Turns out that my last post with a similar title wasn’t received very well.
I tried to sound cranky about the state of journalism today – it’s the pits – and I found out that many of my readers really were hoping to read something along the lines of habits for spiritual health. Imagine turning to your pastor for something like that.
So, pleased by the request, I put some effort into it. And here’s what I concluded: I’m going to give this a try, partly because I don’t very often back down from a challenge (a lifelong spiritual issue I’ve been working on), and partly because I’m interested to see where this goes.
However, you should know up front that what I write won’t be anything close to a definitive list. I’ve got some ideas – in fact, some ideas that I feel strongly about – but I also have the sense that a list like this can’t be done alone. I can tell you what Proverbs 15:3 means with a high degree of certainty; I can only offer preliminary observations about something like the habits of a healthy spiritual life.
The spiritually healthy people I have known over the years:
- take time each day to be quiet, as in doing nothing but being alert to the presence of God. This is kind of like “being present in the moment,” but I’ve come to see that it’s far more than that. It includes what Barbara Brown Taylor has famously called “the art of paying attention.” I’m up early just about every morning. I haven’t always liked that and am still a bit jealous of those who can sleep late whenever they want to, but I’ve actually become protective of those early morning hours when I’m awake. The early darkness – think of the beginning of the Easter story – is where I begin most days.
- are grateful. They seem to have cultivated a thankful spirit. No matter what happens, no matter what life dishes out, they always find a way to be grateful for something. Not necessarily for anything big. Often it’s something small, even tiny. The point is, you can always hear them say, “Oh, look at that. Isn’t that wonderful?” One of my favorite writers about the spiritual life, Anne Lamott, includes gratitude among her three essential prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow.
- are generous. Yes, they are generous givers. They tend to put more in the offering plate than other people because of course that’s what generous people do. But I’m really thinking of a larger kind of generosity here – a generous spirit. I have known people who never, under any circumstances, returned evil for evil. If someone spoke an unkind word to them, they never seemed to respond with anything other than grace and patience. They were not weak, and they were not pacifists, but they were generous with their warmth and hospitality. (I pray daily for this same spirit.)
- are honest –painfully, ruthlessly, almost shockingly honest. I realize that this echoes step 5 in the 12-step program: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Apparently, being honest is also the way someone gets sober. I don’t have space to write about appropriate and inappropriate self-disclosure, so maybe it’s enough to say that we know authentic people when we meet them. I like to surround myself with them.
- are strong. As I get older, my ideas about strength are slowly changing. Being able to run 26.2 miles was once my ideal of physical strength. And I am still in awe of it. But being strong can also mean inner strength and character. It can refer to the ego. It can refer to the inner serenity that results from doing the right thing and saying the right thing, not because it’s popular to do so, but because it’s the right thing to do (and say). Ask me to name some of the most important spiritual mentors in my life, and I’ll name a half dozen or so very strong people.
I think that’s enough for now. I invite you to add more.
Notice that I haven’t bothered to define spiritual health. At some point maybe I’ll circle back to that. For now I want you to know what I think about when I think about the habits of the spiritually healthy people I know and have known along the way.
Please, don’t anyone suggest that peppering our conversations with references to Jesus or to Bible verses we committed to memory is a sign of spiritual health. It’s not. Often it’s the sign of just the opposite.