How Much of Life is Spiritual?

Did you ever read Eat Pray Love? It’s a true story about a woman who “finds herself” by travelling to Italy, India and Indonesia (Bali): Italy to discover pleasure (much of it through food), India to discover God (while she lives in an ashram), and Indonesia to put it all together to find balance. There’s this part–I don’t remember who said it–where it is said that even too much focus on spiritual things is not good.

There needs to be a balance between pleasure, secular learning, and spiritual growth. If you think about it, embracing [wholesome] pleasure and secular learning–in a way–is also embracing God, for He gives us all things that are good, and knowledge never goes to waste (it’s the one thing we can take with us when we die).

Most people have things that they are passionate about. I’m passionate about health. In my recent past I’ve been very passionate about parenting and photography. I love nature and care about our planet and its inhabitants. It’s easy for me to spend lots of time on these things and I believe it is all good. I’m so grateful that people are passionate about secular things because if they weren’t, there are so many good causes that would go by the wayside, and there would be so much information that we wouldn’t have. There wouldn’t be great works of art and beautiful architecture to enjoy. There wouldn’t be breakthroughs in women’s rights. There wouldn’t be national parks. There wouldn’t be any healthy food left in this country. Thank goodness for passionate people–they enrich all of our lives.

But how much of our lives should be spiritually based? This question is hard to answer. I mean, the very core of my being is fueled by my faith and spiritual beliefs. My faith and religious beliefs bleed out into all aspects of my life and are a major part of my character. A very huge percentage of my being is spiritual. And yet, I do not pour over scriptural texts for hours every day. I don’t meditate or ponder spiritual things on a daily basis. I don’t say prayers all day long. I’m not out and about serving the needy or sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people. My whole life isn’t focused on spiritual things; however, I could do better. I do pray every night and read at least a little bit of scripture when I remember to (I go through phases where it’s daily, and phases where it’s more like weekly), I attend church weekly, I read the lessons from our lesson book, I subscribe to our church magazine and read an article here and there, I plan and lead the music for church…and I am honest, I treat others with kindness and respect, I devote myself to my family and do my best to take care of them, and in general I do things as I believe Christ would want me to. I have a lot of faith, a strong testimony and a great amount of love for people.

I wonder to myself what is an ideal balance. I know that the missionaries in our church pretty much live and breathe the Gospel and all things spiritual for up to two years, but then when they get off their missions they sometimes sway into the other direction–complacence, church inactivity–for a little while, regaining a sense of balance, I suppose. Or even if they stay strong in the church without having a little “break” they never continue living life like a missionary. But those are young men and women I’m talking about. I think about our church leaders–much older, much wiser, much more life experience behind them–and I bet they are able to live comfortably with a lot more spiritual focus in their lives. And I think that therein lies the answer–it’s progressive. We just keep trying to squeeze in the spiritual “homework”–saying prayers, attending church, reading scriptures, doing service–until we eventually are able to embrace them into habits that enrich our lives without feeling burdensome. This isn’t something we should expect ourselves to do overnight or even within a few years. A lifetime may be what it takes. Maybe it will take time beyond the grave–in fact, I’m sure it will for most of us. The important thing is to just keep trying.

But still. I wonder what is right for me right now? Something has been really nagging at me lately. In fact, I think I know the answer to my question but just haven’t got to it yet. Service. I need to be giving more service to others. I feel a need to help the homeless. I also have three ladies from church I’m supposed to be visiting on a regular basis, and I have not been doing that. How many times in the scriptures does it say to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and the afflicted? It’s one of the fundamental aspects of the Gospel of Christ. I know I serve my family and I do service with the music at church…but there are others who need me. This means I need to give up some time, make a sacrifice. I think I trick myself into thinking I don’t have the time, when really I do. I just need to do a little here and there, that’s not so much.

What about you? Do you feel you get enough spiritual nourishment in your life?

