for help is hard for the best of us.  Notice when the new convert seems to be struggling, and offer to take the burden.  You may not be able to solve their problem, you may not be able to take up their burden for them, but you can help them by sharing the load.  Don't judge them for needing the help, or for failing to ask for it, just be there for them when they need it.

I hope these tips have helped, and I hope even more that you take them to heart. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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