One of my favorite pieces of advice I've had a priest tell me was this: "Take your time, then. Stop praying. Don't force it."
It was a time in my life (this past March) I was coming off fresh of a break-up with someone I was very much in love with. I was angry and confused, especially at God. How could He take away something that was so good in my life, someone who I've felt has inspired me to be a better man? It didn't make sense.
So I would say it was liberating for a priest to tell me that, and I deliberately took the advice for about a month after the break-up I had stop praying, stop talking to God altogether. And then a month after that, I started praying again, but not nearly as consistently or as much as I used to(every day). I never really found my groove again until mid-June after I went on a week-long retreat (Faithful Servant 2010), and I was rejuvenated again.. That's another story that has already been written else where, but not for here right now.
What has inspired me to write is something I've been reflecting about for a couple weeks now. One word: fear. Here are some lines I've told myself.
"You know, if I'm going to do this whole faith thing, I want to take it seriously, I want my whole heart to be into it, not half-ass anything. I don't want to say words I don't mean. God doesn't deserve that. I won't give anything until I'm ready."
"If I pray and go to church and all that, I'm going to feel like I'm doing it for those who want me to, not because I want to. I'm going to resent that I feel like I'm complying to my family or my friends. That's not healthy. If I'm going to do any of that, I should do it because I want to do it personally and it's on my personal terms."
"Why go to Mass? When I'm there I'm thinking about other things anyway, I don't catch the readings, and sometimes not even the homily. If I'm gonna go to Mass, my heart should be into it, and it's not. So I shouldn't go and waste both my and God's time."
"People who are into their faith kind of rub me the wrong way. Who do they think they are? They probably judge me. I'm not a judgmental person. If I get into my faith, I don't want to be like them."
"I want to show the world that you can be a happy and good person and not have to go to church all the time or pray all the time to be one."
"Argh, I don't want to turn to God because I'm afraid if I do He's going to expect something of me I'm just not ready for or have the time to do. Life is fine the way it is right now."
Yes, I've thought these lines and sometimes still do. I know what it feels like. Then I read this excerpt from this book called Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff, a funny author who light-heartedly pokes at everything Christian. Here's his passage titled: "Having a Spiritual Excuse Not to Have a Spiritual Discipline."
"...So to assuage that guilt of not having a consistent quiet time, you'll say, 'I don't want to just go through the motions with my quiet time. I want it to be heartfelt, not just something on my to-do list.'
That's a great excuse for a number of reasons. First of all, it makes you sound holy. 'Wow, this guy is so passionate about spending time with God that he's not going to just phone in his quiet time. He's going to wait until he's truly motivated.'
Second, it's one of those lies that if you say it often enough, you eventually start to believe it yourself: 'That's right. I do love spending time with God, and the best way to show that is by not spending time with him until my heart is right. I want to be on fire for God and not fake it. Until I'm sincere, I'll respect him enough to avoid him."
Ha, his sarcastic point really made me think about what I was doing with my life. I am making excuses, aren't I? Why am I afraid? What's it going to take, Matt?
I'm a huge believer that everyone takes their own journey at their own pace. Doors can present themselves, but we have to walk through them. And whichever way we walk, it has to be personal to us. I nor anyone else is going to change any one's hearts. That's God's area. I'm no master at any of this anyway, as I stumble myself.
Oh yeah, that priest who told me to not force things, right after those lines he told me this:
"Just accept and know, that when you come back to God, you're going to say, 'Lord, why did I ever leave you? I needed you that whole time'."