Organization has never been my thing. I know many people who can say this, and yet most of life requires some kind of organization. We try really hard though.
I simply struggle to do it well. But I can’t live without it.
So, when it comes to keeping things straight my default mechanism is to try as hard as I can. I make notes in notebooks and on post-it notes. I try to give every piece of paper a “place,” somewhere that I will remember when I need that information again.
Typically, I’m a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of organizer.
So I lose track of things once, maybe twice, and then I begin to doubt the system of organization. It wasn’t a good system to begin with, but its all that I had.
Typically this whole process ends in guilt.
What I’ve learned in leading people through the journey with Jesus is that you can easily switch “organization” and put in “spiritual journey.” The process, the results, and even the philosophy remains the same as my floundering organizational system.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But how long can we do this before we sink into a deeper kind of darkness?
How many spiritual failures can we handle? If the practices and disciplines that lead to growth are areas of struggle for us, how do we keep from believing the struggles are personal deficiencies at the core?
When we are convinced that the lack of growth in our life has to do with our own inability to create effort – or power if you will – the spiritual life becomes another set of tasks to be completed.
Finish the list? Then you grow.
Don’t have the energy? Maybe something is wrong with you.
But so many of the beauties, the places of discovery and energy in our life with Jesus are passive discoveries.
To pay attention, for example, to the things around us isn’t a task. Of course it is something we must do but the way we do it is by allowing ourselves to pay attention. The effort comes in removing obstacles to attention, creating spaces where we can watch and wait.
The rest of our journey through attentiveness comes when we allow ourselves to lean into it. It is only a task in the sense that we put ourselves in the position.
Then, how do you fail at paying attention? At worst we only pay partial attention. But without a recoil of guilt about the practice, we’re able to reengage attentiveness over and over. We grow in that ability.
Guilt is the ultimate enemy of spiritual habits that transform us.
Whether we engage with habits of prayer, meditation, Scripture reading or even fasting the goal is never if we do them.
The point is how we engage them, what fruit grows in us over time.
What I know from experience is that fruit is never grown by force. Fruit grows by presence and persistence.
When Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches…” (John 15:5), He indicates a posture of growth where our job is simply to “remain” connected. The presence and proximity to the nutrients and resources are what cause us to grow.
The presence of guilt makes no sense when our responsibility is simply to show up and stay.
Some time ago I decided to practice fasting. I began with one meal a day, once a week. The goal was not self-punishment, but instead to train my body on how to live without food. Why? In Dallas Willard’s words, to learn “how to be sweet and strong when we don’t get what we want.”
The point is not to try harder to fast. Fasting is a chance to remain in a posture with Jesus where I learn things about God, myself, and even about others. When we decline a meal, we learn what it feels like to be one of the world’s many hungry people.
Today, I want to welcome you to stop trying when it comes to spiritual practices.
Instead, here are some questions to think about:
Where are you invited to be PRESENT with Jesus today?
What are you longing for in your life with God, self, and others?
What practices are available to you today and how can you remove the obstacles to engaging with those practices?
Where do you feel guilt over your current practices? What is Jesus saying to you about that guilt?
Today I welcome you to stop trying. Stop feeling guilty that you didn’t complete the spiritual “task” perfectly. Instead, what have you found in what you were able to do?
It is that question that reveals the places where God is truly close to us.
Whether we can organize our desk or not.