Spiritual Formation Requires Time and Nurture

Do you like to read mystery stories? Perhaps detective stories? I was hooked on Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason stories as a youth. Then I was introduced to a series set in 6th Century China by Robert Van Gulik–the Judge Dee mysteries.

Do you skip to the end to see how it comes out? Or can you puzzle through along with the protagonist and work out the answer?

I’ve been presenting the process of spiritual formation presented by John Climacus, also known as St. John of the Ladder.

He has taken us through the recognition and overcoming of the eight evil thoughts and many other sins and also good habits we need to work through to our growth.

I wonder how many, especially in our age of instant gratification, would skip to Step 30 (we’ve studied up through Step 27 so far)? Then maybe they would think to themselves, I can just skip all the preliminaries and instantly find myself perfect in love.

Life doesn’t work this way. Neither does spiritual formation.

I was just listening to a teaching moment with Henry Cloud, author of Boundaries and many other books. I recommend them all.

He referenced this story found in Luke 13.

“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

This fig tree (us) takes time and nurturing to bear fruit. It required an advocate between us and the ultimate judge.

We can’t rush and find humility and discernment, for example, quickly. It takes time and nurturing to overcome the many thoughts and emotions that are obstacles in our way. We need an advocate to nurture us. Probably human mentors, too.

As Cloud put it, you don’t plant a seed and immediately step back and say give me an apple. You must cultivate the tree into its time to bear fruit.

Before we go around pointing our fingers at the sins of others, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we should be instead nurturing them into growing their spiritual formation. After all, none of us have reached perfection. It takes time…and nurture.

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