In my Ideal Life Exercise, I spend my five minutes on Sunday taking a look at how things are going in my Spiritual Life.
Spiritual Life is the one theme I repeat every single week, because it is that important to me. I do it in addition to my daily Bible reading and prayer time.
In much the same way as the day I spend on Wise Decisions, I use this day to scrape off any crud that might have congealed on my heart that I don’t want to carry into another week. The more regularly I examine any resentment, anger, frustration I feel, the less it can accumulate. Accumulated resentment, anger and frustration can cause a broad spectrum of problems: marriage hiccups, parenting guilt, relationship conflicts, self-worth doubts, work stagnation, loss of creativity.
I tend to believe that God has thoughts on all these things, and unless I take a few minutes to examine what is happening, these things will cause more shrapnel than they were originally worth when they finally erupt. I prefer taking a weekly razorblade and detailing my heart with it to exploding disproportionately later.
Heading to the Confessional
Although I was not raised Catholic, there is one part of the Catholic tradition that I find admirable: Confession.
I know that there is nothing magical (here I go again, getting loosey goosey with language…this time I actually do mean “magical,” as in “supernatural”) about stepping into a little box and telling someone everything you did wrong since your last confession.
I also know that feeling icky about things I have done or said or thought is a surefire way for me to start adding bricks to my wall of defensiveness. (Have I mentioned that I am a tremendously defensive person? Yeah. I am. This is part of what makes me impossible to live with.)
When my slate is clean: when I have admitted, at the very least to myself and to God, that I have done things, said things or thought things that aren’t particularly virtuous, the power of these things dissipates. I feel less like I am carrying around secrets that need to be guarded.
So the question “What isn’t working?” on a Sunday usually contains my confessions of the week. I do not keep a list throughout the week: I tend to remember the little things, the hurtful comments I made and the covetous thoughts I dwelt on for too long. The less I let these accumulate the better. Would it be better and more “spiritual” of me to deal with them right away? Sure it would, and sometimes I do. But having this time set aside each week means that I have an opportunity to catch anything I might have missed or have been too proud to deal with immediately.
Don’t get the wrong idea about me. I am not a saint. There are thoughts and actions that I know were wrong that I still staunchly refuse to address. Because God and I are on speaking terms daily, we both know that I haven’t forgotten about them. I like to imagine that he is rolling his eyes at me the way I roll my eyes when my boys insist on wearing clothes with holes in them or playing with broken toys or doing puzzles with half the pieces missing. I know that he loves me and is more patient than I am as a parent.
Getting down to the heart of the matter
In the same way that I can take care of and live with my family every day without stopping to think about how our relationship is going, I can do my Bible reading and prayer time without stopping to consider the state of my relationship with God.
As someone who overthinks chronically, I know that I would be happier in my family life if we did a weekly rundown of what is working and what isn’t. However, this kind of dissection isn’t something everyone enjoys or seems to care to do. However, God doesn’t seem to mind indulging this conversation with me.
Sometimes I think God just likes it when I spend time with him. That’s a neat thought. So whether it is to consider the state of our relationship or to pray about things that are worrying me or to read my Bible, he’s game. Because I believe he has things to say, too, I have learned to discern the little whispers and bubbles of thought that arrive in my heart.
Because we had been doing this kind of thing for a long time before I formalized it into a weekly exercise, I have a wealth of relationship treasures that serve as encouragement to continue. The more I learn to listen, the more I know what God has to say to me. Seems obvious, but it is not as easy as it seems.
At first, it was all just mush. Daily Bible reading can be downright unfun when you are stuck in certain parts of the Bible for too long. Sometimes, prayer just feels like putting a card in an ATM machine when your bank account is empty and expecting money to come out.
Just like any other relationship
Ironically, this is especially true when things are “going well” in my life. When I have no worries, when people are generally not irritating me, when my creative process is humming along, I feel no need to seek out wisdom that will help me move forward.
It is when my well is dry, when s#@t hits the fan, when I’m pulling my hair out in irritation that I find meaning in my daily reading and suddenly, my Spiritual Life feels lubricated.
What I have learned through years of ups and downs is that being intentionally thankful that things are going well requires its own special discipline, but it is what keeps the relationship alive when I am not feeling needy.
I happen to like having relationships with funny people. I enjoy being with people who make me laugh, and I do genuinely love to make people smile. So when I don’t “need anything” from God, I am determined to figure out what makes him smile. As with any relationship, becoming a student of the people we love means we are attuned to what they like and what they don’t like. Reading my Bible, even in the boring parts, can become interesting if I read it with the idea that there will be something to glean about the one I love from it.
I will have won at life when I see God smile at me when we finally meet face to face. The rest: my novels, my family, my relationships, my sewing projects, my activities, my self-improvement strategies–should it garner me any praise or happiness in this life but doesn’t make him smile that day, isn’t worth doing.
I am a person who needs accountability. Fortunately for me, God likes to hold me accountable. (We make a great pair like that.)
Thank goodness this isn’t some blind date or true/false exam. I get to practice every single day and once a week I get to have that heart-to-heart I long for about how things are going in our relationship, thanks to my Ideal Life exercise.
In my Ideal Life, I am someone who makes God smile.