Progress One Step at a Time

March 18, 2014

Two weeks after lung surgery, I am detecting some slight improvement in my stamina, stair climbing, and breathing. It’s a good sign when I actually assemble a “things to do” list and accomplish it! Still, twinges of pain and that pesky fatigue linger, making my days feel long and, yes, boring. You can tell, I am getting antsy for progress, especially now.

My husband emailed me earlier today with confirmation of our Yosemite Wilderness Permit. The plan is to hike to the top of Half Dome over Labor Day weekend. Whether a step of faith or folly, this permit acquisition certainly puts a goal out there for me. I have made one unsuccessful attempt of the Rock (written about here) and—knowing how hard it is—truly wonder if I can be in peak physical condition six months after surgery and maybe four months after Round 4 of chemo yet to come.

The only guidance I have so far from the surgeon about physical activity is “no flying, no scuba diving, and no high altitude hiking for one month.” Otherwise, the word has been “listen to your body and do what you feel like doing.” Okay, my body is saying, “stay in the recliner,” and I don’t feel like doing much. Inertia is pretty powerful, so another way to progress in physical fitness and strengthening must be found before I fritter away a perfectly good six-month goal.

In ministry settings, I occasionally encounter individuals who desire to be spiritually fit and impervious to tribulation, close to God, and perfect in every way. (They might not put it exactly that way, but that’s probably what they are thinking.) They admire the Mother Teresas in our midst and wish they could be like them, but have no idea of what it would take to grow spiritually. Without a clear vision and only wishful thinking to make them feel guilty, they fail to identify a means for getting from Point A, today’s disappointing spiritual life, to Point B, maturity in Christ. What makes this all the more challenging is that (I don’t think) there is a one-size-fits-all formula or rigid timetable for spiritual growth.

What we do know, from Scripture and the witness of many saints throughout Christian history, is that spiritual maturity is the result of a life-long intentional process. One might not see progress within a week’s time, but it is possible to see development year by year. The increments of improvement are small on a day-to-day basis, but they eventually add up to visible Christ-likeness that pours itself out for the sake of others.

During my convalescence, I have been reading a marvelous book by Thomas Ashbrook called Mansions of the Heart. The author unpacks the seminal work of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) called The Interior Castle. She describes sanctification as a progressive journey through seven “mansions” toward the center of the castle, where communion with Christ is complete. Like pilgrims wandering through the unknown corridors of a large estate, we sometimes go in circles spiritually. But if we cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, who is leading us toward the center where the joyful Trinity resides, we can know the love of God and experience the true freedom of his righteousness I wrote about yesterday.

Since it is Lent, and many people take the opportunity to grow in their faith through either engagement or denial, I am going to engage with the ideas Saint Teresa expounded and Dr. Ashbrook explained. By doing so, I hope we (my readers and I) can become acute observers of incremental progress, find encouragement in that growth, and reap the benefits of spiritual fitness and strength for the sake of those around us. Tally ho!



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