Getting From Sunday to Monday:
Moving from belief to experience, from information to transformation
by Linda R. Douty
Installment 2: Barriers to Change
Bridging the gap between Sunday and Monday--between what we say or profess and what we actually do--is a vital journey toward authentic living. When there is a discrepancy between what we think in our heads and what we feel in our hearts, we simply can't be REAL!
Yet, becoming more authentic is not so much about trying harder as it is about letting go--more about ALLOWING things to happen rather than MAKING them happen. But that sounds much too simple in our performance-oriented culture, where success in anything seems to be a product of enormous effort and well-defined goals.
In the New Testament, Jesus hinted at the difficulty in controlling or defining the process of spiritual growth. He was often asked to define the Kingdom of God.. and did he ever do that? No, he used similes and metaphors instead. He repeatedly stated, "the Kingdom is LIKE... the lost coin, the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field," etc. He told stories in an effort to explain the unexplainable, to make us understand that the rules of the Kingdom are radically different from those of our culture. In the realm of personal spiritual growth, we make little progress by setting goals and seeking to achieve spiritual benchmarks. Scripture tells us
that in the Kingdom the "last shall be first," that strength is to be found in weakness, that those who show up at 5 p.m. will get the same rewards as those who toil all day under the broiling sun!
In other words, if we try to grow spiritually using the measuring stick of success in our culture, we will experience repeated frustration. Clearly, there must be a different set of standards and methods for the realm of the spirit--those of allowing and participating in God's flow in our lives. Even so, we have a tendency to take the values of "the American Way" (though they work well in constructing a civilized society) and superimpose them on spiritual work. We end up trying to "fix" our moral behavior instead of entering into real transformation from the inside out-- rather like putting a Bandaid on something that needs surgery!
In order to enter into deep spiritual transformation, we must be open to new ways of thinking. That can be a frightening and disturbing proposition, and we can engage in all types of addictive behavior to protect us from CHANGE. We keep busy, buy more stuff, take fancier trips, get a younger spouse, fill our spiritual lives with projects instead of prayer. Even good works can sometimes stand in the way of spiritual transformation--the good is often the enemy of the best.
There is a simple little story that illustrates the beginning of the process of honest spiritual deepening... as if, following the pattern of Jesus, we are saying, the process is LIKE--
Once Upon a Puddle
This is the story about some fish who lived in a very small puddle of water. Hear their conversation:
"Give me that waterbug!"
"No, I saw him first!"
"Get your fins off my supper! He's mine I tell you!"
And so, every day, the little fish spent their time competing for waterbugs. Their stagnant puddle was cradled between the roots of an ancient oak tree, just beside a flowing river.
But one morning, there was a sudden SPLASH!
An amazing, brightly colored fish had jumped into the riverside puddle... a fish with golden scales. And --what was most unusual in this particular puddle--he was smiling!
One of the puddle-fishes asked, "Where do you come from?"
The Sparkling Fish smiled brightly, "I come from the SEA!"
"The sea! What is the sea?"
The Sparkling Fish was surprised: "No one has ever told you about the sea? Why the sea...the sea is what fish are made for. It isn't like this little puddle; it's endless. A fish needn't swim in circles all day...he can dance with the tides! And it's sparkling clear! The sea is what fish are made for!"
Then a pale, gray puddle-fish spoke up: " But, how do we get to the sea?
The Sparkling Fish answered: "It's a simple matter. You jump from this little puddle into that river and trust that the current will take you to the sea."
Astonishment clouded the puddle-water. At long last a brave little fish swam forward with a hard, experienced look in his eye. He was a Realist Fish.
He said: "It's pleasant to talk about this 'sea business,' but --if you ask me-- we have to face reality. And what is reality? Obviously, it's day-to-day life--swimming in circles and hunting for waterbugs, Life is hard, It takes a Realist Fish to face facts."
The Sparkling Fish smiled. "But you don't understand...I've BEEN there. I've SEEN the sea. It's far more wonderful than you can..." But before he could finish speaking, the Realist Fish swam away.
