A lot of people think spirituality is for softies, but nothing could be further from the truth. To truly live a spiritual life—which might be defined universally as seeking to embody love (God, Enlightenment, Truth) in every action of every day—takes more courage than anything else in the world.
What it Takes
A person living a life of love must be brave, strong, powerful, dedicated, self-confident, and full of integrity in the face of opposition. They must act on faith, acting without proof or guaranteed results, they buck the trend, and they often face ridicule for their choices. Yet they know that what might seem like a big sacrifice—the normal way of living in the world—in order to gain nothing—a spiritual life—is actually the complete opposite. They are not actually giving up anything, and they get everything in return.
Let us take a look at a two anecdotes that illustrate how spirituality requires courage and fortitude. Take a deep breath and let this exploration inform your choices in your daily life—whether or not you call them “spiritual” or whether or not you use the words God, Jesus, or Love. Are there similar places you can celebrate your spiritual successes or grow into them?
Finding Love in the Worst of Times (A Story of Depression)
Earlier this year I had to make an incredibly difficult decision which completely altered my life. Everything changed, from my daily activities to the way I earn money to the fabric of my fundamental sense of who I am. When I realized I had to make the choice I felt terrible: it was not something I wanted to do. For the first time in my life I was depressed. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt like I was living a lie.
Yet during it all I was able to hold onto another sense of self, which you might call the love of God, or you might call the True Self, or you might call the Witness. I held on to two feelings: one of sadness, and one that embraced the sadness. One of loss, and one that loved the person who felt loss.
The embrace of sadness was paradoxically a joyful embrace, not because I knew that sadness signaled the beginning of something new and better, but because I knew that being able to embrace my feelings, regardless of whether I judged them as positive or negative, meant that I could never again be truly sad. I was touching God. The love of loss was ironically a feeling that I could never truly lose anything of value. Once you can love loss, you know that love will always be with you, regardless of outer circumstances.
Finding love, even in the worst of times, demonstrates how difficult and rewarding faith can be. It’s also a prime example of how we don’t actually have to give anything of value up to get the greatest gift of all. We get to keep our negative emotions, for example. We don’t judge them at all. We just add the peace of God, the certainty of love.
Forgiving Others (A Story of Infidelity)
I know a man whose girlfriend cheated on him. The easy thing for him to do was to call her a whore, to lash out with anger, and torture her with guilt when she came crawling back to apologize. He did all of these things, and many of his friends encouraged him. Who doesn’t like to see justice? Punishment for wrong-doers?
The only problem was that he was wracked with guilt, and nothing he did to his girlfriend—no justice, no punishment, no torture—assuaged him of its pain. He felt responsible for her betrayal—he must not have been good enough in bed, he didn’t earn enough money, he hadn’t taken her on enough dates, he didn’t spend enough time doing the things she wanted to do. And he had to stay in a relationship with her if he felt that way, because he had to prove to himself and everyone else that he could live up to those standards. He wouldn’t fail again. So he was stuck. As long as he kept projecting that guilt out onto her, he would never escape the Hell he’d built inside. He couldn’t even see it.
Slowly, through deep spiritual conversations, prayer, heavy journaling, and reading books and articles like this, he started to see the value of forgiveness. Eventually he forgave her—a seemingly much more difficult path—by forgiving himself. Yes, she really did sleep with another guy, and that needed to be addressed. He needed to express his anger, and he needed to set healthy boundaries. He broke up with her, which freed them from the vicious cycle of guilt and allowed them to be supportive friends instead of vengeful lovers.
He seemingly had to give up his justified anger to find peace—but in the end he didn’t have to give it up at all. He seemingly had to “bury the axe”—but what he did took amazing strength. He had to turn within and shine a light on a part of himself he’d been so afraid to look at before that he didn’t even know it was there. In the end he was more freed to break up with her—in this particularrelationship the most loving response, in another it could have been different—as a result of truly allowing himself those feelings.
Be Proud of Your Spirituality
In the end, I want you to stand tall and proud of your spiritual life. I want to give you permission to place it front and center, because it may be the most impressive of all your accomplishments. I want to challenge you to do it in a way that serves to inspire others, regardless of their particular religion or faith, in a way the glorifies God and serves to sever your sense of separate self, uniting you with your human brothers and sisters instead. I want to challenge you to be truly honest about your trials and ask for help when you need it. It takes work, practice, and constant attention. I want to challenge us all to take our spiritual game to the next level, to get closer to God, to get better and better at embodying love in every action of every day. I won’t say it’s hard, because that would ignore how fun and rewarding the journey feels, but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.