The beginning of each new year seems like a blank canvas to work on all the personal and professional goals that keep hanging out with all their unfulfilled potential. But then comes February, and that fresh, clean canvas has a few stray marks, and the perfectionist in me wants to chuck it for another fresh start.
A lot of times, we approach our spiritual lives this way. We set lofty goals, look for the perfect timing, and often languish amid a hectic schedule. Besides, it’s just one more task on the never-ending list of to-dos. But what if there was a better way?
Historically, people of faith have created habits and routines instead of making goals to accomplish and check off. Over a lifetime, the habits form the robust, deep spiritual life our souls crave. Just like physical health is achieved, not by crash dieting but by diet and exercise over the long-term, spiritual health too requires some simple practices.
Like with physical health, there are more habits you could choose to incorporate. Here are four simple ones that we feel are not only effective but realistic to include in an already busy routine.
1. A Habit of Serving Others
It may seem counterintuitive, but part of caring for your soul is a system of helping others. Volunteering at the church or with a partner organization is a great way to do this. It helps us take the focus off of ourselves and use our God-given gifts in support of a great mission.
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.
Proverbs 11:25 (NLT)
2. A Habit of Gratitude
Gratitude takes the focus off of us and on to God as the giver of grace. A great way to establish a habit is by keeping a gratitude journal. It is as simple as taking five minutes each day to write down three to five things for which you are grateful. Try to think both general and specific to that day; this will force you to begin to recognize God’s grace in your life.
“Gratitude involves knowing that we are held secure by a loving God, and that the God we worship is trustworthy, despite the nearly unbearable sorrow we might encounter along the way (Ps. 13). A capacity to be thankful in the midst of hard times requires acknowledging that we do not know the whole story, that we are living before it is complete, and that we are thankful for the presence of God and faithful persons in our lives. Gratitude is a crucial way in which death and destruction do not have the final word and cannot finally define us.”
– Living into Community by Christine D. Pohl
3. A Habit of Solitude
Our hyper-connected world is tough on the soul. Many of us feel pulled in multiple directions and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to shut out the noise.
“In Luke’s gospel, in particular, you can chart Jesus’ life along two axis points: the busier and more in demand and famous Jesus became, and the more he withdrew to his quiet place to pray.”
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
As Jesus’ demands increased, so did his frequency of solitude.
After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
Matthew 14:23 (NLT)
A great way to start is by starting the habit of taking a ten to fifteen-minute walk around your neighborhood or a park two to three days a week. Try to turn off the external noise and instead focus on how you are feeling. If you are feeling anxious, acknowledge that and commit it to God; if you are happy, share that. However you are feeling, whatever your joy or your concern, use this time to acknowledge it and share it with God.
4. The Habit of Community
Often growth that happens in the context of the shared communal experience is considered more critical for certain personalities. But growth in relationship with others of faith is such an integral component regardless of individual personality.
“Communities in which we grow and flourish, however, last over time and are built by people who are faithful to one another and committed to a shared purpose. Community life certainly has moments of incredible beauty and intense personal connection, but much of it is daily and ordinary. Our lives are knit together not so much by intense feeling as by shared history, tasks, commitments, stories, and sacrifices.”
– Living into Community by Christine D. Pohl
So how do we establish these sorts of flourishing communities? It is easier than you might expect. Accomplish this by joining with a group of people who commit to being present, involved, and authentic. This can create a great habit of community.
If you would like to connect and help create that kind of community, your best next step is by joining a community group at groups.southside.org
Like with physical habits, it takes time, but by creating and maintaining these four habits, you will grow a healthy spiritual life.