Next, a fish came up with a nervous twitch in his tail. He was a Scared Fish. He stammered, "You mean, we're suppose to j-jump into that big, swift river over there?"
"Yes. For a fish who wants to go to the sea, the way lies through that river."
The Scared Fish's voice trembled in terror..."Look, I'm just an ordinary fish! That river is deep and strong and wide, and I don't know where it goes. Why I might be swept away by the current. If I jumped out of my puddle, I wouldn't have any control over my life. NO! It's too risky for me!"
The Sparkling Fish whispered, "Just trust ME. Trust that the river will take you some place GOOD..." But before he could finish, the Scared Fish hurried away.
Finally there swam out a very dignified figure in a black robe. He was a Theologian Fish. Calmly, he adjusted his spectacles, saying: "My brother and sister fishes, our distinguished visitor has expressed many views which merit our consideration. However, these puddle-fishes have expressed OTHER views. By all means, let us be reasonable. We can work this out... Why not form a discussion group? We could meet every Tuesday at 7 o'clock, and I'm sure some of the lady fishes would be happy to bring some refreshments."
The eyes of the Sparkling Fish grew sad.... "No, this will never do," he said. "Talking is important, but in the end --it is a simple matter. You JUMP. You jump out of this puddle and trust that the river will take you to the sea. Who will come and follow me?"
At first no one moved, But then a few puddle-fishes swam to his side. Together they jumped into the river and the current swept then away to the sea.
The remaining puddle-fishes began to swim in circles and hunt for waterbugs just like they always had.
If "jumping" seems to be such an enticing and courageous idea, WHY don't we do it? Our excuses are all familiar:
- We don't have enough time. (Truth: We always make time for the things we value. Do we ever miss a MEAL? Our spiritual food is more important than physical food!)
- We don't know HOW. (Truth: There is a plethora of meaningful literature regarding the spiritual journey--our bookshelves are probably lined with suggestions, but we would prefer to read about the journey rather than TAKE it!)
- We don't want to disturb our relationships by changing into someone "strange" or super-religious. (Truth: becoming spiritually authentic involves growing into who we really are---our uniquely created selves---rather than changing into a spiritual clone of someone else. We become our true Selves!)
- We want to KNOW where spiritual growth might take us. (Truth: We say we want the abundant life, but we want to define that abundance according to what we think we want. . . Like the timid puddle-fishes, we don't trust God to direct our life into something "better than we can ask or imagine.." Ephesians 3:20 Real trust involves befriending uncertainty.)
- We don't want to CHANGE . (Truth: This is the primary, deep-seated reason we resist growth. We simply don't want our spiritual cages rattled! As human beings, we have a tendency to stay with the familiar --even if it feels phony or unsatisfying to us--rather than take a risk in our own behalf.)
If we decide to take a chance--to allow God an opportunity to work with us--we're likely to sense the need to enter into spiritual disciplines (I sense resistance already!). Rather than think of these practices as boring and insipid, it is helpful to picture our spiritual lives as a huge house surrounded by Light. As we open the "windows" of spiritual disciplines, we let the Light of God in. We don't have to open all the windows at once; we can choose those practices that seem natural to us, that "call" to us, that sound interesting.
The traditional disciplines include worship, Bible study, spiritual reading, fasting, the daily examen, journaling, hospitality, service, and--most of all--prayer. Even gratitude and frustration can be windows to God, if approached as sacred practices. During the next couple of installments, we will review specific avenues of spiritual practice that give God a chance to work with us toward authenticity and transformation. But first, like the brave little puddle-fishes, we must jump with sincere trust, being willing to flow with the Divine current of God's process in, through, and for us.
Copyright 2001 Linda R. Douty
Go to the third installment of Getting From Sunday to Monday.
Linda Douty currently serves as a book reviewer, teacher, retreat leader and individual spiritual director. She shares her personal experiences as well as knowledge gained at the The Academy for Spiritual Formation, Bethel Bible Series, SMU's Perkins School of Theology and the Shalom Institute of Spiritual Guidance.
Find out more about spiritual direction.