When Sucking at Spiritual Habits Sucks the Life Outta Ya

When Sucking at Spiritual Habits Sucks the Life Outta Ya June 15, 2011

Modlitwa różańcowa 05photo © 2010 FotoKatolik | more info (via: Wylio)

ENFP.  My personality profile.  Among other things, for those who are familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Personality Assessment, you recognize these letters as indicating an unstructured personality.  So when it comes to incorporating spiritual disciplines into my life, I’ve gone through several phases.  I find that they cycle to some extent.

When I was in high school, there was the underlining stage.  You know this one.  You discover the bible for the first time and every line you read jumps out.  So what do you do?  You highlight, underline, and circle every passage to the point where more text is marked than is not on a particular page.  And if you’re a creative, your strategic use of highlighters create a system.

Green for verses about spiritual growth or maturity.  Red for passages that remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  Yellow for verses about living in the light.  Orange for texts about bearing fruit.  Purple for the ones about Jesus as Lord of our lives.  Blue, well, you just like blue so it becomes the “holy crap! This is awesome!” color.  By the time you’ve underlined and highlighted during your 30 minute devo’s for the month, your bible resembles the colors of the rainbow (Can I get a “double rainbow!?”).  And then you get stuck.  No more to highlight.  What I thought would lead to a spiritual pot of gold, eventually left me without a next step. The spiritual discipline slump slithers into your life.

And so does guilt.  Eventually you feel so disconnected from God that life’s passion begins to be sucked dry.  Time for a new spiritual habit.  How about…. Journaling.

I flirted with journaling in high school some but when college came, I chronicled my life in spiral bound Life Journals.  Between 4 and 7 days a week I’d write down what I was learning in my relationship with Jesus through prayer, Scripture, and experiences, while also putting down significant moments in my life.  I’d admit my failures, document successes, and agonize over girls with my notebook.

Honestly, this season of my spiritual life (well, I’ve had several cycles in and out of the journals) was amazing.  I can go back to those entries and see how God’s been at work.  The problem is that rarely can I carve out the 45 mins or more required to make a consistent pattern of documenting my every spiritual thought and deed.  I eventually put the pen and pad up on the table and walked away, only to return on rare occasions.  In some ways, I suppose that blogging supplements this old practice.

Journal Entryphoto © 2010 Joel Montes de Oca | more info (via: Wylio)


Later I started the practice of my own modified hybrid of centering / listening prayer with prayer against the powers of darkness.  I would follow this by reading through a “For Everyone” New Testament book and then reflect on what God was teaching me (occasionally journaling).  This was a powerful time of connecting with God.  Honestly, I can’t remember an intentional season of spiritual habits that were consistently as powerful.  God spoke, I listened.  Sometimes it was confusing.  Other times disappointing.  But one thing is for certain: the Holy Spirit showed up.

But again, life transitions led to losing the rhythm that I once had.

Over the past several years, I’ve been searching for the connection that I once had with God.  Sometimes, this quest leads to surprise encounters with the Holy Spirit.  But more often than not, my sucky pattern of inconstant spiritual habits leads to  a relationship with Jesus that often feels like a distant memory.  Not because of a legalistic impulse to appease God but because intentionality and action don’t intersect like they once did.

Do you ever find yourself in the vicious cycle of sucking at spiritual habits and feeling like its sucking the life outta ya?


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  • Absolutely. I’m ENTP, which means that I get bored easily and want to move on to the next toy. Trying to be consistent for more than a few weeks at just about anything is hard for me. I feel like I let God down or something when I read my old journals (I was a consistent journaler until I got some friends) because I see how close we used to be. I don’t know. I’m currently in my third month of intentionally “unstructured morning time.” Where, in the past, I would have set an alarm, gotten up, prayed the divine office or journaled or something, I now set an alarm, get a cup of coffee, put on some music, and do what the mood strikes. Today that is going through Google Reader a bit earlier in the day than usual (and John Acuff’s post http://bit.ly/l2izS9 was just about as spiritually moving as it gets), but often I do journal, pray the office, or practice intercession. 

