Spiritualized Sins and Spiritual Disciplines

I was commenting on Soul Simple’s blog the other day. I was really inspired by her Lenten discipline and thought, “Hey, I should have done that!”

I thought about it later and realized that the reason I wanted to steal her idea was that I wanted to sort of force God’s hand a bit. I sometimes feel like God’s a little distant here, plugging away at theology with my nose in books or in a screen all day (an irony known only too clearly to many theology students). I wanted it to seem like God was closer, and I thought that perhaps if I had done what she had, I might get that.

spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, seven deadly sins, sin

Image Copyright Wayne Wilkinson

Insert proper discipline, get desired God-outcome.
I was looking for vending-machine-god.
Ah, silly me.

Her Lenten practice was by no means bad. It sounds like it’s really been very good for her, and it wouldn’t be bad for anyone, most likely. But I was trying to use it to make something happen. Trying to do things that way, I made it about me instead of about God. Kind of a problem.

Spiritual disciplines are helpful. They can open you up to aspects of yourself you’re not familiar with. They can potentially connect you with the history of the Christian life and that cloud of witnesses that have gone before. They can make space for God to enter in when your life is otherwise crammed full.

But it’s really easy to take a spiritual discipline and end up twisting it into something not so good anymore. Familiar with the seven deadly sins? Well, how about considering something like the seven spiritual sins…

Sloth: Silence and solitude can be a good way to escape from all the things that are pulling you away from God. But aren’t there dishes in the sink? Quit being to “spiritual” and go help your wife!
Lust: If I just had more time with my mentor, then I’d be so much better. But what of that mentor’s own needs and life? Have you asked her, or are you simply using her, perhaps if only in your mind, to get what you want without regards to her as her own person?
Gluttony: I just want to feel God more and more! I love being in His presence! That’s by no means a bad thing, but could you potentially be mistaking a feeling of God’s presence for God? Is there a need to just keep filling yourself with experiences when perhaps God might have something else in mind?

Other sins could be worked out, and other variations on those particular sins could be made, I’m sure. I’m just offering a few possibilities. Just because something has to do with God doesn’t necessarily sanctify it. The Crusades should offer a nice demonstration of that, or if you’re feeling more modern or Protestant, how about Willow Creek’s realization that their methods were doing just as much harm as good? Our hearts have the capacity to distort even godly things.
Me? I think I was a little gluttonous, there….

Of course, you can’t scrutinize everything with such a critical eye to the point where you constantly are overwhelmed with how wretched and guilty you are. We’re called to grow, but we’re called to grow in a space of love, grace, and mercy, and God can and does use even our distorted attempts to reach out to Him. Can you examine your heart while simultaneously knowing that you’re loved? Now there’s a space ripe for Him to work.


2 responses

  1. soulsimple

    I am wondering if you would like permission to ask God for more intimacy but something stops you?

    This is vulnerable on the one hand as I see you asking for “a space of love, grace, and mercy” in which you will be allowed to grow.

    But you are almost critical about any disciplines that might create that space for “fear” (my word) of “doing harm”

    These phrases of yours leap out to me like a lament for the relationship with God that you desire and yet you think you ought not to desire so much…

    I want to force God’s hand
    God feels a little distant
    I wanted it to seem like God was closer
    Make something happen
    Can you examine your heart while simultaneously knowing that you’re loved?

    So my question to you is, what would it look like to rest in God and live in the tension?
    (Rohr meets Nouwen)


    April 11, 2012 at 6:02 am

    • My intention wasn’t to be critical of disciplines, but rather to be critical of using them as if they were the means of growth or intimacy. The temptation to say, “Now that I’m fasting,” or studying or doing the examen or whatever discipline you choose to insert here, “I’ll feel closer to God!” or “I’ll grow more!” is pretty common. It’s just not guaranteed. It’s an attempt at manipulation rather than relationship. God can choose to show up or not, just the same as we can.

      I’m all for engaging in disciplines so long as I’m okay if they “fail”, if they don’t produce the particular results that we’re hoping for and so long as we don’t use them as a push against what God is calling us to (so focused on our methods that we miss God). God may use a discipline to produce something entirely different or seemingly nothing at all, which, while potentially frustrating, is a good thing. He knows what we need better than we do.

      I’ll admit that desire is something I’ve long learned to stuff, but I’ve asked God for something more a number of times since I noticed things faded a bit. Living in the tension that’s remained, trusting He’s there while not always feeling it, has been a challenge at times. I trust He’s doing something with it, even if I can’t figure out what specifically.

      April 11, 2012 at 8:21 am

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