Trying harder

July 24, 2006 | Conversion, Daily Spirituality, Prayer | 12 comments

I’ve spent most of today and yesterday thinking about my current spiritual crisis and have gotten a lot of clarity on the issue.

First of all, I thought again about what my options really are: the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, or the “God Lite” route where I talk about being a “spiritual” person while doing whatever I want. Looking back, this isn’t really that much of a dilemma: I’ve made too many people vow to kick my ass if I ever say I’m “spiritual but not religious, ” so that rules out the third option; the teachings of the Orthodox Church are appealing to me, but I don’t feel drawn to it, so that puts option number two aside for the moment. And then there’s the first option: the Catholic Church.

The process that’s led me to get this far into the Church has been more like falling in love with a person than a cerebral theological pursuit. Since the moment I began seriously considering becoming Catholic I’ve felt an intense, gut-level pull toward the Church that’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced. On an intellectual level I’ve had some reservations — sometimes, like now, major reservations — but on the emotional, gut level I’ve never really doubted that this is where I’m meant to be.

I heard a wonderful priest, Fr. Eugene Morris, on Relevant Radio’s show The Inner Life this afternoon. They were discussing this very topic and Fr. Morris had some excellent insights on the issue of not feeling close to God. He made two analogies: the first that getting to know God is like getting to know a person — you need to invest time in the relationship to really get to know that person. The second analogy was of prayer being like working out — you wouldn’t expect to see results if you didn’t do it very often.

Now that I can relate to.

One of my more annoying hobbies is my never-ending quest to lose about ten pounds, so the similarities to prayer and working out really grabbed me. And I asked myself: if I looked back over the past few months and replaced the time I spent praying and/or in church with time at the gym, would I expect to see any differences in my physical appearance? Hmm. One hour each week on Sunday and, say, an average of two minutes per day praying. Umm, no. That wouldn’t get me anywhere. So why is it that I would expect to have gotten anywhere in my spiritual life?

Just like there are some people who can be fit and trim without ever giving a second thought to diets or exercise, there are some people who seem to have a solid faith in God and the Church without ever having to work at it. Maybe it’s just the way their brain is wired, maybe it was their upbringing, who knows. But one thing is clear in both cases: I am not one of those people.

So just as I don’t spend any time wondering why those last ten pounds aren’t coming off when I’ve been eating whatever I want and hardly ever exercising, I don’t think I should be spending any time wondering why I don’t feel close to God when I spend less than two hours per week in any sort of prayerful activity.

Maybe it won’t work — just like I sometimes feel that I can’t lose any weight no matter how much I cut calories or exercise — but I certainly have no excuse to complain about it until I’ve actually tried.

It’s time for me to take more responsibility here. Yes, I am coming at all this from a disadvantage since my atheist background wires me to prize intellect and reason to the absurd exclusion of anything that can’t be proved on paper (which is, really, the typical prideful human tendency to want to be like God, to need to believe that we know everything). But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no way I can ever embrace the faith that I feel being kindled somewhere deep down inside. It may just mean that I need to try harder.

12 Comments

  1. Ersza

    You’re missing part of the equation, of course: the sacraments. I get the vibe that you feel you have to be perfect before you can enter the church. It will help when you start RCIA, but what you will learn there (hopefully) is that the catholic lifestyle is not about being perfect and following umpteen rules, but living a life of continuing conversion. There’s a point where you realize and see where you have gone wrong before, and you go into the confessional and recieve this amazing, wonderful gift of grace (I really felt overwhelmed at my first confession) and then you enter the church and you get these weekly (or daily) vaccinations with communion that help you on your path. I worry that you are getting the cart before the horse, putting yourself in an impossible moral corner before you’ve ever taken that first step. You may not be able to be the Christian you can imagine that you should be right now. You might not be able to live up to that ideal for a long time. But you can work toward it. That’s what it’s all about.

    By the way, I’ve noticed, even if you haven’t, that your series of crises seem to be falling down before you one-by-one. I don’t know how the coumadin/birth control story will end, but I have no doubt that things will work out. Have faith and take care.

  2. SteveG

    Ersza Said: You may not be able to be the Christian you can imagine that you should be right now. You might not be able to live up to that ideal for a long time. But you can work toward it. That’s what it’s all about.

    Hmmmm….I kinda thought that’s exactly what she was getting at in the post. 😉

    Anyway, I think I might have said this before, but one of the most beautiful summations I’ve seen of how the relationship plays out is…

    ‘Have faith that everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.’

    Jennifer said: The process that’s led me to get this far into the Church has been more like falling in love with a person than a cerebral theological pursuit.

    Most beautifully said Jennifer! I know exactly that of which you speak. I think most converts can understand, and revel in this feeling with you.

    It really is like falling in love with a person isn’t it? And that’s what we should feel, because we must remember that this thing we call ‘The Church’ really IS a person.

    It’s the person of Jesus Christ, and it is in and through the church that the relationship with him takes place.

