Low-ball it and make it a meal.

I’ve been meeting one-on-one with the guys who live in an “intentional community” here in Winnipeg in connection with our denomination. We have “spiritual conversation”–or at least that’s the idea, and we have varying degrees of success meeting to meeting. It’s always good conversation, even if it isn’t always “spiritual” in the strictest sense. But then spiritual in the “strictest” sense may well not be a good thing–might, in fact, be a sort of gnostic dualism. Talking school, girl friends, spiritual life, jobs, family all are, I suppose, in some sense “spiritual”. But I digress.

It seems I’ve started a bit of a trend with at least one of the guys of coming up with memorable catch-phrases in relation to the spiritual disciplines or the personal “life with God” or whatever you want to call it. The first was “low-ball it”, which on its own may sound like terrible advice, but I think it has great value, depending on where a person is at.

As cheesy as catch-phrases tend to be, I have, more or less by accident, developed two catch-phrases so far (they have limited originality, I’m sure). I will share them with you now, with the BIG, HUGE caveat that these words were and are spoken as much to myself as to the guys with whom I’ve been having coffee. These thoughts come not out of seasoned practice in the spiritual life, but out of my reflections on how my own life with God can be improved.

1. Low-ball it, or alternately, aim low. As I say, at first blush this seems like terrible advice. But it’s really just a memorable way of saying “Do something.” It seems to me that it’s better to set the spiritual bar low for yourself and actually maintain your conversation and relationship with God (and thereby build on it), rather than setting the bar way too high (say, at the level you’d like to be at), getting frustrated at your inconsistency (or lack of “results”) and quickly giving up.

Our tendency when, say, creating a Rule of Life, is to shape it to look like the “ideal” spiritual life–the place we’d like to be at in terms of spiritual disciplines. Odds are, however, like big New Year’s resolutions, that we will get frustrated with the idealistic Rule of Life we’ve set up for ourselves and give up. Better to say, “I’m going to read a chapter of scripture each day” or “I will pray for 5 minutes each day” and actually keep it up than to say, “I am going to read scripture for one hour each day and pray for an hour and then sit in silence for 45 minutes”, but give up after a few days.

That’s not to say that we should keep the bar low, but that we should start small. “Baby steps,” as Dr. Leo Marvin would say.

2. Make it a meal. Today I was discussing with one of the guys the common problem of “life getting in the way” of our spiritual habits. It happens to me all the time. Daily, even. The problem is that we see faith and the spiritual life that goes with it as just one more to add to life, so that we have

life over here, and……………………..over here next to it, we have, school, work, church, friends, faith, family, play,
which we need to balance and prioritize.

When, in fact, as our pastor talked about a couple of months ago, faith is a way of life that encompasses all of these other things. Faith is not just an addition to the things of life that needs to be balanced in, but an essential, shaping element of life itself. It’s like food. “Life,” for those of us who live in the affluent west, does not get in the way of us eating three meals a day. In fact, we won’t let it. It doesn’t matter what’s going on with my life–how busy or stressed or discombobulated I am–I will have the meals I have every day. I need food to live.

Those of us who consider and struggle with the spiritual life have a hunger of a different sort–a spiritual hunger, if you will–but it’s easy for us to ignore the hunger or be unsure what it is or how to deal with it, because it does not manifest itself in hunger pangs and grumbly tummies. So to say, “Make it a meal,” is try to create a mental shift in perspective on the spiritual disciplines and to look at them as we would breakfast, lunch, or supper. We recognize that we need those meals and they just become a part of the essential elements of life–not an addition like work or meetings, but simply part of what it means to live day-to-day. Make the disciplines a meal.

There are some others brewing in my head (such as “Do it. Now. Don’t think. Do it.”, which clearly needs an explanation), but what do you think of “Low-ball it” and “Make it a meal”? Am I off my rocker?

5 thoughts on “Low-ball it and make it a meal.