  • I’m an introvert – INTP (http://radref.blogspot.com/2011/04/introvert.html).  Whether personality plays a major part in disciplines I’m not sure.  I certainly find it easier to spend quality time on my own than I would if I were an extrovert.  I dare say my personality type does help me to concentrate.  Over time though, I suspect most of us face the urge to abandon disciplines.  In my case it’s linked to periodic bouts of depression.  I spend lots of time on my own then, but it’s little to do with discipline of any kind.  My blog is certainly a spiritual discipline  and increasingly a minor vocation.  There’s a significant job to be done, applying disciplines to this strange new online world.  Thanks for the post.  Excellent and thought provoking.

  • Oh. My. Gracious. Apparently ENFPs do THE EXACT SAME THING when it comes to spiritual disciplines. You just described my exact experience. I still have that mangled highlighted bible somewhere…

  • Htg04

    I’ve found myself suspecting that something was wrong with everyone I knew. Really though, it was me being ridiculously selfish, and whats more, not even realizing it. I’ve pushed away many of my friends not because of my theological views(which is what I thought at first), but because of my Pharisaical(no offense guys, ya’ll weren’t all bad) pride in them. ugh. I even put studying over prayer because “you can pray and still be wrong.” Double ugh. Apparently you can study and still be a (Balaam’s) ass as well. I was cut off from everyone I loved, and didn’t know why, even looking longingly at my .45 that I sleep with next to me(paranoid much?) thinking of the “freedom” an escape from existence would bring. However, when I was finally able to see my Dorian Grey like portrait, which everyone saw before I did apparently, and I fell on my face in shame before God and begged forgiveness for my haughtiness and approachability. I am just thankful I saw faults I was blind to now and not when I was married with a three month old. The spiritual disciplines matter in ways I never realized before, here’s to change.

  • Wow. I totally get this post. I tend to be a pendulum swinger. Either totally in or our of the Spiritual disciplines. What I need to be aware of, however, is when I’m working on a discipline that I don’t do it for show or to gain approval from God. Does that make sense? I need to discipline myself for the purpose of relationship with Jesus and to be a light for the world.

  • resonated with each spiritual discipline season.

    in the 3 years of being  a christian and before going to bible college i had  gone through 3 or 4 bibles coloring them all in & writing notes. and had a constant prayer journal – every night i was dedicated and have some amazing records of the struggles of becoming a christian and settling into the kingdom.

    unfortunately it was bible college that unraveled much of my bible reading discipline. as part of our student commitments we had to sign off on reading the bible by certain time. this fostered a massive guilt complex when i fell behind or decided i wanted to read something in the word not according to schedule. every time i went to pick up the bible i knew i was 34 something chapters behind, so i just stopped picking it up.

    i then focused on journal-ling. got frustrated seeing some prayers go unanswered and so stopped writing them down to avoid such disappointment and lost the discipline.

    then i went through  self-disciplinin phase where  i don’t want to read, discipline my self to
    read, read, love that i’ve just read, go to bed, sleep, wake up, not
    desire to read, beat myself up that i don’t want to read, discipline
    myself to read, read, love that i’ve just read, go to bed, sleep, wake
    up, not desire to read, beat myself up that i don’t want to read…

    coming out of this season and the Spirit is illuminating nuggets of gold in the word that i cling to each day which spurs me on to read more and more. i also try to spend additional and extended time reading big chunks of narrative or whole letters.  and am journalling again about 4 times a week.

    keep fighting for deeper joy and intimate communing with our Saviour!

    oh yep I am a ENFP also

  • Anonymous

    I’ve done a few of those. I’m an elusive INFP though.

    Highlighting died out quickly. I still journal, which is what leads to most of my blog posts. If you think they are bad now, you should see what they are before I edit them!

    Also I tried meditation – I still meditate. It’s something that when I’m really feeling down and out, that really helps me get centered.

