When Spiritual Life Feels Broken
I believe spiritual practices can be windows into spiritual life. We practice disciplines which help open us to deeper truths within ourselves and in the world around us.
People ask me for help when they feel disciplines they practice may not be not working. They want to know if they are doing something wrong. Spiritual life feels broken.
It is as if we want to turn a practice in for a newer model, or update the operating system.
The ways we live our lives today shape how we experience spiritual life. We have grown accustomed to instantaneous communication and immediate responses. When we text or email someone we do not need to wait for them.
It is frustrating when my phone or tablet or a single app does not work in a way which meets my expectations. I expect the entire world to be at the tips of my fingers, or my thumbs. When something I need does not work the way I thought it would it creates an urgent problem.
Sometimes it feels like spiritual practices are like apps which have become stuck. We follow the manual and practice them the way we were trained to use them. We check and are confident we are doing it right. Why are we not getting the results we want? There must be something wrong with the practice. Sometimes spiritual life feels broken.
In fact, I see spiritual life very differently from my phone and tablet and their apps. I know there are places I can go for help when I have difficulties with my phone. Spiritual life is actually much more powerful than my phone.
At the same time, I sometimes respond to spiritual life as if it were the same as my phone or computer.
Why Spiritual Life Feels Broken
When a particular spiritual practice does not lead to the results we expect we think there is something wrong with it. We feel it is not working, not performing the way it is supposed to be. When we put time and effort into practicing a spiritual discipline we often do so with expectations.
Following a spiritual practice is not the same as downloading and using an app.
When we rely on an app, we depend on the developer and the seller to meet their responsibilities. We buy apps to perform certain tasks.
Spiritual practices are much more likely to produce unexpected results than using an app. Highlighting and changing our expectations is a significant part of what spiritual practices do.
We may decide to follow a spiritual practice because we want to strengthen a specific aspect of spiritual life. It is our intention to guide or direct spiritual life in us or in the world. Some of us want to develop more self-control or hospitality or mindfulness. We choose a particular practice to help us in that area.
The fact is spiritual practices often do not improve our experience of spiritual life. Our practice probably will not make spiritual life easier or better for us. If anything, our practice will show us ways spiritual life is more difficult to understand.
Our spiritual practices do not make us feel more devout, more spiritual. They open our hearts to the vast expanse of spiritual life beyond our understanding.
Spiritual life feels broken to us because what we expect of it needs to change.
What Do We Do When Spiritual Life Feels Broken?
It is a meaningful revelation for me I am not being punished when spiritual life feels broken.
Spiritual life does not reward us for good behavior or withhold itself when we do not follow the rules. We cannot earn more spiritual life than we already have through our practices. There is nothing we can do to earn less spiritual life than we already have.
We are immersed in and surrounded by spiritual life.
When spiritual life feels broken or far away our first step is to look at our perceptions. Why are we perceiving this distance or brokenness? What are we expecting and why?
Like any relationship, our experience of spiritual life combines the reality of spiritual life and our own reality. We understand spiritual life through our own experiences and perceptions.
We need to give ourselves an opportunity to appreciate spiritual life in new ways. If we believe what we believe about spiritual life, how can it be acting this way? What does it mean when spiritual life feels broken to us?
It may take us a little time to recognize and consider how we perceive spiritual life. A realistic approach may not make us more comfortable immediately.
We may not be able to solve the brokenness overnight, or by ourselves.
How Do We Feel When Spiritual Life Feels Broken?
When spiritual life feels broken it is easy for some of us to feel responsible. We feel like we are probably the ones who broke spiritual life.
Some of us feel frustrated or angry. This is not the spiritual life we thought we were going to receive. We may feel we have been taken advantage of or victimized.
It may be difficult for us to separate our relationship to spiritual life from specific people. Persons in positions of responsibility may take advantage of us and it becomes part of our experience of spiritual life.
Others of us may feel afraid. How can we possibly trust when even spiritual life feels broken?
The challenge for us is to hear what our feelings are telling us. We need to listen to how we feel and uncover what our feelings mean to us. What do our feelings tell us about our relationship to spiritual life?
What is it telling us when spiritual life feels broken?
Where is it spiritual life feels broken to us today?
How will we respond when spiritual life feels broken this week?
[Image by C.P.Storm]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.