By Steven Norris
It’s been that time of year around the Norris house this week. As we prepare for the beginning of another school year, it is time for the annual visit to the pediatrician. When it comes to our children, we have always been diligent about regular check-ups to measure their growth and development. As for myself…well…that may be another story.
It got me to thinking, however. How often do we engage in regular spiritual check-ups? Surely, our spiritual health is just as important as our physical health, but regular check-ups are not the norm for most of us.
Some years ago, I came across a little paperback book that has impacted me deeply. Written by Sister Margaret Magdalen, this little book is entitled, “A Spiritual Check-Up: Avoiding Mediocrity in the Christian Life.”
In it, Sister Margaret uses the image of baptism as a tool for self-reflection. She draws this image from the sixth chapter of the book of Romans, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
The book imagines a person going through baptism in slow motion – carefully immersing each part of the body into those holy waters. As each part enters the water, she challenges us to ask, “Have I fully committed this area of myself to the service of God? Am I using this body to love God completely and to love my neighbor as myself?”
This would include obvious areas like feet, hands, heart, eyes, ears, mouth, and brain. But it could even include less obvious ones like one’s knees, stomach, kidneys, shoulders, lungs, and sexual organs. A true spiritual check-up might ask how God’s sanctifying work is transforming each area of our life for service and holiness.
Another method might be undertaken by using the words of a familiar hymn. Frances Ridley Havergal was a British hymn-writer who is sometimes referred to as “the consecration poet” because of her deep devotion and faith. One of her most beloved hymns – “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated” – is sung by many churches today, almost 150 years after its composition. Each phrase imagines an area of the believer’s life in full devotion to God. Like the baptism imagery, the text of this hymn could also provide a prescriptive check-up in evaluating one’s own life.
When the pediatrician was finished measuring the boys, she told us that they had each grown four inches since their previous physical. This came as no surprise to us – our weekly grocery bill can testify to that reality.
In a similar manner, a spiritual check-up should not be an occasion to bury ourselves beneath guilt and shame. Rather, it is an opportunity to see the growth that God is bringing to fruition in our soul. After all, as Thomas Merton was so fond of reminding his students, sin – at its heart – is merely a refusal to grow.