What, exactly, is “spiritual progress”?
I was told this week that it is evident that I am making spiritual progress. I’ve pondered that sentence all week long and have wondered, what does that look like.
C.S. Lewis spoke on this, though I can’t find the exact quote. But he said something like this: Spiritual progress is really regression….perhaps a circle.
I am aware that when I am consistent with my disciplines of study, worship and prayer, I am more at peace. But is that really progress? Progress to me indicates some sort of ladder that must be climbed. Or mountain. If I’m going to climb Pike’s Peak in Colorado, then I would measure my success by the progress I make as I move up the mountain. I’m an overachiever. I like to make progress on something—reading a book, working toward a goal, writing a paper. But how does this apply to one’s spiritual life.
On the other hand, what does Lewis mean when he speaks of this spiritual progress being regression? Does that imply a loss of ground, a failure to move forward? And why a circle?
I am no scholar. I don’t have any answers for any of these questions. I can only share what I know in my soul and my mind. I think we must be cautious when we use the word “progress” in a spiritual realm. That’s not to say it can’t be used–just cautiously. This journey is not a ladder to climb, where each rung of the ladder stands for another “achievement”–a scripture memorized, a Bible read completely, evangelism that leads to someone’s salvation. These are all good things. Necessary things. But I don’t want spiritual progress to become my god.
And regression? The only way I can explain that in my small, ignorant finite mind, is that spiritual progress is a form of regression, because it involves seeing ourselves as we truly are. Allowing God to open our eyes and our souls to both the beauty and the ugliness that make up our being. Thus we regress–we return–to the one who created us, acknowledging that we can not take another step without Him. It’s total dependence on the God of this universe.
As for the circle: This one is harder to understand, but I think I may be slowly getting at what Lewis was saying. A circle never ends. Our progress and our regress never ends. It’s a daily fight. It’s a never ending circle. It’s a circle we must live on until Jesus calls us to our Home. There is balance in this circle: balance between progress and regress. Maybe even an infinity spiral would be a better picture to use.
Either way, I know these two things. First: I must keep pushing forward. Second: I must be willing to humble myself before my God and declare my dependence on Him and not on myself for my spiritual progress. It is He who teaches me. It is He who upholds me. It is He who sent His son to die for my ugly sins.
Progression and regression and balance. Maybe the two contribute to the third, and the third is where we need to be, balanced between working hard and yet being totally dependent on God to manifest Himself to us through our work.