Want to be a good guitar player? There are a million teachers out there, thousands of online tutorial videos, hundreds of books, and many well established social institutions dedicated to fostering musical skill.
Want to be rich? There are a million books out there, thousands of teachers, hundreds of blogs, and many well established social institutions dedicated to fostering business skill.
Want to be a good underwater basket weaver? There are a few books out there, a couple of teachers, a blog or two, and probably at least one established social institution dedicated to giving you a major in that.
For any concrete skill or life state you want to acquire, there is concrete, actionable advice available to help you on your journey. But for things of the spirit? Well… There are many books and teachers and churches which all purport to help you on your journey, but things are much less straightforward.
With worldly skills, most teachers agree on what is good and what is not, what will help and what will hurt. Sure, they may put their own spin on it, but one guitar teacher will tell you to finger the G chord the same way as another. But as to how to grow closer to God? You could ask a thousand teachers and get more than a thousand different answers.
Even better, with worldly skills, there is immediate feedback and a sense of progress. You know when you’ve played a wrong note in a song, and you know within a second of having done it. But our relationship with God moves at a much slower pace. Often seasons of life don’t seem to have any value, or be getting us anywhere. Sometimes we feel very close to God, but wonder if it is a mere emotion or an intimation of reality. There is no obvious objective marker we can use to see if we’re progressing or not. Was I closer to God in October or September? This year or last year? I don’t know. How would I even begin to measure it?
Our relationship to God is objective. It is real, and it is the most important facet of our being. Yet, at the same time it is one of the most vague and difficult to understand things we’ll ever struggle through.
I can’t offer very good answers, because these are hard questions, but I do have some ideas.
How do we grow closer to God?
Fall back on what has traditionally worked. A quick glance at the lives of the saints (or the early church members in Acts if you’re a Protestant) reveals many common threads. To quote zippy:
There are tried and true methods for doing this: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, spiritual and corporal works of mercy, devotionals, pilgrimages, studying, and most importantly the sacraments.
Pick one and try to do more of it this month. Don’t expect immediate results. Patience is a virtue, after all, so persevere for longer than you think you can before deciding that it doesn’t work.
How do we measure our spiritual development?
The only real answer to this that I know of is “You will know them by their fruits.” So, keep track of your “fruits.” Important fruits to track are:
- How often you go to church
- How often you pray
- How often you fast
- How much you give to charity
- How often you sin. (For Catholics, it is key to track any mortal sins you might be struggling with, and to go to confession immediately after doing so)
If you can’t answer those basic questions, then don’t complain about not knowing how close to God you are. These are all objective, measurable, important facets of your relationship to God. Your relationship to God is more than the sum of these things, but it definitely includes these things.
Growing spiritually is hard, and not made any easier by the conflicting information about how to do it. But, regardless of how confused and far from God you may be, if you thought about it for a few seconds, I’m sure you could come up with something that you could do which would be good for your spiritual growth.
So what are you waiting for?