Total Recall: The Surprising Way You Are Sabotaging Your Spiritual Life and How to Avoid It6:00:00 AMStephanie Culy
This Easter season, the LORD has definitely been convicting me of ignorance in my relationship with him. This has primarily taken the form of reassessing the amount of time I (don’t) spend with Scripture.
I love Scripture. I love how it contains layer upon layer of meaning, like topographical overlays. There have been whole books dedicated to discovering the nuances of these layers: from its historical, moral, typological, and even anagogical senses. Pursuit of these studies has truly fostered within me a love of the poetry God writes through history and how we can truly trust that he continues to do so today. Right now. In our very lives.
But recently, the LORD has clarified for me the distinction between reading about the Scriptures and...actually reading them. I may know a lot about the Scriptures and the beautiful theology they contain, but to know about someone and to actually know them are two entirely different things.
In other words, if you are tied up studying about God at the expense of truly entering into relationship with him by spending time in his written Word, then you are heading down a path that will ultimately sabotage your spiritual life. Because to know God in a personal way compared to simply knowing many facts about him is the only thing that distinguishes the Christian from merely the academic. As St. James so pointedly reminds us: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
Having knowledge about God cannot be regarded as equal to knowing God.
Hildebrand makes the same distinction in What is Philosophy? when he expounds on the differences in degrees and kinds of knowledge: “If a primitive stage of having knowledge of something is reached by taking cognizance of it in a perception, new acts of taking cognizance of the same object will lead, step by step, to a more adequate and complete possession of it.”
I know; there’s a lot there. To translate, Hildebrand advises that you don’t truly and intimately know someone or something except by a regular, “step-by-step” process of interacting with (“taking cognizance of”) the subject. To put it simply, you don’t build Rome in a day. Nor does any long-lasting relationship form from sparse encounters. Your spiritual life with God is no different.
A new tree needs to be watered not with sporadic influxes of water, but by a slow, steady drip. This encourages the roots to dive deep and adds stability, rather than spreading broadly and ultimately rendering the roots ineffective. Similarly, we often have the tendency of spreading ourselves too thin. We focus on outreach or impact while neglecting the demand for continuing formation, both for others and ourselves.
There needs to be a balance. The Church has always talked about the duality of vocation as mission and communion: outreach and deepening fellowship. Both are to feed one another in zeal and stability. As our baptismal call dictates, we are to reach out to the marginalized as well as those who have not heard the Good News of Christ. But this should not and cannot take the place of nourishing those already gathered into the flock by such efforts. If you need a reminder, this also includes you. But we cannot do this merely by sporadic immersion. We cannot simply attend a retreat once a year and expect ourselves to be rejuvenated and empowered for the long haul.
We cannot live in freedom for one day and allow ourselves to be enslaved to the demands of this world for another 364 days. It just doesn’t add up.
And how do we do this? We need to ensure we are maintaining the balance of mission and communion in our own spiritual lives. In my experience (and I am sure many others) it is easy to spread ourselves too thin: whether it be for occupation, ministry, family, or other opportunities. Much of the time, we justify our self-inflicted chaos because the need seems so great and the harvesters, so few.
This is when we need to remember the words of Christ: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We need to return to these words, not as an excuse to give up nor as an agitation to more stubbornly pursue independence, but as an act of self-preservation.
We need to remember to step back and allow ourselves to experience wonder, give ourselves time to be still, and to detach from our perpetual to-do lists. In order to live the Christian life, and “have it abundantly” (John 10:10) we need to know God, and to know him is to spend quality time listening to his word. Day by day, year by year, into eternity.