I am often asked the question, “how can my spiritual life be better?” My answer varies depending on the person but I have found there are 5 keys to a better spiritual life. Each one of these keys will be expanded upon in coming essays but for now here they are. Let me say right from the start, none of this possible outside of a church community. We need the supportive love of a church community to keep us on track. “Spiritual but not religious” is a tool of the deceiver and will cause you great harm.
- Do Not Hold Grudges
As one who hears confessions I encounter this in most people who come to me for confession. So and so did this to me and so and so did that to me. I like to call this remembrance of wrongs and it all stems from pride. Pride is one of the most destructive of all of the vices; in fact it is what led to the expulsion from Paradise of our first parents and thus the root of all other sins.
If we do not deal with these wrongs as they come up then they can lead to anger, vainglory, envy, and jealously not of which are healthy in our lives. Resentfulness can lead to depression, the desire to have what others have (covetousness) and can lead us to additive behavior and abuse of substances such as drugs or alcohol. This is why I list this one first.
Not holding grudges leads directly to the second key and that is forgiveness. If you have been a long time reader of these pages you know I write and speak about this a lot. In my mind forgiveness is essential in the spiritual life. Not forgiving will hamper our spiritual growth and, like hold grudges, will lead to anger and the rest.
However, forgiveness does not mean excusing or justifying. We should not say “he abused me because that is who he is.” His sin is his sin and that is for him to deal with how we react to that abuse is what I am talking about here. For the sake of our soul we have to forgive him for what he has done, but we can be on guard against it in the future.
One of the hardest parts of forgiveness is that we need to forgive even if the other person does not think they were wrong or they do not apologize. Again, their sin is their sin and they have to deal with that. We have no control over another person we only have control over ourselves. We forgive and we pray that the other person might find a way to make things right with you but until that happens we forgive, and move on.
- Do Not React
Following on forgiveness is not reacting to what others do to us. This is the “turn the other cheek” thing that Jesus speaks about.
We are responsible for our own actions and need to take on that responsibility. Putting the blame on someone else for how we react is justifying our behavior when there is no justification for sin. I have encountered far too many people who lie in the tall grass just waiting for their chance to strike back. They plot and scheme their revenge on the person or persons who have harmed them and justify it with “tit for tat.” If we are practicing forgiveness this becomes unnecessary and it is a much healthier expression of our spirituality and we can put that energy into moving on.
But there is a deeper aspect to this one.
Do not react to our thoughts. Thoughts in and of themselves are not sinful it is how we react to them that can be. I would place this one caveat on this, if we harbor resentment against someone or we have bad feelings or wish them hard, these are sinful. Again, there is no excuse for our sins and we have to be responsible for the choices we make.
Our thoughts and temptations surround us, and learning to deal with them as they come along will go a long way in improving our spiritual life.
Not reacting to our thoughts requires what the ancients call “inner watchfulness” always being aware of our thoughts and, working with your spiritual father, dealing with them as they come along. We focus on God and are always aware of His presence in our lives. We move into a living communion with God and our thoughts will gradually turn towards Him.
As I mentioned at the start of this essay, I will be expand on each of these in future essays this is just to get us thinking and moving us in the right direction. Like everything, our spiritual life needs preparation and work.
I come from a tradition that practices Sacramental Confession but perhaps you do not. One of the healing aspects of confession is sharing our failures with another person. Spiritual healing, and even psychological heal, takes place when we put into words, and sharing them with a person we trust. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with another person makes our behaviors real and brings them to the forefront of our minds.
In Sacramental Confession there is the assurance from the priest that God has heard you and forgives the sins that you have confessed the other part of this is forgiving yourself. Forgiveness of self is just as important as forgiving others. The relationship we have with ourselves will greatly enhance our relationships with others. If we can forgive ourselves we should be able to forgive others and if we cannot forgive others we will not be able to forgive ourselves.
- Spiritual Parenting
The 4 pervious keys all come to completion in this 5th and final key that of spiritual parenting. This comes in many forms but in essence it is finding another person who can guide you along the path of your spiritual life. We cannot do this alone and if you think that you can then you are deluding yourself and will fail. Even spiritual parents have spiritual parents! One rule of spiritual parenting, if the parent does not have a parent then do not seek their advice.
I do not like the term “spiritual direction” because I am not directing you, you need to seek your own way I just guide you by asking questions and pointing out the signs along the way. This is a journey we are on together and sometimes I am in front of you and other times I am behind you but we are in this together.
This is an intimate relationship that develops over time and becomes the place where we share the most intimate thoughts that we have. In essence it is therapy, but therapy for the spirit and not just for the mind. Finding a spiritual parent will take time but if you are serious about improving your spiritual life this is essential.
There is not magic here and all of this takes work. We will not get to our goal by drifting along we have to be intentional about it and we have to make the decision to make it happen. We cannot just sit and hope that our spiritual life improves we have to make it happen. Just as we cannot sit on the couch and hope that we can run the marathon we have to get up and get moving.