For the last few weeks, I have been in two different Bible studies. The first is about how to grow spiritually into the person that you always wanted to be (The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg), and the second is how to parent your kids with grace rather than beating them over the head with rules and 'the law' (Give Them Grace by Elyse M Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson). I have found both of these studies to be very enlightening to me, and I have also found that they seem to relate a lot to each other.
So far, and I'm only on chapter 5, Ortberg's big message to me is that my spirituality and its growth in me does not necessarily have to do with me sitting and reading the Bible and praying everyday, but more with how I go about living Christ in my daily life. Not that Bible study and prayer are not important, nor that I should not participate in those activities, but rather than getting hung up and feeling like a failure because I am not doing those things as much as I 'ought' to, I should and can look to other aspects of my life and examine them to see how I, with God's help, can form my life into a better image of His. Or perhaps I should say how God, without me interfering, can form my life into a better image of His own.
This has really been an eye opener for me. I have seen that by beating myself over the head because I have not done my prayer or Bible study as much as I would like, I am getting nowhere nearer to a more godly life nor am I a better parent to my kids. At one place in the book, Ortberg says that at this very moment, one of the best things that I could do for my spiritual life is to put down the book and take a nap! What a concept! Why isn't he saying to put down his book and pick up the Bible? Or say a quick prayer? It's because without rest, while running on empty, there is no way that we (I!) can be a good, patient, kind, loving and graceful mother to my children, and therefore, there is no way for me to model a Christ-like attitude and lifestyle to them which is what spirituality is all about anyway.
My mother always used to say that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. Ortberg's point is that in order to grow and change, work backwards: first, understand what true spirituality looks like, second, learn what particular barriers keep us from living that life and third, discover what practices will help us overcome these barriers.
The spiritual goal, if you will, that I am presently working on is showing grace and patience to my kids, ages 14 years, almost 5 years, 2 years, and 4 months. And I have discovered that in order to show them grace, I have to show grace to myself first, and most importantly, I have to be willing to receive that grace that God and others are so willingly dishing repeatedly out to me.
How many times have I berated myself saying I should do this, or I should do that, but I'm just too tired and so I go to bed feeling guilty about all that I have not gotten done? Then I awaken in the morning with an undone 'to do' list hanging over my head from the day before so that even before my feet hit the floor I am already discouraged and frustrated. What kind of model of peace and grace is that? But where in the Bible does it say 'thou shalt mop thy floors daily'? Or 'thou shalt have a weed-free garden'? But the Bible does say to train our children in the way they should go (Prov 22:6) and to not embitter them (Col 3:21). But how can I model and healthy spiritual life and not embitter my children if I reject grace and am bitter myself?
Now, I'm not saying that this is giving me a free 'do nothing pass', but rather it has given me a 'take care of yourself so that you can effectively take care of everyone else' pass. So that is the spiritual discipline that I am working on now. It sounds simple, but my first steps are to be sure that I am eating well and sleeping enough. Then, after those things are taken care of, I will be more equipped to deal with the next steps.
Who knew that spirituality involved a pillow and a ham sandwich?