Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More on Spiritual Practices and Calories

I wrote about counting calories as metaphor for time-tested spiritual practices here.  Lately, I've seen the potential flaws in calorie counting, and I've wondered if there are similar flaws on the other side of the comparison.

My moves towards healthier living inspired my spouse to count calories and to try to adopt some healthier practices.  His weight went down at the end of last week, but yesterday, it shot up.  He says, "One week of calorie counting, and I've gained three pounds."

Yes, I see the flaw in his logic.  It's been a week, not a month, not a season.  He didn't count calories on Saturday as he overate.  There are any number of reasons why his weight might be up, and it's too early to know for sure what's causing it or if it's a temporary blip.

But watching him made me think of people who adopt a spiritual practice only to find that the promises don't hold up.  I can hear the pilgrim now, saying, "Hey, I thought if I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, I'd be feeling different.  But I'm feeling the same, but now I just pray more."  Or, "I thought that if I tithed, I'd be less stressed about money.  It hasn't happened yet.  It's been a week.  How long do I have to wait?"

Much as we long-time believers might not want to own up to our own failings and disappointments when it comes to our faith and our spiritual disciplines, it's important.  We want new believers to stay the course.  We don't want them to quit when it gets hard or when they think they're feeling ways that a Christian would never feel.  We don't want them to think that they adopt a spiritual discipline, practice it until it becomes a habit, and then they're out of danger. 

Any of us could wake up to find our spiritual lives (or other aspects of our lives) stifled and dull.  What once left us feeling refreshed and renewed, nourished and healthy, might stop working.  However, if we keep doing the spiritual practice, even if we're not feeling authentic about it, we might find that at a later point, the spiritual practice starts working for us again.

Just as our daily weight fluctuations are no reason to abandon healthy eating, our emotional fluctuations are no reason to abandon solid spiritual practices.  And if we can be open about it, we can help others.  Millions of readers and viewers have been buoyed by Oprah's weight struggles--if we're open about our spiritual ups and downs, we might find that we form a stronger generation of believers.

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