Missed Opportunities: Spiritual Disciplines

The phrases “spiritual discipline” and “spiritual practice” are widely misunderstood.  For far too many of us, what we hear is “work” or “effort” and that immediately subverts our ability to connect with their purpose.  Even sports metaphors (which the Apostle Paul used) can skew our understanding of prayer, fasting, contemplation, and worship.

These are not adventures in spiritual bodybuilding and the spiritual life is not the exercise of an unseen muscle.  Spiritual disciplines are about opening a space in our lives in which intimacy with God is possible.

Contrary to what many Christians fear and some skeptics claim, it is not difficult to find God.  It is difficult for God to find us.  We are mesmerized by our surroundings, preoccupied with our fears, and diverted by the busy-ness of our lives.

Spiritual disciplines are perhaps better understood as those things we can do to make an inner conversation with God possible.  They create a space in which we can stop, listen, and find some measure of God-given control over appetites and fears that threaten to dominate and shape our lives.

That may be a demanding, taxing experience at times.  But it isn’t work with work as its own goal or discipline with discipline as its goal.  It’s a process of liberation and the beginning of shalom — a life lived out of and in communion with God.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.