I had a fairly dramatic conversion experience when I was a young teenager. It wasn’t one of those ‘sinner-to-saint’ stories. I wasn’t a wild and disobedient child. But the experience itself was dramatic for me. After a simple prayer, I felt a flood of emotion and euphoria like nothing I had ever experienced before. There was a clear and profound sense of connection with the Divine Presence that stayed with me for weeks. That single moment set me on the path to ordained ministry and directly impacted the person I chose to marry and the story of our life together.
One of the first things I was taught as a young Christian was that I needed to have a daily ‘Quiet Time’. I was instructed that without a time of personal prayer and Bible reading I wouldn’t be ‘steeped in the Word’ and I would ‘backslide’. I spent the next two decades desperately trying to be faithful at my daily devotional practice. But I wasn’t very good. I would create a system for myself and dive into it with enthusiasm for a few weeks. I would pray, I would journal, I would read my Bible using some recommended system. I even tried journaling through art. But after a while, life would happen and days and weeks would go by with no Quiet Times at all. I would feel guilty, ashamed and that I had let God down. And then the whole cycle would start over again.
MY SPIRITUAL MISTAKES
It took me longer than it should have for me to realise two things:
What I was trying to do wasn’t working because it didn’t fit me. It was based on what worked for other people, which is why I couldn’t sustain it.
Spiritual practice is not for God’s sake, but ours. I thought I was pleasing God and being a good follower of Christ, but God did not need my ‘Quiet Times’. A spiritual practice is meant to help us to be more mindful. It is to lead us into a deeper connection with God, ourselves, others, and our world.
In my last two posts, I explored in more detail what I mean by ‘spirituality’ and what the purpose of spiritual practice actually is. These posts show that, in spite of my early struggles, I am a firm believer in the power of spiritual practice. But for a practice to work it must fit who we are and be worth the time and effort we put into it.
CRAFTING YOUR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
Crafting a spiritual practice can be more difficult than it may seem. There is a wide variety of practices to choose from that have been developed over the centuries. It can be complicated to find something that fits who we are when we keep changing from day to day. And it’s not easy to balance spiritual practice with the other demands of our lives. Any practice that adds stress, guilt, obligation, or boredom to our lives is not worth the effort. Spirituality should lead us to more vibrant, creative, connected, and compassionate lives.
So how do we craft a fitting, meaningful, and life-giving practice that is worth the effort? Here are a few ideas—in case you’re still struggling to work out how to make a spiritual practice work for you.
- Take note of what calms, inspires, excites, and motivates you. Incorporate these things into your spiritual practice.
- Find the traditional spiritual practices that resonate with you and use them as the foundation to build your own.
- Take note of any moments of transcendence that you feel and look for ways to make these experiences repeatable.
- Take note of what helps others respond to you spontaneously, positively, and comfortably. Make nurturing those qualities part of your practice. And use your practice to identify and soften anything that makes others guarded or defensive around you.
- Have ways to assess your progress in various areas of your life. The ‘Wellness Wheel’ (above) can be a great tool for tracking how you’re doing so that you can focus on strengthening areas of struggle.
HOW DO YOU DO IT?
There are as many ways of designing our spiritual practice as there are people. It can be enlightening and inspiring to learn from those around us. We need to take care to ensure that we do what works for us, but it can be helpful to learn from and adapt what others do.
So how do you craft your spiritual practice? What works for you now and how has that changed over time? What have you found helpful and what has been a waste of time for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, so please leave your comment below. Let’s support each other in crafting a worthwhile spiritual practice!
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Dear John I am so humbled by the honesty of your personal story. I have also struggled for many years to craft a personal time of worship that is sustainable for me and I perceive that we are not alone in this. Reading how our “contemporary spiritual giants” rise every morning at 0400 and do their quiet time created a feeling of insufficiency in me. Engaging with your gentle guidance has been helpful Thanks for sharing your insights
I’m so glad you found this helpful, Joanne.
When I think about those ‘spiritual giants’ to whom you refer, I realise that our view of spiritual practice has been strongly influenced by capitalism (more is better) and the Protestant work ethic (the harder you work the more reward you will reap). Even the term ‘spiritual giants’ belies a competitiveness in how we view spirituality that I believe is deeply unhelpful.
In the end, I believe spiritual practice is less about what we do and more about what we become.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
[…] wrote a post last year called How To Craft A Worthwhile Spiritual Practice in which I referred to the Wellness Wheel. This is an excellent tool for whole-person health that […]