Friday, March 26, 2010

Ever thought about what it takes to get to a spiritual high?

I went for a run the other day (as I often do).  I was running up a bridge and was thinking about how it takes a lot of hard work to get up the bridge, yet going down always feels so easy.  Somehow my brain made a similarity to the spiritual life.

In the Christian life we sometimes identify certain events or periods as "spiritual highs".  These are times when we feel close to God.  We can hear him clearly and seem to just "do the right things".  We are living the way we were meant to and loving it.  It is a time like that retreat you went to as a youth.  For the entire weekend you escaped the spiritual oppression from the world.  Those pressures and distractions were minuscule.  Everybody around you was trying to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus.  It was a rich environment for you to clear your head and get things straight.  You grew in your faith and maybe even felt like God was giving you direction for part of your life.  You were on top of the spiritual world and felt like nothing could get you down.

But remember a few weeks after that, when you really messed up with your parents.  And the direction God gave you was not so clear anymore - did he really tell you to do that?  The world had crept back in and fogged up your sights once again.  You no longer felt so close to God and your relationship with him was just...well...hard.

So what does all this have to do with running up and down a bridge?

As I was running up that bridge I thought, "the top is like a spiritual high."  A second later I thought, "but it takes so much effort to get to the top, and it is so easy to run down the bridge."  And there it was.

It takes a lot of effort to get to a spiritual high.  It may take planning, rescheduling, facing persecution, traveling, isolation - any number of things.  It is hard work and tiring, and sometimes you may feel like quitting even before you get to the top.

But the view is astounding!  Getting to the top is so rewarding.  That day I was runing, I saw a dolphin - how cool!  I could see boats, cars, buildings and all sorts of things for miles around.  It can be a great way to see the big picture, which often helps guide our plans and actions.  But the best part is just the experience of feeling like you are closer to God - it just seems more real.

Just beware.  Before I knew it, I had breezed down the bridge and once I hit the flat ground my feet felt heavy again - heavier than before.  Sometimes it does not take long to come down from a spiritual high - it is often so easy you do not notice you are descending...until you plateau.  Then it seems like a struggle, harder than before.  You may even have lots of doubts.  Did I really see that dolphin?  Was that boat really that close?  The big picture may become skewed and you may start to doubt the things you learned, what you heard God say, or the guidance you received.  Weeks or months later you may even find yourself wondering, "Did I really run that bridge?"

So work hard to get to the top and be attentive to the descent.  Record things during your spiritual highs so you can refute the doubts when they come.  (Just like this picture shows that I really was at the top.)
 Journals are a great way to record your thoughts and prayers, lessons you learned and what you felt like God was saying to you.

And one more thought.  I think ahead to how I want to keep ascending that bridge (and training for my 5K).  I may not have been able to run the entire way up the bridge the first time, but as I continue to train I will be able to run the entire ascent, it will get easier and I will be able to make regular visits to the top.  So maybe those principles transfer to the spiritual life as well, not necessarily that you will have spiritual highs more often, but that experiencing a closer relationship with God becomes more natural and regular.

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