    My actual reading of the Bible, well its more as the mood strikes me tbh. I know I should read it more, but unless I’m studying something, its there on my bookshelf. Heck, I don’t even open it to get quotes right, I just paraphrase most of the time. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not….

    But yeah, I definitely feel sometimes like my spiritual habits are not up to par. But at other times, I have a very real sense that living life like I do is a spiritual habit in and of itself.

    One thing never fails though, I’m always praying. I may not pray on my knees every night and morning, and it may not always be well-thought out. But a prayer is almost always on my lips. And I think that is the spiritual practice that God really cares about. That is, after loving others of course.

    • angie

      INFP as well! Yay!

  • As another ENFP – yessssssssssssssssssss. Story of my life.

  •  Your story is ridiculously similar to mine.  I wonder if this is a common sort of progression for many people?

  • Lauren

    INFJ here – my highlighting was never color-coded but once I caught myself moving towards the highlight-everything point I realized that was not productive and stopped. Even as a kid with a diary I’ve always been sporadic with journaling. I used to be disciplined about prayer but it’s gotten more challenging. I think where my INFJ kicks in is the guilt. I Have high standards for myself sometimes and berate myself for not meeting them which can in turn discourage me from the very spiritual disciplines I feel bad about neglecting. It’s an ugly spiral when it happens and I often lean on the community of believers to help pull me out. That’s right, introverts rely on community too, even though I must have a good balance of alone time to remain sane 🙂

  • INTP. I had an ENFP friend who co-led a study years ago about spiritual disciplines and MB type. He organized it and brought me in because most folks were SJ so he needed balance in the group. I think for every personality there are core disciplines that bring out the best in us and some that challenge us (but still need to be tried from time to time). At the center, corporate worship should nuture and challenge all of us if led well.

  • So I have no idea what my MB profile is (took it years ago, wasn’t convinced it meant anything, and forgot the four letters…), and I also never have felt that I met God in any of the usual “disciplines.”  Study and dialog with other believers are the only thing that separate me from an absolute desert…which means except for blogging with you guys I’m mostly a desert-dweller.  The other difference is that I’ve never NOT sucked at those disciplines, which means I’ve never tried them for very long.  Dunno what all that’s supposed to mean…I’ve usually taken it to mean that man’s attempts to approach God are pretty futile until/unless God approaches him…this despite the fact that that phrase is the only remotely Calvinist (sounding) thing I can honestly say…

    But has anybody besides me ever stopped to consider the possibility that David and Moses were aberrations, and that the individual “relationship with God” might not be God’s intention for most of us in the first place?

  • Ian

    Well I don’t what I am on the Meyers-Briggs thing, but I can relate to your experience here. To highlight or not to highlight? To journal or not journal? Well recently ‘Ive decided to stick to journaling no matter how hard it is for me to discipline myself because I can go back to it and see what God has been speaking to me, usually through scripture or a sermon. (Yes I’m that guy that brings his journal on Sunday mornings. Haha) So I will have gaps of up to a week sometimes, but then ill have times when I fill 4-5 pages in a day for a week. Just gotta pray for the discipline I guess.

  • Rachel Penner

    I too resonate with these stages.  I wonder what stage comes next…
    For me, my entry into the ‘lacking discipline’ coincides with two other very important things in my life.  For one thing, I have become part of a church community which centers on grace in a way that any other church I’ve attended didn’t.  I went through a period of time when something was taken away from me, and I didn’t feel I could trust God, and so this church has brought me through that experience.  So my prayers were my only interaction, because I had to believe that God loved me even if I didn’t read my Bible every day–that His love and care was bigger and not dependent on me.  However, I haven’t come out of that with any real habit.
    Secondly, I met my boyfriend.  This isn’t a case of dating someone I shouldn’t… moreso that I’ve realized how much of my relationship with God was based on loneliness and looking for this relationship.  It leaves me unsure of how to connect with God because I don’t need him in the same way that I did in my earlier stages.  I’m not as aware of my need for Him, but I know Him as more of a constant and comfortable companion now, but I feel less close, per say.  But perhaps my ‘feeling close’ isn’t actually the important part.