In this process of losing weight and becoming more healthy, so that I can be of use in these last years of my life, I noticed that I am very concerned with the details of this project. I am making a note of everything I eat and drink, and doing all that I can to avoid exceeding the number of calories which have been allocated to me. I am also making sure that I walk for an hour or more at as brisk a pace as I can follow. And most days I am weighing myself to be sure that I am making progress towards my goal. Indeed I am weighing myself far too often and most days there is not a significant enough reduction in my weight to be measured. But I keep on and I persevere this time because the goal I have set myself is now more important to me then my laziness and indulgence.
In fact we follow the same sort of process in many areas of our life. At school we will study hard for exams and tests and we will want to see an improvement each time so that we are getting higher marks and better grades. At university we know that the scores we achieve for the different parts of our course will have an effect on the outcome of our study and so if we do poorly in one area we will try to retake the test or compensate elsewhere.
Even in our employment we will wish to see improvement in our salary and the degree to which we are trusted and given responsibility, and we will probably also be engaged in additional training and testing, especially if we wish to be promoted.
Throughout our lives we have goals, set targets, make effort and persevere, and take account of how we are improving.
We do this everywhere, everywhere that is except in that most important area and aspect of our lives, the spiritual relationship we are called to experience with God, and the process of being and becoming spiritual men and women.
How is this so? It seems to me that it is due to a fundamental misconception about the spiritual life. At school, at work, at university and elsewhere, we have a sense that we could always do better and this can drive us to greater effort and attainment. But when the spiritual principle in our lives is actually a religious one, then we can easily come to imagine that were are doing enough to keep God happy and deserve the name of Christian.
If we imagine that being a Christian is about “being saved”, and having a place in Heaven rather than Hell, then we can assume that having been baptised and attending Church services regularly, praying a little from the Agpeya in the morning, is pretty much all God expects of us. We may even be quietly confident that having avoided the obvious sins of other people we have more than accumulated enough virtue to outweigh our minor weaknesses.
But this is not Christianity at all, and is certainly not the spiritual life God calls us to experience. The goal of the spiritual life is union with God in the heart, and one who is seeking such a union becomes more aware of their sin and faults, not less. The one who is seeking such a union finds that the desire for it, and the fulfillment of that desire in increasing and unceasing prayer, overwhelms and occupies their lives.
It is a process in which we should also mark our progress, since there is a goal and the means of finding improvement, not least through the support of our spiritual fathers, but also in the writings and teachings of the authentic spiritual fathers and mothers of the Church.
We can and should and must take account of our spiritual growth, as much as our improvement in secular and worldly affairs, indeed much more so, as our spiritual growth is of eternal importance.
Do we trust God more than we did? Are we finding evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? Do we have greater peace, joy, patience and love? Are we more occupied with prayer? Does the seeking of the presence of God mean more to us than it did? Are we freely giving of ourselves in service more than we were? Our spiritual fathers will help us to answer these questions, and will guide us in how we may make greater improvement.
This spiritual transformation is of more worth than anything else with which you occupy ourselves. If we do not have a spiritual experience of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit then nothing else matters, and if we have this experience in part then we must respond to the activity of the Holy Spirit within our hearts, leading us into a greater and richer experience of God, or we will lose even that little we have received.
May the Lord leads us into this deeper experience for our salvation and his glory.