Last Friday, little robotic instruments nibbled their way through my abdomen, giving light, snipping and cauterizing while the physician manipulated them with 3D visual accuracy. Four puncture wounds and a couple of hours of highly skilled work later and all was done.
Except for the healing. Yes, except for that one little fact: it still hurts and I must be careful. It would be easy to undo all that expert precision by a precipitous return to work—or to garden. Apparently, my husband informed my physician of my weed-pulling habits because she made a point of telling me, “Under no circumstances may you pull weeds.”
For a day and a half, it was OK. Still foggy and groggy, I genuinely didn’t care. But on the third day, restlessness prevailed. Still couldn’t focus enough to read, and TV rarely holds my interest for long. Dozens of movies already recorded held no attraction.
I wanted to be outside. I wanted to be active. I wanted to be back at work. I wanted to hear the children in the church building. I wanted to be going, doing, planning, creating.
Do you see the “I want . . .” theme?
Those short-term wants must be set aside if I’m to reach long-term goals. I will participate in this healing only by practicing the art of delayed gratification. Fortunately, I have habits to call upon that will serve me well here.
But the art of delayed gratification shows declining acceptance among many. I suspect our increasingly impatient society that demands every desire be fulfilled immediately is tied to the decline of the disciplines also necessary for the formation of spiritual maturity.
What is spiritual formation? Ideally, it works this way: children and adults are carefully nurtured in every area: physical, mental and spiritual. They eat healthy foods, engage in stimulating brain activities, have plenty of physical activity with opportunity to discover artistic and musical talents and are given a loving atmosphere in which they can develop their concepts of God with good instruction. Ideally, please note, this is what happens.
Realistically, too many live on French fries and soda, TV and video-game inactivity, minimal standards for educational and occupational achievement, near instant gratification of all their desires, and few long-term goals.
So, when the religious organization says, “It takes years and much practice to become spiritually mature,” fewer show interest. The kingdom of heaven seems too remote, particularly in a society where only the getting of what we want and getting it now has real value. Our instant world has many conveniences. It also threatens to kill the soul.
This time when we can pretty well make anything happen now has no parallel in human history. How, in this new reality, can we invite people into the redemptive and transformative life with God?
In much of church history, fear has been a prominent message: religious leaders did and still do threaten God’s vengeance upon those who do not comply and say or do the right things. Fear works, but only in the short-term. Using fear as the prominent motivator also violates this basic understanding from the Holy Scriptures: perfect love casts out fear.
But it takes time to learn to receive perfect love from God and practice giving it away to others. Much groundwork much be done.
Before my surgery, I had to endure a night of preparation, which I will discuss no further. The nursing staff told me that many won’t do the important but uncomfortable preparation. They pay mightily on the other side later, however.
So it is with spiritual growth: we must practice the disciplines necessary for such growth in order to find the incredible joy of freedom from fear in the fullness of the love of God. The entire world will suffer when the practice of spiritual formation ceases because of the demand for instant results.