Without fail, every time I read the "First Principle and Foundation" of the Spiritual Exercises, I feel a jolt of excitement. I have a distinct memory of reading it in some vocation literature back when I was a senior in high school.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, to be considered somebody important or a nobody, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God's life in me.When things are going well in my life, I have no difficulty in saying, "Yes, everything does draw me closer to God!" When things are going less well, when I'm feeling tired or stressed, it's much harder to say this. Indeed, the things of daily life can become oppressive burdens, huge weights, that seem to keep me from set apart from God.
As many people know, 18 years ago I enrolled in Weight Watchers. One of the great lessons I learned: you can only ever begin a diet from where you are right now.
We all know people who say, "I'm going to start going to the gym once I lose ten pounds," or, "I'll quit smoking as soon as tax season, this semester, this season is over." Students do this a lot, "Yeah, I bombed the midterm, but next semester I'm going to do better." These people know, deep down, they are being called to have a more full and abundant life, but they won't allow themselves to start where they are at. So they delay, and delay, and delay.
How many of us delay in our spiritual lives, too? It's easy to put off praying, or going to church, when we put a million excuses between us and what we know we are called to do. Sometimes, I think, we're so afraid of failing or faltering after a few steps that we don't even embark on the spiritual pilgrimage.
This is why Lent is a great season for all of us. Yesterday, marked with ashes, we all expressed outwardly what we know inwardly: we are sinners, and sin makes us look foolish. We're all sinners, and we all look foolish. Sharing this common starting point, we set out together to grow closer with Jesus, on the way of the cross that is foolish to many, yet the way we know will bring us life.
In the great locker room of Lent, none of us looks good without his or her clothes. Oh, we do yeoman's work to cover up our jelly rolls and jiggly, flabby folds. We think that if we start out on this journey, on Lent's program of spiritual exercises, that others will see how out of shape we are. So we must choose: do we hide in the corner and try to conceal ourselves, or do we give in and join in with everyone else? Do we open ourselves to being helped by others, do we offer assistance when called upon?
You can only begin where you are. Even a small choice today, perhaps to pray, "Lord, give me the desire to pray!" may be the first step toward a renewed relationship with the God. Wherever you are, whatever the state of your life, you can begin...now. Always now, forever "now," because God invites us in all things, in our everyday lives.
Lent's gym seems imposing at first but know that you're always welcome to enter into its program of exercise and discipline. You won't see results immediately - this isn't a fad diet! - but over time you'll find yourself stronger, more centered, and more deeply engaged in responding with your whole life to the God who loves you.