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.

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  1. 1) Where 2 or more…

    2) Stop trying. Stop trying to stop trying. Don’t give up.

  2. Once more you have written what I am going through. I beat myself up and then ‘make a commitment’ to do better and then fail. Again. And again. It’s sad really. I always love that section in Paul’s letter to the Roman churches, ‘I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway’ (Romans 7.18b-19). But sometimes it’s not about doing right or wrong, just wanting to do what I should but not doing it. That’s the part that gets me. And not just contemplation (I just asked my wife this morning about incorporating an evening meditation), but about serving others in general.

    Lastly, I LOVE what Phil wrote, ‘Stop trying. Stop trying to stop trying. Don’t give up.’ That is a gem all to itself.

  3. Ellen N. Duell says:

    Today’s “Anam Cara” speaks to my condition. It is part of being human, so we are part of a community. God is right in it with us, loving us, smiling, gently but consistently keeping us in tune. Blessings. –Ellen

  4. Jack, Phil is quoting an old Zen proverb. The version I learned goes like this:

    Quit trying. Quit trying not to try. Quit quitting.

  5. I like the old Zen proverb. In a way it explains the grace of perseverance and along with it, our consistency. Our monkey minds are always jumping about and it takes a lot of discipline to tie it down to one tree or a single spots. I guess this is where spiritual disciplines comes in.

  6. And never forget the Father will not love you any more nor any less if you do or do not do the evening period of contemplation.

    That Zen proverb is great!

  7. Sometimes I think we try too hard. The trying itself becomes bondage. At those times there seems to be some respite in just immersing oneself in the flow of life and letting the stream take over, trusting it to keep us within its banks and take us to the sea.

  8. You speak to that inner “nagger” in us all! I too have tended to beat myself up when I have not lived up to my own expectations of the one resolution that I have made time and time again – to give myself the gift of silence to meditate. I am slowly learning to “let it go” and I find that when I relax this is when I find the time to so easily slip into a comfortable routine.


  9. I have to agree with the other comments. I used to be very type-A, perfectionistic and therefore I was always disappointed; in myself, in others, at life in general. I brought that same “dedication” to my faith and my practice and when I failed there as well (because perfection is unattainable), my faith suffered greatly because I was focusing on the wrong thing(s).

    I know you’re not speaking about perfectionism per se, but this is how I related to it.

    My life is my life. I’m trying to rely on God more and more throughout every moment of my life I’m trying to make my life less and less about me and more and more about God and God’s people. In doing so, my life is becoming more and more busy and full. Do I have time everyday for quiet contemplation? Simply, no. The question for me becomes, am I living consciously, giving consciously, serving consciously? Sometimes conscious living is a form of contemplation.

    And then there are moments when I must retreat.

  10. Great Zen proverb. Thanks for this post; it is certainly one of my main struggles.

  11. lightbearer says:

    yeah i agree with previous posts
    my problem is that the struggle does cut enthusiasm and motivation for anything outside
    that most often means work, income, everything
    so i suffer and yet i cannot give up
    the zen practice that i follow i hope is christian

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