    Through the voice of the magesterium we hear him. In the sacrements we communicate (communion) with him. Through the saints both living and dead we get to know our brothers and sisters in him.

    It’s really quite a beautiful thing, and what’s really wonderful, despite the ups and downs, the longe we remain in the relationship, the more we discover of this love, and the deeper we fall in love, if we but allow it.

    God Bless.

    Remember, O most compassionate Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your assistance, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto you, O virgin of Virgins, our Mother; to you we come; before you we kneel sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer them. Amen.

  3. knit_tgz

    Hi, Jen. I haven’t forgotten my promise to email you, but I need to thank you, and all the ones writing to you in the comments. One great thing about you sharing your insights and experiences on your faith walk is that the readers (like me) can learn a lot from you and the comments you receive.

    The analogy between prayer life and exercise hit deep on me. I am, like you, just a bit overweight. Since childhood. I am lucky that I don’t get morbidly obese easily (I love eating), but I am chronically just a bit overweight. And it would be so easy to lose those last 7-10 kg: if I would only exercise! Besides, I would become stronger and firmer. I have the same problem in faith. I am not disciplined, so I don’t have a prayer routine. I pray when I remember, when I am drawn to it. Fortunately, I am drawn to it frequently. Unfortunately, I answer in a hurry. “Hi God. Thanks for this or that”. “I’m sorry I did this”. “Help me, or help this or that person”. “Forgive me”. “Your creation looks great today”. Always in a hurry.

    One thing I can tell you is that sacramental life makes a big difference in your prayer life. I don’t come from an atheist background, but I am too intellectual as well (maybe that’s why God made me believe in my heart before my head was convinced). My scientific background, maybe. My brain is always talking, even when I’m praying. Discussing, philosophying (sp?), wondering. The only thing that makes my brain be quiet, my prayers become peaceful and silent, is the Body of Christ. In Mass, after consecration, or in adoration.

    If you are not in the RCIA yet, and don’t feel you can enter now, please consider the idea of getting a spiritual director, and going to adoration sometimes.

    I’ll write you later on the other issue.

  4. Ersza

    Hi Steve! I am not sure what Jennifer’s feelings about the sacraments are, but I am getting the strong feeling throughout her blog that she is waiting to begin receiving them or even to begin her formal catechism until she has brought herself in line with every piece of doctrine. That’s a very difficult road. I think it’s much easier if you begin by finding Christ in your life and in the works of others and in your own heart. She is hoping to see spiritual growth in herself from prayer or from listening to the Word each week, and that’s fine, but it will really help to receive communion and to study the Word in a more directed fashion.

  5. SteveG

    Hi Steve! I am not sure what Jennifer’s feelings about the sacraments are, but I am getting the strong feeling throughout her blog that she is waiting to begin receiving them or even to begin her formal catechism until she has brought herself in line with every piece of doctrine.

    Hi Ersza!
    I am loath to speak for Jennifer here (she manages that quite well thank you);-), but I don’t think that’s the case. From previous posts, I think it’s the case that she has been attempting to sign up for RCIA (might even have done so already), but that some issues with her parish’s RCIA program have delayed that, and that she’s been attending mass regularly.

    I think, knowing the history of this particular topic on her blog, she’s talking more about the ‘feelings’ of closeness to God that she’s been searching for (expecting?), and she’s acknowledging that maybe her efforts to make herself accessible to those feeling (i.e. via prayer) haven’t been what they should/could be.

    That’s a very difficult road. I think it’s much easier if you begin by finding Christ in your life and in the works of others and in your own heart. She is hoping to see spiritual growth in herself from prayer or from listening to the Word each week, and that’s fine, but it will really help to receive communion and to study the Word in a more directed fashion.

    With regard to the efficacy of the sacraments, I wholeheartedly agree with you. The problem is that we are all encouraging her to partake, but…well, she’s not yet really supposed to partake of the two we all need the most: confession and Eucharist.

    I took her post to be written within that context and as more or less a resolution to say that she is going to try harder right where she is while she’s working towards being received into the Church.

    Jennifer, PLEASE correct me if I am off base on anything.

  6. Ersza

    It seemed to me that she was considering not joining the church at all because she was stumbling over a piece of doctrine and that stumbling and the attendant stress and discomfort in her life have made her question whether the Catholic Church is right for her. The newest post makes it seem that she’s going to stick with it and keep trying, and I’m glad to hear it.

  7. SteveG

    I gotchya. I think we understood the whole thing fairly similarly after all. I think I just misunderstood the meaning of your first comment.

    Much ado about nothing after all.

  8. Jennifer F.

    Ersza and Steve –

    To clarify a couple of things:

    – I am dying to participate in the sacraments! It’s driving me crazy that it’s taken so long to get into RCIA. I mentioned a while back that I was considering going to another parish just to get it started, but decided (with the input of the readers here) that it’s really best to wait and do it in my own parish. RCIA starts in early September, and it’s the first time they’ve offered it since September 2005. So that’s the holdup there.

