What do you really want?
Within the space of a week I recently met two people who had just run their first marathon. They don't know each other so I know they hadn't been comparing notes, but both of them told me exactly the same thing: "I learned a lot about myself by doing this."
"What in particular?" I asked. Top of the list in each case was: "I found out that if you really want to do something and work at it steadily you can do it!" I could hear the mixture of amazement, delight and new confidence in this discovery.
For one person 'working at it steadily' meant getting up at 5am to run several kilometres - every morning for several months before the event. For the other it meant running every evening after work. I was impressed. Marathons and running are not my cup of tea at all!
Both women were involved in training programmes where strategic help was given in progressively developing strength and skill, and gradually extending the distance. One said: "Before I started training I couldn't even run once round the park without puffing." I know the feeling! But the difference between her and me is that that's still true of me whereas she now calls a 10km run 'short'.
I have a suspicion that the key to their success lies unobtrusively in the first half of their opening sentence: "If you really want to do something . . . ." I've thought about this principle often before - from the comfort of my armchair (with remote control in hand) - as I've watched athletes, Olympic contenders, musicians, dancers . . . .
I know they put amazing amounts of time and energy into training and practice. Sometimes we also get a glimpse of the support structures that surround them: coaches, medical teams, sports psychologists - to say nothing of family members, friends and cheering fans. Yet none of that would be enough if they didn't really want to do it.
Now you may think you've guessed where I'm heading with this: She's going to tell us we should want to achieve great spiritual heights and therefore ought to spend hours in prayer and all sorts of spiritual disciplines. If that's what you're guessing, I hope I'm about to surprise you.
One of the things I most object to is what I call 'a spirituality of guilt'. That's what happens when someone else tells you what you 'should' want and what you 'ought' to do to get there - and you end up feeling a failure before you even start. If someone told me I should want to run a marathon and I ought to get up at 5am tomorrow and start running, it wouldn't work. Because however persuasive they may sound, I actually don't want to run a marathon!
I don't think it's any different in the spiritual life. Lasting motivation that will take us through the hard stuff comes only from what we truly do want. You can check what you have been 'really wanting' in the past week or month by looking at where your time and energy have been spent. There may be some surprises here too.
Sometimes what we think we want isn't reflected in our lifestyle. Then it's time for a reality check. For example: "I want an intimate relationship with God - it's just that I haven't had a minute to focus on that relationship lately."
From this point there are two ways to go. One is to say, "Well obviously I don't really want an intimate relationship so I may as well flag that whole idea away." The other is to take the desire that is buried under the busyness seriously. To hold it gently and reverently, asking God to fan the smouldering flicker into a steady flame.
You could ask God (and maybe some support people around you) what would be a good first step to take. Remember you don't have to run the marathon on the first day!
So - what do you really want?