the christian life is not a self-improvement project

Most essentially, spirituality is openness to the Spirit….The whole thing is a dance. Your partner is the Spirit, who has already entered the dance floor and is calling for you to come. The Spirit will lead the dance. You only need to follow. Don’t hold back from trying to learn the first dance steps. Just get out onto the floor and trust your partner to teach you everything you need to know and to give you everything you need to receive….Awakening is always a response to the Spirit, and if what we offer is not a response to Spirit, it is not a spiritual response.

Contemporary understandings of Christian spirituality miss this truth much more than they recognize it. So often the spiritual journey is presented in terms of what we must do. And what we are told we must do is to be faithful in our effort and discipline. This is a recipe for spiritual disaster because what it does is strengthen the false self. When the spiritual journey is my own self-improvement project, the major product will be an ego that is in even more control than before the journey began.

David G. Benner, Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation, p. 158.

Does this ring true to any of you?

In what ways do we take control of our spiritual growth through “what we must do” rather than letting go?

What do we do in the name of our spiritual growth that is actually a “self-improvement project” that winds up strengthening the “false self” and produces an “ego that is even more in control than before the journey began”?

The truth is, I suppose, than anything we do as spiritual activities–our church, our denomination, our theology, prayer, charity, anything–can easily become attempts on our part to lead the dance rather than responding in simple (but excruciatingly difficult) trust in the Spirit.

I don’t mean to paint everything with one brush, but I am finding more and more that a chief problem I create for myself is holding on tighter and tighter when I should be focusing on letting go.

Don’t worry. I’m working on it. (See what I did there?)

faith is messy--which is where God is found
we talk about God too much (what with the internet and our iPhones and all)
God and true freedom
people are such absolute jerks (and so can you)
  • Lise

    Ha! Ha! I see what you did there. You can’t work on letting go but you can set an intention for surrender. Bizarrely, five years ago, I wrote a post called, “A Most Dangerous Dance” that uses the exact same metaphor as Benner’s (see link). It’s about how terrifying it is to dance with the Lord. I’m in a different phase of my journey now. But the struggle to let go remains.

  • Mike

    I see that the failure is in the the word “self-improvement” not meaning that the self is improved but that it means I am (the self is) doing the improving. I am by nature unable to grow spiritually because I do not know what that really is, but I can attempt to “clear the channel”. As in all things this dance is complex and needs all its parts.

    12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.…

    He is pleased to do this work, the perfecting of the one who is loved!

  • Angelika

    I LOVE the dance analogy. Being Open = standing on the Spirit’s Feet and letting myself be taught and led.

  • Tim

    Absolutely. The gospel of self-effort and sin-management have got to go; they are no gospel at all.

  • Evelyn

    I was on retreat this weekend at Orval Monastery and as Brother Marc said, conversation with God starts with us listening :)