A few weeks ago, there was a day in Missouri so splendid it was almost impossible to stay inside. The weather was warm, the skies clear, and the feeling of burgeoning life heralding the arrival of spring—even before the trees sprouted their leaves—was palpable.
It was easy in that moment to think that the cold, barren winter had passed and spring was here to stay. It wasn’t to be. Not even a week later, the temperatures dropped precipitously, and winter roared back with a sudden snowstorm.
It was intense but short-lived. The snow melted after a couple of days and warmer temperatures once again coincided with the lengthening days.
Releasing … Again and Again
These fluctuations in the weather showed me something important about the Lenten journey and about spiritual living overall.
It can be tempting to think spiritual growth should be linear. Many of us begin by determining where we are on the spiritual path and how we want to grow. We may catch a glimpse of where we want to be as we journey forth, using the spiritual practices of prayer, forgiveness, visualization, and gratitude to help us get there.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So when we stumble sometimes, slipping into old patterns, thoughts, and behaviors, it can be easy to think, Hey, maybe this spiritual stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or, even worse, we may chastise ourselves with thoughts such as, Maybe I’m doing it wrong, or This may work for other people, but it just doesn’t work for me.
When this happens, it may help to recall the beginning of springtime. Just because a cold snap or a surprise storm may mean a temporary plunge back into winter, it doesn’t mean winter has overtaken spring. Spring is still coming, even though snow covers the ground and cold air stings the skin.
Just as the snow melts quickly as the days grow longer and the temperatures trend upwards, spiritual backslides grow increasingly infrequent and shorter-lived once we commit to the path leading us to a new way of living.
Likewise, when you catch yourself overreacting, or in a temporary tangle of resentment or unforgiveness, or overcome with worry, that doesn’t mean you’re not growing spiritually. In fact, being able to recognize those reactions quickly may be a marker of just how much you are growing. It’s important to be gentle with yourself and not let a temporary setback derail your efforts.
Just as the snow melts quickly as the days grow longer and the temperatures trend upwards, spiritual backslides grow increasingly infrequent and shorter-lived once we commit to the path leading us to a new way of living. The key is not to see a backward slide as failure.
Renewing … Again and Again
Winter leads to spring, but that doesn’t mean that each day will be warmer than the one that came before it. Lent leads to Easter, but that doesn’t mean that the decision to release old habits will always be easy or free of frustration.
At the inevitable low points along the spiritual journey, it’s important to remember the decision to live a spiritual life and commit to spiritual growth will change us for the better. Life’s more difficult moments—from aggravations and annoyances to tumult and tragedies—visit everyone at some point. But over time and with practice and patience, we meet these challenges with the awareness that we have the power to weather the storms of life, secure in our faith that the sun will break through even the darkest clouds.