When I was young, my parents had a ritual on my birthday. We’d go out to the garage and my parents would measure how much I had grown in the past year. They would take my mom’s measuring tape which she used for sewing and would mark the wall with my “official” height. It was fun to see how much I had grown over the years. Some years, it was very noticeable, others not so much. The ritual gave us an opportunity to discuss whatever vertical progress I had made. In a way, it was a measure of where I’d been and how far I’d come.
I think we can apply this ritual to our spiritual life too. Even though our love of God and our prayer life is not exactly quantifiable, there are ways we can assess where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. For me, the defining measure in my spiritual growth is peace.
I started to pray in earnest in my early thirties. Before then my prayers consisted of going to Sunday mass and saying memorized prayers. This all changed when I made my first retreat and was introduced to other ways of praying. Contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and imaginative prayer opened me to a more personal relationship with God. I made a habit of making an annual silent retreat, and have continued that for the past twenty or so years. All this and of course, God’s grace, helped me to actually experience God’s love for me.
Looking back on all these years of prayer, I can truly see how God has changed me. At this point in my life, I am blessed with an inner and outer calm that was not present in my early spiritual life. The anger about wounds inflicted and received, the shame about bad decisions, the fear of the future – all these things that used to encircle me no longer imprison me. I have an acceptance of who I am, shortcomings and strengths. The damage done by carrying poor self-esteem and regrets will always be there to some extent, but I have grown to see myself as God sees me, a loved sinner. I’m no longer my worst critic, prayer and God’s love have brought me to an acceptance of where I’ve been and how it has shaped me today.
That’s where the peace comes in. Because of the blessing of my spiritual life, I have learned to trust God in a way that I have never trusted before. God has been there for me through the good and bad and remains with me now and forever. That’s God’s promise (Isaiah 43:1-7) and that’s been my experience. I am now able to see God in all things, and to see God’s hand in events in my life. As Beth Knobbe wrote in the previous blog, God is faithful. God is love. God wants us to be at peace and to be peace for others.
Of course, I have times when I toss all this growth out the window and revert to a previous pattern of thought. But faith and persistence in prayer will always bring growth. It can happen quickly or over many years. My growth in the Spirit has slowly been towards inner and outer peace. That journey towards peace began with responding to an invitation from God to go deeper. An invitation to take a chance and trust the journey. I accepted that invitation and have never looked back. How about you? Where has God brought you in your faith journey?
Start a ritual of reviewing growth in the Spirit. Each year, on the anniversary of your baptism, spend time asking God to show you the spiritual fruits of the past year. Let it be a prayer, with God leading you through the year and showing you how you grew. Give thanks for God’s faithfulness and gifts of the Spirit.
Teilhard de Chadin said “Trust in the slow work of God.” Has the Spirit’s movement in your life been quick or long-term? Does it come in spurts or is it more even-keeled? Noticing how God moves in your life can help you see how you are growing in the Spirit.
Reflect on this scripture:“Let the peace of Christ, to which you were indeed called in one body, rule in your hearts; and be thankful. –Colossians 3:15
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