When our family lived in the small town of Bad Axe, Mich., the circus came to town. It was a big deal. It seemed like everyone in Huron County showed up to go to the circus and we were no different. Although we liked living in Bad Axe, after growing up in Southern California, we found the small farming community a veritable entertainment vacuum, so the circus was our chance to “get out on the town,” so to speak.
This circus was no different than any other small circus. There were clowns, elephants, trapeze artists and huge snakes. The boys seemed to enjoy the atmosphere and so did we. The circus seemed to have a good display of showmanship that was fun for everyone.
Unlike the circus, spirituality is best enjoyed when it is not showy. Jesus once told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were both in the temple one day. The Pharisee stood up to pray and thanked God out loud that he was not like the scumbag tax collector. Meanwhile, the tax collector prayed silently asking God to forgive him for all the things he had done.
At the end of their prayers, Jesus said, the tax collector went home justified. The tax collector’s heart was in the right place. He didn’t care about the opinions of others. He just wanted God’s approval.
M. Robert Mulholland wrote in his book “Invitation to a Journey: Road Map for Spiritual Formation,” that the cure for showy spirituality is to fix the heart. This is done by practicing three spiritual disciplines: silence, solitude and prayer.
Silence, Mulholland said, “is fasting from speaking to listen to God.” By giving up our voice, silence helps release control of our relationship with God. Through our silence, God takes the reins and begins to tell us what we need to know.
Practicing silence leads to solitude, which is fasting from fellowship with others to be alone with God. Part of solitude is drawing away from others, Mulholland said, but the main crux of the discipline is to be ourselves with God and to “acknowledge who we are to ourselves and to God.”
Out of this recognition and the peace that it brings flows prayer, In prayer we offer everything we are to God. It is through prayer that God works to change us into what he wants us to be.
Through this process of letting go, we become more and more comfortable with who we are and with who God is. When we reach this point it does not mean that we have “arrived” at a place where we no longer need God to work in our lives, it means that we look at ourselves realistically and, therefore, we do not need to compare ourselves with others to make ourselves feel better. It is through these disciplines that we become able to have compassion on others and ourselves as well.