I have always been a terrible swimmer. Two years ago, I tried to remedy my poor swimming status by sheer practice. I failed miserably. I seemed to be attacking the water rather than gliding through it. One lap down was a chore that left me out of breath and hurting. I was frustrated and annoyed at myself. Is there anything more frustrating than having a goal and then failing so emphatically?
But this past year, I discovered a swimming method called Total Immersion and I decided that I would give my swimming attempts another try. I rented a DVD and began learning some drills and practicing them. I tried to take the process step by step and gradual with the idea of learning slowly and effectively. Not all of the drills have been easy and my fear of failure surfaces each time I grow frustrated but I have to fight through it and find small success and celebrate improvement. My goal is to become a better swimmer not perform in triathlons. I have started to enjoy my swimming sessions because I am improving and accomplishing something that has been frustrating in the past.
So what does this have to do with Christian Spiritual Formation? The same fear of failure that has dogged my pursuit of better swimming has hampered my spiritual growth. I fear that I will fail to understand a passage of scripture so I don’t even read, or my prayer time will end with me dozing off so I don’t even pray, or that service to others will show how truly selfish I am, so why bother? But here is what I have discovered as I work through my fear – spiritual breakthroughs are just around the corner and it is usually not in the reading of scripture or the praying that I discover them but through the fact that I have been reading scripture and praying.
When I am committed to following after Jesus and learning from him, then my whole day becomes a laboratory for spiritual insight and growth. Prayer builds off of scripture, encounters during the day begin to show a theme, and every moment is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to draw me closer to the truth about Jesus. Spiritual exercises that seemed so mundane and fruitless while I am doing them slowly gain momentum and success as my life progresses and the Holy Spirit reminds me of what I previously discovered during the exercise.
What are you missing by fearing spiritual failure? What could you discover if you pushed past your fear and realized that you don’t have all the answers or even much ability but you have your attention and right now your attention is so focused on others things. Place your attention on becoming like Christ and let your life not be ruled by fear but by slow progress and tiny achievements.