Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On a Dry Plateau

How long does it go on?

All summer long, it seems, I’ve been running, and every 5K that I run finds me struggling to finish with about the same time (and that time being about a minute slower than last year). All of my effort seems to be just for maintenance, without any improvement. Shouldn’t I at least be losing weight? Nope. I’m stuck.

I experienced the same thing when I was lifting weights. You hit a plateau where all of the effort in the gym only goes to keep from losing the progress you’ve made. Your muscles aren’t getting any bigger, and the weight you’re moving just isn’t getting any heavier.

The same applies to my spiritual life. I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours every morning and every evening (along with spontaneous prayers offered throughout the day), and yet nothing seems to change. I ditched the i-pod for a finger rosary when pounding out the miles, but there has still been no closer communion with God. Every confession seems to be a replay of the twenty previous confessions. There is no progress. I’m on a plateau.

But what happens if I stop running, stop lifting, or stop praying? I gain weight, lose aerobic capacity, get weak, and grow distant from God. There are things an athlete can do to break out of a rut. Runners can incorporate interval training, improve nutrition, or take supplements. It might not be as easy to overcome a period of spiritual dryness, as anyone who has read the correspondence of Mother Teresa is aware. In that case, all that we can do is trust in God’s providential love.

So I’m in a rut (or on a plateau), and it’s frustrating, but I don’t dare stop what I’ve been doing. (Actually, I do dare, occasionally, much to my detriment.) What I’m doing now might be the best I can manage, given the circumstances. Even so, I can make adjustments to my physical training or pious practices. The important thing is to hold on to what I’ve worked so hard to achieve (while at the same time remaining detached from the physical and acknowledging that the spiritual is more of a gratuitous gift) without despairing that this just might be as good as it gets.

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