For the last several months I’ve read books by Dallas Willard (Divine Conspiracy, Hearing God) and most recently, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Among other challenges, Willard makes significant claims for the validity of the spiritual disciplines. His thinking can be summed up by saying that the spiritual disciplines are training for the body and soul that will enable a person to live as Jesus lived.
I find his ideas are challenging and cautiously hopeful as a way to help me grow as a disciple of Jesus.
In addition, as I was reading recently I realized that one other thing that greatly appeals to me about his ideas and about the spiritual disciplines in the other books I’m reading on the topic is that they don’t cost any money to practice. That may seem obvious, but it answered, what has been for me a huge dilemma. The dilemma has to do with life transformation. How do we change the habits, actions, life-style issues that we know hold us and sometimes our relationships back from being all we know the Lord wants us to be?
I hear a lot about therapy and though it can be wonderful and life-changing for many, and in no way do I want to diminish its values for those who can afford it. But there is the dilemma—who can afford it? I know I can’t. Not possible. And not possible or even a consideration for many of my friends who I know need life changes from significant serious abuse (self-chosen with substances and sometimes afflicted by others).
Knowing the reality of their situation, it bothers me to hear (and this is my problem) Christian leaders suggest therapy when they talk about healing.
I know that lack of money makes doctors visits and dental care and new eye glasses a luxury for many—but is mental health also only for those with the time and money (and lots of it) to afford it? Depressing thought. But that is what many seem to imply.
Not that the spiritual disciplines, as described by Willard and others, are an easy path to follow. Yes, ultimate joy and peace at the end of the journey, but an acknowledged, sometimes rocky road to get there. But here is the hope through them—and they available to all people, all times, all cultures, and at no cost.
For me, that the spiritual disciplines are freely available to all is a sign of authenticity and value. They are something I can attempt and in good conscience recommend to my struggling friends.