  1. Joel

    I’m a fan. “Low-ball it” reminds me of something Ed said in class: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” This is the opposite of the conventional wisdom, but his point is the same as yours. I also quite like “make it a meal.” Though I wonder, how do we convince ourselves that we need certain disciplines when, as far as we’ve seen, we can manage to get by without them (as opposed to, say, food)? Is it possible to feel the pangs of spiritual hunger as vividly?

  2. Marc Post author

    Good question, Joel. It’s one I asked myself as I was writing this, and I don’t have a clear answer. I don’t know if it’s possible to feel the pangs in the same way as one does physical hunger, but see a spark of possibility in the quite common problem of having the desire for a spiritual life, but not the will (if I can distinguish the two)–much like Paul doing the things he doesn’t want to do and not doing the things he does want to do.

    I wonder, too, if we’ve spiritually starved ourselves long enough, would even feel or recognize those pangs? (I wonder if physical hunger pangs disappear at some stage during physical starvation, even while the body is still technically hungry.)

  3. Rick Wadholm Jr

    Definitely off your rocker ;-). That’s what I like about you man! Actually what you’ve written here I would resoundingly affirm. Perhaps part of our problem with the “low-ball it” idea is our hero worship and need to feel like we are being super-spiritual instead of just doing what we should be doing. We think big is better, because we hear the stories like of James who prayed so many hours on his knees that they became like those of a camels. We become enamored by the idea of greatness in spirituality and lose sight of the fact that we just need to do something and we aren’t aiming for the “idea of greatness” but for just doing what needs to be done. Mostly because the sorts of things we are speaking about are “disciplines” (as opposed to eating which we do naturally, but have to discipline ourselves about what NOT to eat or about how much to eat or when to or not to eat). The nature of a discipline is…well…discipline. And this always begins with baby steps. Discipline is not intended to be “fun” or a “delight” or any such thing where we just feel so great because…its discipline. The greatness of the feeling is in the after effect of knowing you have accomplished whatever it was that you have set out to do or have seen a result that you were seeking. While such a thing as the Scriptures are a “delight” and a “joy” (as the Scriptures themselves testify to), the intensive study of them on a daily basis or the faithful reading of them may be a discipline that is not always such a delight or joy. It is a “discipline”. The result is a joy and a delight. The work is a discipline…when you are tired or don’t have the time or don’t feel like it or chafe against the reading…or whatever. At least that is how I understand it to be. There are times where the “discipline” is easy or easier…and times where it is extremely difficult, but it always remains some form of discipline.

  4. Matt

    “Low-ball it.” That’s hilarious. I thought maybe it had some reference to tree planting so I was all the more amused. Either way, we can only take a step from where we are. Yeah, it’s about doing what we’re prepared and willing to do, not what we “should” do. I think that points to us needing to be honest with where we’re at. But if we do really want to take steps forward, even if they’re baby steps, we will do so. If we don’t, maybe we don’t really want to move?

    “Make it a meal.” I thought that was maybe a reference to fast food but I like your premise much better. I love the food metaphor because I think spiritual practice is the good food that we do need to grow spiritually. It’s true that one can live (sort of) on junk food and eating McDonald’s and you might never miss ‘healthy’ food. That being said, if we start to make eating well a habit then we discover we actually feel better, mentally and physically, when we do so. At first, eating healthy food might not taste as good and might not seem appealing but the more we eat it the more we acquire a taste for it and the more we will want to eat it:)

    I would be interested to study the correlation between how we engage with our physical health and how we engage with our spiritual health. It’d be interesting to see where there might be some connections.

    Thanks again for the chat! You helped me to see some things differently, more integrally;) We shall have to do it again in the nearer future.

  5. Marc Post author

    Matt: “Low-ball” is actually a treeplanting reference. I added the alternative “aim low” just in case non-treeplanters don’t know what I’m talking about!

    Also, you caused everything in this page after your comment to be italicized. Quite a feat! But I am more powerful than you… See? {insert maniacal laughter}

    Hmmmm…you are more powerful than I expected, Matt! But I have one more ace up my sleeve! I will edit YOUR comment {dum dum DAAAAAA!}

    (Also, once I fix this perpetual italics problem, no one is going to be able to tell what all this was about…)

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