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Carin says:

    Right…

    Let’s try again… I have deleted my reply several times before hitting publish since this is such a big subject and I could write so much on it. And now I’m in a hurry because I have to pick up Aoife from school, so if this seems disjointed I apologise!

    Good questions Lisa!

    Re the balance between pleasure, secular learning, and spiritual growth: If you believe in God, I think you are also more likely to believe that your interests and passions were/ are a gift from God. So even if you are not pouring over Scriptures for hours every day, or out there spreading the word of Christ day in day out, you are hopefully living your faith through your passions. You hopefully want to use them well, not waste them. You don’t know His plans for them. You don’t know why He wants you to have a certain passion at a certain time. What purpose it will serve Him in the near (or far) future.

    That said, not all interests are created equal. I also think you have to be careful you don’t get swayed into certain interests for the wrong reasons. It is so easy to get swayed by peers, media, elders. Especially in today’s society when we are bombarded by people’s opinions day and night. We do develop new interests all the time, and they are usually introduced to us by someone we know (in real life or online). That can be good, but there are many times we convince ourselves that their truth is our truth. They are so revved up about it and talk so eloquently about it. Then we get confused and feel like we have a set- back, when prayer or contemplation on the subject could have probably given us some good answers.

    That’s a round about way of saying the two probably go hand in hand a lot more than we think.

    I also think it’s highly cultural. In Europe, Americans are often seen as Bible-thumpers because they are perceived to throw Bible-verses at everyone and everything. Europeans tend to frown a bit on that (even people of great faith). Here faith is much more of a private matter. Even when serving others. The American way often seems kind of like boasting.

    I think you are totally right about being spirituality being progressive. It’s like a muscle that needs to be trained. Repeat actions. But I also think that we go through phases where we need to focus on more secular things and that that’s okay. At those times, for example when we’ve had a child, serving our family comes first. Edie at Life in grace wrote a brilliant post on that a while back, which was the best answer to a prayer I’ve ever had. I was feeling a bit guilty about not doing more in our church. I’ll see if I can find the link when I get back. It is worth reading.

    Got to run. Hope this makes sense and I haven’t gone totally off subject in my rush to get this down!

    1. Lisa C says:

      I think what you wrote makes a lot of sense, Carin.

      When I became a mother my whole world surrounded around my little boy and all my energy went into raising him with love. I felt justified doing less spiritual work because in a way, being a mother is spiritual work. In a huge way, actually. But unfortunately, I swayed a little too far in that direction and struggled more than I probably should have, because I wasn’t getting other spiritual nourishment I needed. It’s kind of like the action/service is exercise, and the saying prayers, attending church, reading scriptures, listening to talks, etc are the food. I was getting tons of exercise but not enough food. I totally just realized that, thanks for helping me think!

      Before and a little while after I was married, I worked with developmentally disabled people, so I felt like I was doing service all the time. When I switched over to photography, which felt more self-serving, I had to remind myself a lot that photography is valuable to this world, too. I always felt better when I felt like I was giving something special to people, like beautiful pictures of their children.

      What you said about getting swayed into interests for the wrong reasons and getting confused by other people’s truths–I’ve had a taste of that since entering the blogosphere. It’s definitely a place that will challenge your faith! Also a good place to learn about different belief systems.

      Interesting about Americans being “Bible-thumpers” lol. I think people in my faith are generally more shy about doing that because we don’t want to push our beliefs on other people.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Carin!

  2. Carrie W says:

    I love your thoughts on this Lisa! I tend to beat myself up for not being “spiritual enough”. I went to a Time Out For Women a few weeks ago and left feeling totally drained. I will never attend one again because so much was either justifying mediocrity or focused on lofty goals, that, like you said, are achievable in time not overnight. It gave me a headache! I just try to focus on not running faster than I have strength so that I don’t burn out and go off the deep end. Your thoughts were very inspiring despite my rambles.

