Conquering any worthwhile goal is never easy. Plan on pushing yourself beyond all self-imposed limitations, if you’re serious about reaching the summit. The ascent is slow, difficult at times and rife with demanding switchbacks. Take heart, you’ll happen upon a sunny plateau just when you need one. Here, you can catch your breath, look back with gratitude on your progress and then buck yourself up for the rest of the climb.
This is not a literal ‘how to’ about surviving a hardcore mountain hike. It’s about your personal conversion. Conversion, like hiking up a mountain, requires perseverance and the ability to stay the path with trust in the sunshine that awaits, further up the trail. What is true, is that there isn’t “one weird trick” and there are no easy in-roads to circumvent our present lack of physical and spiritual fitness. Take heart, there is good news. Once you get started down the road a bit and awaken to the gift of another dawn, you begin to realize that you can achieve much, much more than your limited thinking says you can.
Success just isn’t as sweet if not earned by the sweat of your brow. No pain, no gain. Let’s rightly define this concept of pain. It’s not dental work without anesthetic. It’s you vs your self-limiting thoughts. I can knock out 5 more push-ups vs crumpling on the mat. I can make this last quarter mile up a steep incline to the mountain’s summit vs turning around and heading down. I can take the first step towards making a dream into reality vs it’s too hard...why bother? Where do you start? What small improvement can you focus on, to start down the path? Say no to the chips and yes to the zucchini, because deep down, it’s what you really want. Get a little tough with yourself and plug into the strength that’s been there all along. Coach yourself. Re-train your mind. Convert yourself from an onlooker into a participant. Get in there.
This is how people kick addictions and depression, get fit, move past heart break and in general, make things happen; both large and small. Fight the good fight and start living a life worthy of the talents and gifts God gave you. Convert yourself into a believer.
I think we can agree that we’re hardly perfect as human beings. There’s a lot of power grabbing, addiction, crime, corruption, cultural coarseness, political distortion, lies and delusion going on out there. To a certain degree, we can see these distortions wreaking havoc in our own lives. Eventually, you grow tired of the fall-out as evidenced by credit card debt, excess weight, physical addictions, stressed relationships, lying politicians and dreams never attempted, much less realized. This general malaise that fuels our personal paralysis is brought on by our own limited thinking. How long before you’ve had enough of living a stunted life?
A powerful tool for living well, conquering vice and courageously meeting the challenges that intersect our lives, is the cultivation of a true relationship with God. A strong spiritual life enables you to be honest about yourself and the world. Moving towards God ignites a connection with the right energy which fuels an authentic life. St. Augustine writes about our being “restless until we rest in God”. This restlessness can lead to any number of dysfunctional behaviors, leaving us in a state of chaos and disorder. The ascent to union with God is hardly passive; it’s active, demanding and will take you to heights you never dreamed you could reach; much less experience.
If you want to find out what you’re made of, decide to incorporate no less than 30 minutes of quiet prayer into your daily routine. No falling back on excuses, no justification for blowing it off. Ignore the distractions and just pray. If you’re Catholic like me, a daily rosary would fulfill this requirement perfectly. Let me warn you, you will fall off the prayer wagon. It’s in our weak human nature to fail, to sin and to lapse into self absorption. Little by little, with perseverance you’ll begin to show up on a daily basis...voluntarily.
Self-discipline seems quite rare these days. As human beings endowed by God with free will, we need to understand that this freedom is more about doing what we ought to do and less about what we want to do. This is exactly the point where self-discipline can lend the necessary support to see us through. We nurture and strengthen self-discipline first, by simply showing up, second, by soldiering on and third, by blowing off the lazy and lethargic pleas from our self-limiting thoughts. Do something for a week straight and there’s a good chance it will become habit.
There will be tough times on prayer mountain. You’ll experience days when your prayers have as much inspiration as does the content on the back of a cereal box. Your mind will gin up 101 reasons to convince you to grab a snack and fling yourself on the sofa in front of the TV. You may even quit entirely, only to show up a few days later and give it another go. Don’t forget, big things have small beginnings. You may be wondering, what’s the point? Total personal conversion that will take you above the pettiness of worldly things and into the fullness of life’s meaning which is spiritual communion with your Creator, with God.
The greatest Theologians, Saints and devotees throughout history describe their spiritual journeys in words that remind me of the rigors of scaling a mountain. They encountered emotional set backs, occasional pleasant plateaus, along with lonely, demanding, seemingly endless trails that eventually led to a stunning summit that left them breathless with praise.
All along the way, God will be with you. Why wouldn’t He? After all, it was God who has been knocking at your door all this time. As you consent to follow Him and enlarge your prayer life, He will allow you to feel His presence from time to time, only to withdraw His warmth as He challenges you, in His mercy and unfathomable Love, to push beyond your self-limiting thoughts and pursue a height of union that will inform, envelop and enliven every other area of your life. You were born for this and it’s time to begin.
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