Only you know how you feel on this Easter compared to Easters past. Maybe you’re missing the traditional services with your congregation – I know I am. But beyond the abnormality of the circumstances caused by the pandemic, how are you doing spiritually? How are you doing really?
Have you grown in the past year? Regressed? Stayed in the same place? Are you bored? Comfortable? Invigorated? Are you closer to God? Farther away? Has He revealed any new aspects of Himself to you? Where are you struggling? Have you found a routine that works to keep you in relationship with Him, or are you consistently inconsistent?
I find Easter to be a good time to take stock of my spiritual life in this way: it is, for me, the liturgical New Year. And two things have struck me as I consider the state of my relationship with God:
- I have been drawn to and continue to be drawn to intimacy with God, particularly through cultivating my desire and ability to listen to God in a variety of ways, and;
- I don’t treat my spiritual life like I treat anything else vital to me that I am passionate about.
Let me explain what I mean. I am a passionate person by nature. I go all in, all the time. When I was learning Japanese I spent hours a day obsessing over the stroke order of kanji and listening to Japanese radio. When I’m interested in a subject I read every single solitary book I can find about it. When I started yoga it wasn’t enough to just know a few poses: I joined a studio and picked up a mat, a set of blocks, and a strap. I spend an inordinate amount of time picking out the decor in my beloved study…and in my Animal Crossing house.
When I love something I devote loads of time to it. I learn all I can about it. I consistently integrate it into my life. I am always, always looking for how to improve, expand, alter, and change my relationship to it for the better. I tweak things and change things until I am satisfied and then I start all over again. And yet I neglect to do this with my spiritual life.
I want to get really, deeply engaged in my relationship with God this year. I want my relationship with Him, and the pursuit of the relationship with Him, to be the priority. I want to cultivate in myself a heart that obsesses over and constantly returns to thoughts of God in the same that I obsess over and constantly return in my thoughts to other things I love.
For me, here at the beginning, that means three things. To jumpstart this little project of mind, I have three distinct goals in mind:
1. I want to make my time with God pleasurable.
I think that many Christians, in our desperate efforts to be good and consistent believers, deprive ourselves of the joy of spending time with God, or of realizing that it can be pleasant, nourishing to do so. Instead, we haul out the Bible as a part of our chore list for the day, study and/or read as required to make us feel we’ve done enough, pray a little, and then get on with it. I want to make my morning time with God not just something that I do to honor and obey Him, but because I really, really want to be there.
In practice, success here looks like this: spending time with God in the morning is one of the best parts of the day. I’m eager to see how I might make that happen.
2. I want to be pleased by what pleases God.
I have a tendency toward the cynical, the critical, and negative. For Lent, I gave up complaining, and I found it profoundly difficult. I failed often. But God taught me through this that complaint is quickly cut off and remedied by gratitude, joy, and the good things of God. So I would like to focus on all the things that delight God and learn to be delighted by them myself.
In practice, success here looks like this: seeking out in my daily life what I might be joyful and pleased about, meditating on the “good things” of God, and otherwise continuing my self-imposed retreat from media, situations, and people that foster cynical, critical, and negative urges in me.
3. I want to cultivate radical responses in my life.
This Easter it has been impressed upon me how radical and unexpected Christ’s behaviors were in almost every circumstance. He performs a miracle…and then tells people to please be quiet about it. He responded calmly to ridicule and contempt. He answered questions meant to trap and mock with thoughtful seriousness. He spoke truth at moments when doing so undoubtedly resulted in deep discomfort.
I am a people-pleaser. I am also a worrier. Work, in particular, is a source of anxiety for me at times: a harshly-worded email, even when I’ve done nothing wrong, can send me into a tailspin of self-doubt. The prospect of having to take on too many projects at once makes me flail out in anticipatory stress. But what if I, too, make an effort to cultivate radical, Christ-like responses? We all try to live like Christ – but what does that look in all its radical intensity in my day-to-day work and in my own personal responses?
In practice, success here looks like this: being gentle in spirit when I should be most proud and confident. Being calm and peaceful when I should be most anxious. Being most loving and graceful when I should be most frustrated or hurt.
I don’t know, of course, where you are in your relationship with Christ. But as we settle into the evening of Easter, I invite you to consider your own plan going forward. Where were you last year? Where are you now? And maybe most importantly – God willing that we all meet next Easter together, my friend, where do you want to be?
He is risen!
Happy Easter, all of you.