Real Talk – Spirituality Guilt

Praying MannequinMelissa, the chair of our Blue Ribbon (Visioning) Committee is always using the phrase “Real Talk”. It’s kind of an “Amen”-like feedback phrase that rewards people for saying impolite or hard-to-admit truths. “Church sometimes sucks the spirituality out of its leaders” is the kind of sentence that will get rewarded with Melissa’s “Real Talk!”

Well, here’s some Real Talk from me. This is the kind of Real Talk that pastors are never supposed to say out loud. My Real Talk is this: I feel like I have a terrible spiritual life.

Now, I know that I have this image in the church of being a spiritual person. And that’s why I want to be real today. Because if you ever feel bad about your spiritual life, I want you to know that, even people you assume are super spiritual struggle with their practice. When I think of my own spiritual practice, I think of words like guilt, insufficiency, dishonesty.

And there are two reasons for this. The first is this terrifying breakthrough I had during Lent. During Lent, I realized that deep down in my heart, I just have a bad attitude about spiritual practice. Deep down inside me is this little voice that is always whispering to me that my life is only worth living if I am actively doing, producing, expressing. So sitting still, being, listening really feels like a waste of time. If I have an hour in the day, I could spend that hour preparing for my next meeting, answering my emails, or creating that new project. OR I could spend that hour in quiet meditation or studying scripture that has nothing to do with my job. But which one of those hours will others appreciate more? Which will make me appear more spiritual? Well, in the short term, it’s the doing, producing, expressing hour.

Now, I obviously do not agree with myself that spiritual practice is a waste of time, but it has been so important for my journey to admit that this is where I am. Because you simply cannot turn toward God if you never realize you’re facing the wrong direction. Being able to confess my doubts about spirituality to myself and to God, being aware of this feeling I have deep down inside of me, is making a big difference for my practice.

But the other thing that has been causing me trouble in my spiritual life is that I have this perfect picture of what spiritual practice is, and I’m absolutely bored by it. I have grown up with this idea that what makes someone a spiritual person is that they set aside a consistent time every single day when they 1) read the Bible and 2) ask God for things. And there have been times when that has been my practice, and there will be times again when that is my practice. But I have also found that, at different times in my life, if I really pay attention to the Spirit working in me, I am called to different kinds of practice.

For example, when I was in college, I got a hold of my mom’s old Hebrew Bible textbook, and every night, I would read a passage from the Hebrew Bible and then read about it in the text book, and that became my (kind of nerdy!) spiritual practice.

When I got to seminary, all I was doing was reading about the Bible in textbooks, and I couldn’t stomach doing it prayerfully. And I felt guilty that I didn’t get the warm and fuzzies that I used to get studying the Bible. But then I turned to prayerful journaling instead of Bible texts and textbooks. And that was the right spiritual practice for that season.

When I got out of seminary, I was writing and preaching constantly, and journaling started to feel tedious. And, again, I felt guilty and like a spiritual fraud. But then I found a different practice of Bible study and hymn singing. And that was the right practice for that season.

Today, I’m in a time of spiritual transition. I’m in the guilty, in-between part of my spiritual cycle, but I’m coming out of it. Today, I’m falling in love with God all over again through the spiritual poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, and I’m being intentional about turning off the music and podcasts and just being mindful of the world around me and my breathing, living, and feeling in it. And these are the practices that are right for this season.

And, the more I find that seasonal spiritual fit, the more my heart is turned and convinced that these quiet moments with God are the hands that mold me into the eternal soul I am created to be. I pray for a similar process for each of you.


You, darkness, of whom I am born-


I love you more than the flame

that limits the world

to the circle it illumines

and excludes all the rest.


But the dark embraces everything:

shapes and shadows, creatures and me,

people, nations-just as they are.


It lets me imagine

a great presence stirring beside me.


I believe in the night.


Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

(This was originally shared as a devotion on one of Church of the Village’s Wednesday morning prayer calls. Join us any Wednesday morning at 7am for 20 minutes of devotion and prayer. Ph: 559-546-1200, Code: 533-689-191#)