Weekly Devotions for 12/5

 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:12-13 (NRSVUE)

Cade just finished his first week on his high school bowling team, with his first meet yesterday. This first week was just like the first week in any sport: full of aches and pains. We had to make sure to remind him to keep his wrist iced in the evenings, along with any other muscles sore from not being used in a while. He has bowled on and off for a while, but never seriously before. He had one summer that he joined a league where he bowled a set one afternoon each week. That’s a far cry from bowling a set a day for five days a week, though. After a week though, his body is already adjusting. The soreness is lessening, and his game-to-game scores are getting more and more consistent. 

It is so much harder to start something new than it is to keep at it. We all know this, of course. We know how sore we get after starting a new physical activity, how hard it is to establish new habits, and how overwhelming it is to change our patterns of thoughts. We know it, and yet it is so easy to slip away from our good habits and even easier to give up on new tasks we set for ourselves. This is very much true of our spiritual lives. Whether regular practices like bible reading or praying, or making sure to have regular Sabbath time and taking at least a couple of days per year for true spiritual retreat, it is so difficult to start up. When we do, it can feel so uncomfortable. Yet taking that spiritual time and using those religious muscles is so important for our overall health, including the health of our spirit. Not doing some sort of spiritual exercise regularly harms our wellbeing and leads to a sense of malaise all too common around us. And yet, getting started remains uncomfortable and makes it challenging to continue.

To be clear, I am not talking about God’s grace or love. These things come to us continually because it is God’s nature to give these to us freely. We have those things. Our spiritual practices are a response; having spiritual exercises help us to recognize that grace and love. When we receive God openly, it frees us to direct our spiritual energy into our lives and direct ourselves towards others. Without those spiritual practices, though, our ability to recognize and channel God’s loving grace gets weak, and we begin to be overwhelmed by life. 

As we move into the Advent season, we are reminded that of the longing that we feel for God’s presence. We look with hope for the experience of God that we know in Christ Jesus. It is also a time of preparation, strengthening our spirits to better recognize the gift of grace. This is why we have Advent devotions, including the booklets available in the narthex this year. They are a way to get back to starting our exercises, so that we can get through the phase of soreness and be ready to truly and deeply celebrate God’s gift to us in Jesus’ birth.