Sometimes I fantasize about a “real” spiritual life–the kind I read about in books: hours hiking in the woods every week, extended quiet times with the sunrise and God, week-long silent retreats, pilgrimages to Iona, contemplative examens at the end of each day.IMG_3236

My fantasies though, are generally interrupted by a child needing a Kleenex, a pot over-boiling, or my phone calendar reminding me of a church meeting that starts in half an hour.

These interrupted fantasies rarely materialize into reality. If I hike in the woods, my kids come too and I’m more likely to hear a whiny, “I’m tired,” than a deep word from the Creator of the universe. By the time the sun is up, so is my 10-year-old, who is not much interested in quiet time. I love my husband too much to leave him home while I go skittering off to week-long retreats. We can’t afford a pilgrimage to Iona. (Braces are expensive.) And by the time I have settled three kids and two dogs into bed at night, I am in no mental state to contemplate anything but my pillow.

The more I read about the spiritual lives of others, the more pitiful my own half-hearted attempts at disciplines look.

It reminds me of an episode of Friends where Chandler and Joey somehow get a free porn station on their TV. They’re afraid if they turn the channel it will go away, so they watch porn all day. And when the pizza delivery girl comes to the door, gives them the pizza, and leaves, they are disappointed that she didn’t start stripping off her clothes. The porn made them forget how the real world works–where most of us keep our clothes on around strangers most of the time.

candle crossNow far be it from me to accuse Richard Foster or Joan Chittister of peddling porn. Their work is holy and good and Jesusy and all of that. But sometimes spiritual books can make me forget how the real world works. I read them and think I should have deep and holy moments every time I see a tree or light a candle or pick up dog poop. Then if the tree is just pretty or the candle doesn’t do it for me or the dog poop stinks, I feel like I have failed God. The dog poop is supposed to make me contemplate God’s intricate work of creation, but it just makes me think, “Why did we get another dog? This poop stinks.”

There is, of course, a fine line between giving myself grace in this area and just being spiritually lazy. I do want a strong spiritual life, and I can have a strong spiritual life. It just won’t look like the life of a middle-aged man with no kids living at home; and it won’t look like the life of a nun. It won’t even look like the life of another 39-year-old woman pastor with three kids. It will look like my life–when I pay a little more attention to the Holy Spirit’s presence. Which is not particularly glamorous.

Right now, for me, that means I will let my son live in the house until he graduates. And, in my best moments, I will use a kind and calm voice when I talk to him, no matter how loud he gets or how stupid he says I am.

I will randomly listen to spiritual podcasts–which might be prayers and Taize and sermons or might be This American Life which provides a disproportionate number of my sermon illustrations.

I will pray in bed in the mornings when I don’t want to get up yet. (I have a feeling my bed-prayer life will improve as the temperatures drop.)

I will write sermons now and then–which will involve Bible study and prayer (in different proportions depending on the week and the text).

I will listen to hurting people and make cards and write stuff.

And I will try to be glad and not resentful that there are people out there taking long hikes, sipping their tea at sunrise, and boarding planes for Iona.

Joanna Harader blogs at Spacious Faith.

15 thoughts on “WitsEndsDay: Spiritual Fantasies

  1. OMGoodness, I think that I need to memorize this post. Seriously. Target zone…bullseye. Yes, guilty of living vicariously (sometimes resentfully). So, thank you for making me feel normal. And not less-than. As a mother of toddlers, I scramble just to have a spirituality that carries me through the day and keeps me sane for another day. My life is full and beautiful as it is, even in grief. Even in illness. Even in my dreams which sometimes are so far beyond my reality that it scares me. But my feet and flesh are here…here planted…where God willing, I will bloom…again.


  2. I can relate to just about every single word of this post. I appreciated earlier this year hearing someone talk about our lives as having a ‘Spirituality of the Hearth’ … cause we spend our time in the kitchen with the family gathered around us. He described our lack of time to pray, study scripture, hike, retreat etc. as a kind of spiritual fast that somehow means that when the time comes for us that we are able to engage in other ways, it will be deeper and more meaningful. His talk helped me to realize that somehow juggling my family (also in the toddler stage!), my call to 2 congregations, ailing parents and so on (and being faithfully committed to these things) IS my spirituality right now.

    I guess I’m so close to the end of the rope most of the time that I’d describe my spirituality as the spirituality of grace. Somehow, God is good enough to meet me wherever I am.


  3. Amen! Although I do leave my husband for week-long retreats and did the same to go to Iona, on this particular day I sure needed the reminder that deep spirituality lurks in the neighborhood meeting in our church last night filled with frustration about youth and violence, in the hospital visit this morning interrupted repeatedly by various caregivers (imagine that), in getting lost twice so far today, and in the community meeting at which I am sitting right now to learn about local health care for the uninsured. And maybe even in the sprained toe, which will keep me from those long reflective walks for a few days!


  4. Ohhhh…thank you! No kids at home, no poop to pick up, but I hear you about praying in bed in the morning! I needed this today as I crank out stuff on my always growing to-do list and the secretary curses the copier!


  5. Thank you for these words of spiritual wisdom! Your post reminded me of two clergywomen friends, Shelley and Amanda, who find the Spirit in the mundane – one who taught me about how doing the dishes could be an opportunity for prayer and reflection on the cleansing of my soul; the other who taught me that even grocery shopping can be a spiritual experience if done in a spirit of prayer for those we meet in the aisles and thanksgiving for each food item put in the basket.


  6. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (Theodore Roosevelt, I think) Thank you for your wise words and reality check. Another quote I learned in CPE is, “After ecstasy, the laundry.” True, true, true. And there are many days when we don’t get to ecstasy. Hopefully there are enough to keep us going until the next time we know we are in the presence of God.


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