Roadblocks to Spiritual Progress
Here is a list of ten common justifications for not travelling the path of spiritual growth:
1. I am a Christian. This is pure self deceit, ascribing to ourselves the status and the promise of Christianity without entering into and living the life of the Christian. We cannot simply say that we are a mountain climber. We must first train and learn the skills required, and we must then climb mountains—only then can we truly call ourselves mountain climbers. Likewise, we must learn our Holy Orthodox faith and profess it, practice its moral and spiritual teachings, and participate in its services and sacraments—if we are to call ourselves Christians.
2. I am not the worst. This is another delusion, common among children. It may well be that others, even other members of our own parish, do not practice their faith as well as we do. But God does not ask us to be better than someone else; He asks us to seek Him with love, sincerity, and truth, and to do the best that we can. Moreover, claiming that others are worse is judgmentalism, the sin of the Pharisee.
3. I am doing enough. This attitude is invariably fatal to Christian growth, because it presumes that no further growth is necessary. But Christians are called to a life of growth; growth that continues forever, even in heaven itself. But to stop our spiritual journey is to fall back, to fall away from God. We cannot “tread water” spiritually.
4. I am a good person. It is amazing how many people say this, one wonders how many more believe it but do not say it. But Christ said, “none is good save one, that is God”. Do we not remember the story of the Publican and the Pharisee? If we do not see any sins in ourselves, that is not because we have no sins. If we do not see areas where we need to grow spiritually, that is not because we don’t need to grow spiritually. These things simply point to a failure in our spiritual vision, our spiritual understanding of ourselves. The Fathers had a word for this – prelest – spiritual presumption.
5. I can pray at home. Christ called His disciples to worship together. As His Passion approached, in the moment of His greatest anguish, He Himself asked His own disciples to pray with Him to watch with Him. He promised that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” We worship together, we grow together, we seek God together, we are saved together.” We together are the body of Christ.
6. God couldn’t want me. Sadly, this is a statement I hear, directly and indirectly, much more often than you might imagine. But this is the work of the devil. Let there be no doubt: God loves us God died for us. God knows every little thing about us, good and bad, small and large. God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves, and He loves us more than we will ever be able to comprehend. Let's love Him back.
7. The Church is old fashioned. I heard this one just this last week. “We are more advanced now”. Those were the exact words. We’re more advanced? Than who? St. John Chrysostom? St. Gregory of Nyssa? St. Maximus the Confessor? Or maybe we are more advanced than Jesus Christ? What a line! Spats are old fashioned. Bustles and corsets, punch cards, and bed warmers are old fashioned. The Church is eternal. The Church speaks to every generation – it speaks to us. If we will listen.
8. I'll do it later. When I have more time. When I get out of school. When I have the business going. When the kids are through school. When I retire. It’s called procrastination, and it is the enemy of every good thing we ever want to do. It is the enemy of Christian faith.
9. That’s for the priest. Or the bishop, or for the monastics, or for those “zealots”. There is no double standard in the Orthodox Church. There is not one standard for clergy and monastics and another for laity. There is not one for people who work and another for those who don’t. We are all called to growth, to maturity, to full sacramental life, to prayer, to spiritual understanding.
10. I’ll do what I want to do. We have no better friend than our spiritual father. Our spiritual father can give us advice and counsel, suggestions and insights on spiritual life and growth. He can be our spiritual coach, our spiritual personal trainer. When we keep him posted on our spiritual progress, through regular conversations and Confession, he can help us stay committed, and help us be honest with ourselves. He can point out things we can improve on, and when we are biting off a bit too much.
May God grant us Wisdom!