We strive to improve how we execute kettlebell and barbell lifts and movements in the gym. The word striving makes me think of working harder and doing more. In fact, one definition of strive is to ‘struggle or fight vigorously.’
Often what we really need to do when learning a new skill is to relax, slow down, feel and learn, be patient and let the process of learning and advancing unfold naturally and gently over time, rather than forcing it.
Our spiritual lives can be the same way. We might be striving for holiness by doing lots of actions … volunteering at a shelter, joining parish committees, praying multiple rosaries a day and being a caregiver to a family member or friend.
While these are wonderful ways to serve God, it’s easy to get caught up in doing so many tasks that there is little time to get filled up with God in silent prayer and reflection. We might even get so caught up in striving for holiness, that we place our volunteer responsibilities before our family needs.
I think part of our striving should be to stop striving … to give God freedom, open space and unstructured time to do his gentle and quiet work in us — to fill us up and rejuvenate, renew and strengthen us so our service continues to bear fruit. Even 15 minutes of heart-felt prayer daily can be life-changing.
Some of our striving, or our rush to accomplish, is the nature of our secular culture where we place a high priority on productivity, setting goals and achieving results. The spiritual life is different. God already loves us just how we are; he created us, and like a loving parent, is always there waiting to guide his little children. He gives us the freedom to decide when, how and how much time we spend time with him in prayer. I think St. Francis de Sales said it well:
Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer every day, except when we are busy—then we need an hour.
While we are called to serve others, we are called first and foremost to love; to love God and love our neighbor. Growing in any loving relationship requires time, patience, gentleness and commitment. So giving God latitude to work in us in prayerful adoration, in contemplation, and through the Sacraments is less about striving and more about being faithful to slowing down and trusting that, over time, he will transform our hearts.
“Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.” -St. Augustine of Hippo