    1. Lisa C says:

      Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience with TOFW. I think that’s a hard thing–not everyone responds well to those sort of talks. I’m glad my thoughts were inspiring for you. That idea of not running faster than you have strength–I think that way, too. I’ve learned to be very forgiving of myself, but not to the point of complacency. As long as we aren’t getting too complacent, as long as we still have the desire to do better, be better, then I think we are on the right path. In my experience, you pretty much just have to try to go to church every week, try to read the scriptures daily, try to pray every day (notice I said “try”)…just those basic things have always seemed to keep me from straying too far, even in my lowest times.

  3. Five Seed says:

    I have been receiving a lot of guidance lately about what is “spiritual.” The guidance I have gotten, through conversations, blogs and books, has been, “What ISN’T spiritual?” In fact, I recently read somewhere that God is in everything, even the litter at the side of the road. Why? Because God is in our minds, and our minds create what we see in the world, and therefore, God is a projection of that, God is part of that. I am fascinated by this idea.

    That said, I understand that you are talking more about the disciplined side of spirituality, which is so important, too. Prayers, meditation, etc. – it’s like healthy eating to me. It’s not that we should never eat another piece of cake again for the rest of our lives, but that we should try to nurture ourselves with whole foods as much as possible – simply because that helps us function better and gives us strength. Likewise, a daily regimen of prayers and meditations can help nurture our souls – though skipping a night, or not doing it a certain number of hours every single day isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    Just my thoughts!

    1. Lisa C says:

      Yes, I am mostly talking about the disciplined side–thank you for clarifying that. Because you are right, EVERYTHING is spiritual in some way. The longer I’ve lived, the more I see this.

      I love the way you compare spiritual nourishment to eating whole foods. I feel like I could write a whole blog post out of that idea.

      Thanks for your thoughts! By the way, I’ve been meaning to comment on some of your posts (I read on my phone but try to get to the computer to type). I love your posts. I’ll try to get over there soon, but have to get to bed now…

      1. Five Seed says:

        Yeah, I really have started thinking of it along those lines. When I eat better, obviously, I feel better. When I start the day with meditation, I feel better. When I try to surrender to a higher power, I feel better. It’s just one of those choices – putting in the time and getting some peace back in exchange. It’s a worthy trade-off, but not always easy to do!

  4. sharpcas says:

    I feel like so much of my life is spiritual. It is hard to find that balance though. Like you wanna read scripture but I sometimes am reading about health instead. But maybe since I’m passionate about it, it’s like a gift to want to understand, or something.
    I often think of what my role is, like what kind of things should I be doing each day to feel like I’m being holy enough. I always used to feel bad because I couldn’t serve people. Or I can’t volunteer because of my small kids who need me (part of the attachment parenting I think God is calling me to). But I’m understanding my work now. I am to do the little things with great joy- changing diapers, going out of my way for my husband and small prayer through out the day. I think I’m supposed to try to be more sacrificial in my daily life- play with my kids, like really play, and really engage myself. I’m a mother because God has called me to serve these kids and my family, and try to do it with joy, which is hard. I can’t even tell you the parenting graces I’ve received from going to daily mass. I think it gives me patience because I’m begging te Lord to help me.
    But there’s those times when I feel drained or want to do something else. And it’s hard to balance.
    I also wonder if I’m too obsessed with health. Like maybe what is goin to happen will happen and I shouldn’t worry about what diet I’m following lol. But then again maybe I have interest for a reason. But it’s hard to balance that Interest with my true calling of motherhood- like I don’t want to become too obsessed with food that I’m not doing what I need to do elsewhere. Anyway, those are just my thoughts. Good post!

    1. Lisa C says:

      Those are some beautiful thoughts on your calling as a mother. I can’t think of anything more important than doing just that.

      I’ve noticed I go through phases in my life where I tend to be obsessed with something for a while–like I’ll be obsessed for a few years about something. It’s like I’m schooling myself in the subject until I reach a point where I no longer need to be obsessed. But even if it lasted a decade or longer, I think it’s good to educate yourself on anything you are drawn to, as long as it doesn’t consume your life.

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