The other morning I was driving my truck through town thinking about how the spiritual life is a constant getting back up to try again and again. I was thinking about it because I had given into temptation — for me at least — and bought a half-caff iced skinny mocha when I’m supposed to be giving up coffee for both spiritual and health reasons. I need to stop drinking coffee for health reasons because it aggravates my chronic gastritis that I’ve had for nearly two years after my gall bladder decided to stop doing its job and I had to have it removed. Consequently, I now have bile reflux disease.
Bile and stomach lining do not work particularly well together in high amounts. Caffeine and chocolate, which are how I best like coffee, are terrible irritants to my stomach. Like so many reading this, I am very fond of coffee, but God and my husband have made it clear that coffee and I must part ways.
In order to help me do so, God recently attached a spiritual component to it through which He made it clear that I’m to offer it up as a sacrifice for someone who needs it. I don’t know why they need it. I am not supposed to know why. God has made it plain to me in various ways that I am simply to give it up for this person in love and obedience, as well as for my own health’s sake.
Coffee is not an objective evil. In fact, it is a good to be enjoyed. My issue is that I know I’m being disobedient to what has been requested of me. I also know that it is for my own good and the good of this person because God loves both of us. The problem is that I’m weak and I’ve been drinking coffee for 15 years. Caffeine is a legally addictive substance and it’s hard to give up both habits and stimulants that seem to make days slightly easier.
My struggle to give up coffee is a reflection of what the spiritual life is like for all of us. We all battle sins and habits in our daily lives. We want to be free of them and to find holy detachment, but it’s a struggle. We battle against ourselves, the world, and the Enemy. We desire to improve and progress in holiness and there will be periods of obvious growth, but then we stumble or we fall completely.
The spiritual life is not a straight line up the mountain. It is a jagged line, with many ups and downs. Some of those downs are particularly deep valleys, but the ups show us what we are called to do whenever we fall: get back up.
God is not expecting perfection from us in our Fallen nature. He knows that it is only through His grace and guidance that we progress at all. It is through these ups and downs that we are perfected in Him. Christ asks us to endure and persevere so that we can grow in holiness. It is in persevering that we become more like Him with each new victory.
Our tendency is to focus on our failures. We beat ourselves up and feel like we are never going to make headway. It is through persevering and continuing to get back up that we actually progress. Strength comes from a willingness to try again and again and again. We are being strengthened so that we can wage the battles God is going to ask of us along the way. We all have to rely on Him to turn from sin, especially deeply ingrained habitual sins. It is God alone who will transfigure us into the person He has made us to be. We have to make the choice to keep getting back up when we fail.
St. Josemaria Escriva said of the path to holiness that the “Spiritual life is — and I repeat this again and again, on purpose — a constant beginning and beginning again.” When we become frustrated with ourselves we need to remember that our ultimate progress is up to God. Rather than looking at this need to start over from the standpoint of failure — even though it is — we should look at it as a gift. Our Lord gives us opportunities to begin again and again. That is how gracious and generous He is in His love and mercy. He never abandons us to our weaknesses, sins, and failures.
He is always working towards our salvation. That means that in each new fall, He gives us the opportunity to arise once more and start again. It doesn’t matter how many times we fall as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and our ultimate end. He will guide us to our ultimate home. He is the One who will never abandon us and who desires for us to be with Him forever in heaven. He tells us with every new fall to get back up and go again. Our trust is in Him, not our own power and with each new beginning we too are being made new.