As someone who suffers from lower-back pain this headline caught my attention: ‘Lower back pain: Exercise is the cure but there is a catch’
On reading it I discovered a parable for spiritual formation.
The only intervention known to prevent back pain is prolonged exercise. I can testify to that. When I’ve thrown my back out (again), getting back into a regular running and stretching regime eventually does the trick.
The same is true in spiritual formation. To quote Eugene Peterson quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, spiritual formation is a long obedience in the same direction. When I end up in a spiritual malaise (again), it’s by getting back into the disciplines of word, prayer, and fellowship that I eventually get back to being able to see, delight in, and live from the ever-present grace of Christ.
Research from the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health at the University of Sydney discovered that people with lower-back pain ‘were only interested in doing exercise to address the pain if the program didn’t last long’. We also don’t want things to cost much, especially if we have limited resources to start with: ‘For every $10 increase in the cost of these programs, researchers saw a significant decrease in willingness to exercise among people from low and middle incomes. And people on lower incomes were less likely to prefer exercise as a solution than others’.
The same is often true in our pursuit of spiritual health. An enthusiastic yes to spiritual practices that promise health and life; but only those that take less than 10 minutes a day. And if I haven’t experienced tangible progress after a week, then I’m done.
The back-pain researchers recommend developing ‘strategies to increase motivation and confidence to participate in exercise-based prevention programs’.
In the spiritual realm that sounds like a job description for the church: the communion of saints, bearing witness to a way of life that responds to and lives into the grace of God in Christ, hoisting our collective sails into the wind of the Spirit. Day after day; week after week; year after year. Bearing the cost, pressing on. Lifting up those whose spirits are flagging, being spurred on by one another to keep on paying attention to the word of God as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
And as a standard addition to any reflection on Christian practices, a shout out to the good folk of Christ’s Pieces and their work on everyday practices for Christian formation: https://christspieces.org/practices/a-litany-of-practices/