For the past evenings I’ve been reading Natalie Goldberg, and she always starts me thinking about how I spend my days. I’m especially drawn to her use of the word “practice;” how her life centers on writing practice and spiritual practice. Her daily practices influence everything she does and writes. I’m talking about practice in the sense of daily regular activities done for the purpose of doing them. Not out of rote or mechanical repetition, but knowing there is benefit. For example, maybe you start off practicing piano every day to become a better player, but eventually it becomes part of your identity. You keep practicing because it is who you are.
This makes me ask, “What are my own practices?”
My longest running practice (sorry about the pun) is running.
Friends often ask why I’m determined to keep running on sore knees when there are other exercise choices. I don’t usually have a good answer. It feels pretentious to say running has become a spiritual practice for me, so I keep that answer to myself. Still, it’s true.
I don’t expect other people to get the same benefit from running that I get, and I don’t think badly about them if they don’t become life-long runners. We’re each drawn to different activities, and I don’t expect anyone to be drawn to mine.
Still, I’ve had people tell me they were inspired to run after reading something I wrote. But then they tried it for a while and gave up because it was too hard. I can’t blame them. It is hard.
I started running in June 1978 in order to win the heart of a girl, to lose weight, and get fitter. It was hard work all summer long. In fact, I ran miles and miles, maybe a year to two, before I found any benefit. Certainly before it became fun. I had to push through discomfort and stress in order to find mental release on the other side. It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
My second-longest practice is reading from my Daily Bible.
I have read through the same copy of The Daily Bible in Chronological Order year after year, almost every day, since 1993. I started because, as a Bible teacher, I wanted to learn more things about God. However, after I few passes through the book my motives evolved - I wanted to change who I was and how I lived so I could love God more.
It became a daily practice for me, a spiritual thin place. It grounds me, brings me back home to my base relationship with God, settles my wandering mind, and keeps me from rambling too far from truth. Just the physical act of doing it is peaceful. In fact, a day feels strange and empty until I have my reading.
The thing about spiritual practices is they’re not easy or fun every single time you do them. Some days are hard and cranky and I have to remind myself there is real value in continuing.
Last week I posted, “Is a hard cranky run when I’m struggling with every step better than no run at all?”
Yes, it is, but it isn’t obvious. Even a bad run slows down my day and anchors me to the present. Nothing settles my brain floaters better.
Practice means going out anyway, whether hot or rainy or cold or snowy or early or late. The regular repetition is as important as each actual mile.
Practice means digging my Daily Bible out of my backpack and squeezing today’s reading into a busy day even when the passage is nothing but a long genealogical list of unpronounceable names. Putting my attention to God’s Word centers me.
So why bother? Surely we have enough on or schedule already without adding more things to do.
Because our heart, soul, and mind are influenced by what we hear, read, and do. If we don’t have daily practices that intentionally bring us toward God, the Enemy will pull us away from God. Over the course of our lifetime, it is our practices that make us who we are.
What are your practices? Sharing them may help someone else who needs grounding in their own spiritual life.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32