I’ve been praying — and thinking — a lot about consistency lately.
I struggle with self-sabotage issues. I make a commitment, and then back away from it. I commit to spending an hour a day in silent contemplation, and then I over commit my life so that I just never seem to find the time for that half hour in the evening. I want to deepen my immersion in silence — both external and internal — except that, well, my behavior doesn’t seem to match my intention.
The traditional virtue that applies to my situation is perseverance. The consistency that I am begging for is, in essence, the grace of perseverance — to maintain a commitment long after the initial flush of enthusiasm has waned.
Part of perseverance is learning to be gentle with our own failures. I’m generally pretty disciplined about my morning silence. It’s the evening silence where I so rarely live up to my own self-expectation. But once upon a time, my morning practice was just as spotty. And I’ve had seasons of my life where my morning discipline waxed and waned. So part of perseverance is learning to persevere even through one’s own self-sabotage. “Okay, so I keep falling down. Just keep getting back up.” But since over the long haul I managed to persevere into a regular practice of morning prayer, I can trust that, over time and with perseverance, the evening silence will take root in my heart as well. And then, every day, I have another opportunity to manifest the consistency I seek. And when I fall down — then I get back up. And try again.
I suppose there’s some wisdom in acknowledging how poorly we live up to our own vision of ourselves: it’s a silent reminder of the necessity of remaining humble. But there’s also wisdom in honoring our successes, too. Humility isn’t just about our failures, but also about honestly acknowledging our achievements as well. Community is another key element here: frankly, if my wife wasn’t even more committed to her spiritual practice than I am to mine, I fear that even my morning practice would be a shamble. So even a community of two is helpful. For that matter, my best day each week for silence in the evening is Wednesday when I participate in an evening contemplative prayer & lectio divina group.
When I was young, I was all about being a hippie, living spontaneously, doing my own thing. I had lots of fun and I suppose cultivated enough of a sense of inner creativity so that I could eventually become a serious writer (yes, once upon a time my writing discipline was non-existent, too!). But as I mature, I am yearning to balance my spontaneity with discipline — not an uptight discipline, but a gentle sense of knowing what I want, each and every day, and following through on it. Consistently.