    – While the question about birth control is a big issue, it wasn’t stopping me from doing RCIA and becoming fully Catholic, or at least starting the process. (Again, the only holdup there is my parish.) I kind of figured that it would somehow get worked out because of the deep draw I feel toward the church. Funny, when I wrote that last post it never even occurred to me to pull out of RCIA.

    – I think the birth control issue was stressing me out so much because I’ve had a really hard time believing in God from day one. It’s such a vague concept and I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that sort of thing. But, oddly, I’ve found it very easy to trust the Church. So when I started struggling with this doctrine it really threw me for a loop because the Church is the main place I’ve been putting my faith. For me, trusting in God is harder than trusting in the Church. Strange, I know.

  9. SteveG

    Jennifer,
    Thanks for clarifying.

    For me, trusting in God is harder than trusting in the Church. Strange, I know.

    Not strange to my ears in the least. In fact, it’s the very purpose of the church. It’s why God gave us the church. It’s the Church which is the instrument by which God communicates his message throughout history and the normative channel through which his grace is dispensed to us.

    I say this without the least bit of hyperbole intended…As far as I am concerned, either the Catholic Church is what it says it is, or Christianity is a giant hoax, or at best a lucky misunderstanding.

    I recall what it was like as a Protestant not having the church’s guidance to lean on. For me, it was terrible. I was never confident in anything regarding the faith. It bothered me terribly that I two people could take the same scriptures, and make nearly equally compelling cases for the exact opposite doctrine. That reality is mostly what made me abandon faith to non-belief for many years.

    I say this with no insult intended, but I don’t know how people are able to hold onto faith without the Church to guide them. I certainly wasn’t able to. Such people must possess faith, holiness and humility in far greater proportions than I can conceive of.

  10. Julie D.

    I am dying to participate in the sacraments! It’s driving me crazy that it’s taken so long to get into RCIA.

    Put ‘er there, sistah. When I figured out I needed to become Catholic it was Easter of 1999 … so I couldn’t even begin RCIA until that Fall … it did wonders for my patience and learning to let God do it in His own time though.

    Now, on a purely selfish basis, where did you download that person saying the Rosary? In return I offer the pray-as-you-go podcast
    (http://www.dallasnews.com/newskiosk/rss/dallasnewsviewpoints.xml).

  11. knit_tgz

    Hi.

    Jen when I wrote that last post it never even occurred to me to pull out of RCIA. That’s wonderful! I’m not like you, in that my faith in God is much older than my confidence in the Church. It’s great that you feel drawn to the Church. I’ll pray you have good pastors and find a spiritual advisor who is faithful to the Church, but also who is a compassionate pastor.

    BTW, like Julie, I would like to know where did you download the person saying the Rosary?

    Ersza – (Sorry, Jen, for using your comments box as a message board) Is everything going fine with you? I don’t know why, I have been thinking of you. I was a lurker in your old blog, I cannot remember a lot from it now (I read too many blogs), but sometimes I remember you, I don’t know why.

    SteveI recall what it was like as a Protestant not having the church’s guidance to lean on. For me, it was terrible. I was never confident in anything regarding the faith. […] I don’t know how people are able to hold onto faith without the Church to guide them. I certainly wasn’t able to. Such people must possess faith, holiness and humility in far greater proportions than I can conceive of. I have been one of those persons, and believe me, my faith, holiness and humility is smaller than an atom. It’s a matter of how you are naturally “wired” and what your experiences relating to people have been.

    I have been (fortunately, God changed that in me) a person who distrusted people, especially large groups of people, a lot. So, it was much easier to trust God, to convert to Christianity without going to a church.

    I knew God wanted me to live my faith in community, but I trusted He would guide me to a church when I was ready. I could not bring myself to church-shop, and I’m glad I did not do that. I would never have chosen the Catholic Church. In fact, when He showed me it was the Catholic Church, I was disappointed. I knew in my heart it was truly where I should be, but it took me a couple of weeks to fall in love with the Church. I converted to Christianity because of Easter, because of the redemption through Christ’s sacrifice, and because it was wonderful to know Satan was defeated and to experience peace inside myself (I had been a pantheist-almost-pagan and I had learned to hate interior peace) when I was 21. I had a small amount of Christian friends, but I lived faith mostly in a lonely way until I was 25, almost 26, and God showed me the Transubstanciation was true. I HAD to receive Christ’s body, then. I did not love the Catholic Church, but I loved Christ and now I knew I could and should receive His body (I remembered it was in the Gospel). So, Catholic Church it was. After a month of pondering, of reading Church’s official documents and falling in love with the doctrine and the Tradition, I came back. And finally fell in love with the Church.

    But, to be completely true, I must tell you that I started learning to love the Catholic Church through my early small group of Protestant friends. I’m grateful for that.

  12. RobK

    In your post you described your conversion as …more like falling in love with a person

    There is a beutiful song by Jars of Clay called Love Song For A Savior. It is about conversion. It is very good – one of my favorites! Hope you enjoy it.

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