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What’s in your Spiritual Toolbox?

When the first signs of green mold emerged on the railing of my deck, I grabbed a scrub bucket and sponge.  Two days of scrub, rinse, repeat convinced me there must be a better way. Enter the power washer, my new favorite tool. I admit I am a little obsessed. First the deck was cleaned, next I tackled the porch furniture, and finally the screens on the porch. Then I stared at this marvel,  wondering what else I could clean.

The right tools make all the difference.  We once had a manual push blade lawn mower. If you don’t have a picture in your mind, imagine a cylinder with 4 or 5 blades and a lawn mower handle. Nothing else. No power other than the muscles pushing the mower. It had been in a grandfather’s garage and I tried it (once.) My neighbor kindly asked the next day, “what happened to your lawn?” It might be the most eco-friendly mower on market, but my lawn looked like it had gotten a very, very bad haircut. I opted for a different eco-friendly solution: less lawn.  I also invested in a mower that can actually cut grass.

For yard or home tasks, I often ask others what tools are best for the task. But when I think of sustaining my spiritual life, I rarely think about choosing the right tools. Somehow, I imagine my spiritual life should be robust and lifegiving if I just wish for that enough. If you’ve ever purchased a lottery ticket, you know wishful thinking can only take you so far.

I asked a handful of people who (from the outside) seem to have a rich spiritual life what their top tools are for staying spiritually healthy. Here are their top tools:

  1. Take time to recharge. Number one of that list was taking time to recharge. Most opted for an annual retreat, time away from their jobs and their daily routines to immerse themselves in prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. The time away allowed them time to reassess and re-center.
  2. Take time to give thanks. Gratitude changes the way we look at the world and changes the way the world looks at us. Investing in a practice of gratitude is the spiritual equivalent of brushing your teeth. Do it. A couple of times a day.
  3. Gather together. Every faith tradition calls us to be part of a larger community. We gather in community to pass on our faith traditions, to support and encourage each other. Some days you may be the rock; other days you may be the wet leaf molding yourself to the rock for support.
  4. Pay it forward. Did you know almost every faith tradition has some version of the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” pays it forward. Treat each other kindly and with dignity.
  5. Create time for spiritual reading. Immersing ourselves in spiritual reading allows time and space for introspection. What is the text calling me to? I might add that spiritual reading is a great antidote to the daily news cycle.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible offers wonderful guidance.  If you’re looking for other suggestions, try authors like C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, Henri Nouwen, Thich Nhat Hanh, Anne Lamott,  Mary Oliver, or Rachel Held Evans.
  6. Create a daily prayer or meditation practice. Some people have told me prayer and meditation is “not their thing,” as if after trying it for a day or too they should have seen some life-changing benefits. Prayer and meditation changes us the way water changes the contours of a canyon: slowly, constantly and over time, in noticeable and distinct ways.
  7. Pass it on. The Dead Sea is dead because it has no outlet. The water becomes stagnant and over time the water has become saltier and saltier through evaporation. Now, nothing can live in the Dead Sea. Our spiritual life is a bit like this—if we receive like a rain barrel, but never use the rain in the barrel to water the earth, the water becomes fetid and the barrel fills to the brim, unable to accept fresh lifegiving water.
  8. Sharpen the saw. Every tool we use needs to be cleaned, oiled, and maintained to stay in prime condition. Ditto with our spiritual tools.