Spiritual Practice: Love and Life for The Other
If you were not a teenager growing up in the Christian church in 1990’s America, you may not know that it was a Renaissance of Christian Youth Spiritual Formation. Youth Groups were still in their prime. Without doing any research, I will report that at least 45% of all teenagers throughout the 1990’s attended at least one Youth Group event, retreat, or mission trip regardless of whether or not their families were “religious.” The letters “WWJD” were a national craze…an internet meme before most of us were on the internet. Radio hits by Christian bands like D.C. Talk (also known for their hit book “Jesus Freaks”) and Jars of Clay were pointed to as evidence that American pop culture was finally starting to “get it.” The spiritual book “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” was on the New York Times Bestseller List for months upon months (it might still be there today!). And that was just the popular (read: inescapable) stuff. For the truly “hard core” spiritual young person, there were Youth Leaders you could turn to for the secret, insider knowledge about how to truly “strengthen” your faith and grow “closer” to Jesus. Some popularly recommended practices were Community Service, daily devotional reading, or keeping a prayer journal. That was life for the spiritually dedicated…a solid regimen of receiving messages from God, entering into a time of introspection about those messages, and then reaching out into the world to put those messages into action.
In the years since the 1990’s, my generation seems to have rebelled against the culture that raised us by entering into an endless debate: What constitutes a Spiritual Practice? Why is such a thing important? Can ANYTHING be a Spiritual Practice? Aren’t ALL THINGS inherently practice for the human spirit? At certain times these conversations have become parodies of themselves…with every individual doubling down on their own personal interests and rejecting any dissenting opinions. It’s enough to make you wonder, “Have any of us learned anything…ever?”
But then there are other moments…especially in the wake of national tragedies and world disasters…when it seems genuinely essential to make sure that people of faith KNOW how to practice their spirituality. A person of faith without spiritual practice is akin to a professional chef who has never stepped foot in the kitchen…or someone who begins practicing “medicine” or “law” without any first-hand experience with them.
To put it another way: A person of faith without a Spiritual Practice is like a marathon runner who has never trained to run a marathon. Sure, there are some individuals among us who could show up on the day of the big race, having NEVER trained their bodies to endure running for 26.2 miles in a single day, and they do just fine. But most of us can’t do that. Most of us require a lot of regular, intense working out.
Regardless of your athletic abilities or aspirations, we know that the human body requires a certain amount of physical activity every day (or, at the very least, multiple times a week) just to stay alive. If it’s true for our earthly, physical selves, then it must be true for our spiritual, eternal selves as well. A lot of ink is spilled every week (or, at least, digital content created) debating beliefs and theologies among people of all faiths and people of no faith as we try to make collective decisions as a country. But I would go so far as to say…if you do not have a way of practicing your spirituality…if you do not have some way of putting your theology and beliefs into concrete, tangible practice in your earthly life…you may not actually know what you believe at all. And if you think that your personal beliefs or ideas are entirely personal and do not have an effect on others…you have a lot to work out.
So let’s make this as clear and as simple as possible. Consider me your Spiritual Trainer. Let me offer you a quick and easy way of understanding what Spiritual Practice is and how you can begin your Spiritual Work Out today…right now:
1) A Spiritual Practice is anything that increases Love in your life. Love is not an emotion…it is not something that randomly happens to you or not. Love is a spiritual gift that can only be attained through spiritual practice. Anything that teaches you how to love better is a Spiritual Practice.
2) Spiritual Practice is not separate from your life…it is how you live your life. When people are given a list of “things they can do” for spiritual practices, our reactions to such lists can often range from “who has time for all that?” to “this is a total WASTE of my time!” If you’re trying to do something that feels unnatural, if you’re trying to force yourself to do something “extra” from your life, then it probably won’t ever help you engage your life…which Is the entire point of a spiritual practice. The point is not to take a break from reality, it’s not to get in or out of your head, it’s not to give God room to work (God literally creates new space all the time). The point is to live your life as fully and wholly as possible. Spiritual practice is not separate from your life…it is how you live your life.
3) Ultimately, it’s for Others. Some people try to take on a particular practice because it fills them with joy and the feeling of God’s Grace. That’s wonderful…but it’s not the point. Some folks take on a daily practice to maintain their own sanity and hold their life together one day at a time. That’s wonderful…and probably a very important ancillary benefit…but it’s not the point. If you are the only person who benefits from your Spiritual Practice…then you are doing something very fun and wonderful and fulfilling…but it’s not growing your Spirit. Refer back to #1: Spiritual Practice increases Love in your life. Love always involves The Other. If your capacity for Love is not growing…if you are not learning to love Other people…ALL people…if you are not finding more people to share more love with as a result of your spiritual work…then your spirit is not being put to work.
Love and Life for The Other. That’s everything. That’s The Bible. That’s what we do on Sunday mornings. That’s church functions and committee meetings. That’s social justice and charity and community service. That’s spiritual growth and it’s the key to God’s Kingdom. Love and Life for The Other.
Looking to get some practice in for your spirit this week? Here are some opportunities:
Soup’s On cooking and set up on Tuesday
Soup’s On serving and eating on Wednesday
Walk for Justice for Immigrants and Refugees this Saturday (click HERE to learn more)!
Worship and Church Council Meeting on Sunday
Every conversation you have with friends and family.
Every argument, every decision, every time you choose how to be in relationship with others.
Every nap and every prayer.
We’re looking forward to training with you.