Yesterday we looked at the value of developing enthusiasm as an integral part of your spiritual tool kit. Enthusiasm is one of what we at LifeBrook call “Attitudes of Blessing.” Briefly, these are character traits that assist us in growing spiritually, achieving our goals and dreams, and becoming the best version of ourselves.
Today I would like to discuss another of these essential attitudes: effort. If we are to advance in terms of our spiritual life or any other goal, effort is required. In any arena of life, those who succeed are the individuals who make a solid commitment to excellence and who are willing to expend the energy to attain their goals. Keep in mind: no one ever slouched their way to success.
Nothing comes without cost and nothing worthwhile comes without personal effort. In practical terms, this means that if we want to achieve something in life, whether it be to deepen our spiritual life, advance in our career, make more money, or improve our character, we have to put forth positive effort. In short, we have to work at it.
In terms of overall spiritual formation, positive effort means you have to expend personal energy. There is no magic pill that you can take that will bring you closer to God or help you master your mind. You have to put forth effort. If you have developed enthusiasm, a proper and profound sense of love for what you are doing, then effort should flow easily out of this enthusiasm. You will make every effort to grow as an individual and as a member of society. You will seize every opportunity to improve that comes your way. Make no mistake; if you don’t put forth positive effort in pursuit of your goals, nothing will help you. Often, making this kind of spiritual effort will involve making sacrifices. “No pain no gain”, is an eternal truth.
The Random House Dictionary defines effort as, “a strenuous attempt; the exertion of physical or mental power“. What does this mean on a practical, daily basis? It means you have to exert yourself. If you are apathetic, you won’t exert yourself. If you are lethargic, you won’t exert yourself enough. If you are ambivalent, you won’t exert yourself consistently. You have to become sincere! From your sincerity will flow enthusiasm and from your enthusiasm will flow effort. Once you begin to make sincere effort, you will improve. This is a fundamental law of the universe and it applies not only to spiritual formation, but to everything you do.
During the five years I spent teaching English in China I have observed that the one central thing that seemed to separate those who improved their language skills from those who did not was the effort put into it. The harder the student worked and the more positive the attitude with which he or she approached their study, the more their English skills improved. I could cite many examples of this truth but time and space does not allow for that in the context of this article, so I will choose but one example.
I first met Jane when she was a sophomore English major at the university where I was teaching in southern China. She was a pert and energetic girl with a pleasing smile and positive disposition. After having her as a student in my writing class for several weeks, I noticed that not only her writing skills were among the best in her class, but her oral English skills were also excellent. I soon found out why.
I have always been an early riser, usually getting out of bed no later than 5:30 AM. I often went for early morning walks around the beautiful, lotus filled pond that was a landmark of the university. Much of the year the weather was hot and humid in this southern city and the early morning hours provided an opportunity to commune with the natural environment before the heat of the day began in earnest. I usually arrived at the lake around 6 AM and every morning during my walk I usually ran into Jane. She was either reading aloud from an English text, or reciting her lessons in English, or listening to English language tapes on her Walkman.
From the beginning I was impressed by her diligence, her fortitude, her discipline, and her willingness to make personal sacrifices in order to improve her language skills. Further, it was these very positive character traits that enabled her to succeed where others did not. In the spring semester of her sophomore year Jane went on to achieve a high score on the TEM Four examination, a major test that determines whether or not the student is allowed to continue his or her English study without penalty. In addition, her marks were among the highest in all of her classes. In her junior year she placed first in the campus- wide English speech contest hosted by the Business College at our university. She eventually graduated with high honors and is now employed by a major, multi-national company. Why has Jane been so successful? The answer is quite simple. She put forth positive effort!
Before concluding our examination of the necessity of personal effort in the process of spiritual formation, one important caveat needs to be mentioned. Making diligent effort to advance toward your goals must be viewed in the context of a balanced lifestyle. It is critical that your efforts remain within rational and healthy limits. You must maintain adequate time for family, recreation, rest and relaxation, and enjoying life’s pleasures. Too much effort leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout. Allowing your diligence toward making positive efforts to evolve as a human being, no matter how noble it may seem, is a recipe for disaster. As with all good things in this life, moderation is the key.