Years ago when I was undergoing cancer treatment, the various medications, chemotherapies, and medical procedures left my mind and spirit as weary as my body. I prayed during those days, but not much more than “help me, Lord” or “Lord, have mercy.” My mental fogginess kept me from reading much, including my regular Bible reading. And my weakened body and compromised immune system forced me to skip church more Sundays than I wanted.
I was struggling. These spiritual disciplines created a framework for living out my faith. Their absence was a have blow. If I couldn’t pray or read my Bible or go to church, what did it even mean to live as a Christian?
But all was not lost. That’s what a friend reminded me one day as she visited in my living room.
“All those years of listening to sermons and reading the Bible … they’re paying off now when you aren’t able to do those things,” she said. “Without even knowing it, you were preparing yourself for this season.”
I’d never really thought of it like that. I thought the value of good habits was to create and perpetuate the habits themselves … so we’d always have these activities to ground us. And that’s true as long as we’re able to continue in them. But there’s a larger reality at work, too. The daily routines of our lives—whether spiritual or emotional or physical—are forming the grooves we’ll continue to travel on even when life brings difficult changes that disrupt the activities themselves. Our daily habits and disciplines are changing us into people who can weather life’s ups and downs.
In his book Disruptive Discipleship: The Power of Breaking Routine to Kickstart Your Faith , my friend Sam Van Eman talks about the importance of creating experiences and habits that will help us grow and mature. He says there are three kinds of designs you can develop: ones that help us understand where we need to grow, what he calls diagnostic designs; ones that help us address certain areas we know we need growth in, or prescriptive designs; and finally, ones that help us prepare for an unknown future. He calls these preparatory designs.
“Preparatory designs involve shoring up for the future by growing in stamina and resilience,” he writes. “Preparation recognizes susceptibility to getting stuck before we actually get stuck.”
I think this difference in how we challenge ourselves to grow is like the difference between taking a career interest survey, attending a professional training program to become a mechanic or a radiology tech, or going to a liberal arts college and majoring in philosophy. The first helps you see where your interests lie, the second helps you prepare for a specific job, and the third gives you the knowledge and framework to become someone capable of learning and adapting to many different situations in life.
Like that degree in philosophy, Sam says that these faith-driven preparatory experiences aren’t always practical, but they do help us mature “in the principles that lie at the heart of Scriptures and of every desiring follower of Christ”: faith, hope, and love. Which is necessary, “because some of us will, inevitably, face a job loss that questions our prowess, and we need to be ready with faith to believe that God can meet our needs. Some of us will finally admit that we lack the power to break a habit, and we need to be ready in that vulnerable moment to surrender in hope, believing that God will see us through with sufficient grace. Some of us will end up with a neighbor who makes our blood boil, and we need to be ready to put our faith and hope into action by loving that person as Christ would.”
And some of us might find ourselves with cancer, like I did, and need the reassurance that our life of faith can survive in spite of it.
Two weeks ago, we talked about how to create change in our lives. That discussion might fall into Sam’s prescriptive design we talked about above: seeing a problem and doing something to correct it. But instead of just changing what you know needs to change, how can you create experiences that will prepare you for the unknown? Sam suggests coming up with experiences that push you in those three key areas of faith, hope, and love. Here are a few ideas he offers:
- Do one thing you’re afraid of.
- Push yourself to donate more money to your church or a nonprofit ministry than you are comfortable with.
- Hold your breath, and practice holding it longer and longer. “The point is to learn to hold on when you want to quit,” Sam writes.
- Grow a tomato.
- Relinquish first dibs.
- Commit an entire day to celebrating or serving somoeone else.
- Keep a routine.
You can imagine how any of these might build resilience and determination in your life, even if only as practice for now.
I like the way Sam ends the book. It’s a declaration of how welcoming change in his life has made him stronger and more adaptable. But it’s also an invitation to readers to be open to the same kind of transformation. It’s an invitation I extend to you as well:
“My walk with Jesus has looked kind of like a hike, with delightful miles of abundance, ho-hum stretches of valley, and occasional wrong turns….But it’s a hike, which means the journey keeps going, and that fact reveals a breathtaking truth that I see at every overlook. There, looking back over the miles, I see God’s faithfulness sustaining me, calling me out of stuck places, inviting, prodding, revealing, equipping—all the while proving that I’m not where I was last week or the decade before.
“I am further along. I am stronger. I have more experience to help me deal with things that at one time would have crushed me. Specifically, because of his faithfulness, I’m growing up. I am truly becoming more like Jesus, and he invites you to do the same. Will you sign up?”