In my blog post Effortless Living, I referred to an interview with Dr. Amos Smith by Brian Russell. During the interview, Dr. Smith said something that challenged me. He compared Eastern Christians’ approach to prayer, specifically Centering Prayer, to those of us in the West.
He said the Christians in the East know they need time in prayer, at least forty minutes a day. At that point, I thought, “Forty minutes! A day? Two twenty-minute sessions of centering prayer every day! Yikes.”
My daily practices include intercessory prayer, scripture reading, and ten minutes in silence. I was nowhere close to forty minutes a day. On top of that, he went on to talk about how each year they would have a seven to ten-day silent retreat! I have never done that!
Then he said, Christians in the West dabble in prayer. It was at that moment when I realized, I was a dabbler.
Before his comparison, I felt pretty good about my spiritual practices. I wasn’t challenged because of the comparison though. I was challenged because I realized my practices could be much richer. I was challenged because, apparently, prayer offers more than I thought.
Input = Output
I’ve discovered that what I put into an activity determines what I get out of that activity. When I give my all to something, I receive much more than if I just “show up” and do not put in much effort. In other words, dabbling doesn’t give the same results as fully entering into something.
We know this. If we have kids, we tell them to “give your all” because we know it makes a difference.
I don’t want to be a dabbler because dabblers never receive the full benefit of what they are dabbling in. They sell themselves, and the activity, short. We may know of someone who halfheartedly tries something and then responds, “It was just okay.” Of course it was “just okay” because they didn’t give themselves fully. They were just dabbling.
Perhaps you’ve dabbled with playing an instrument, learning a different language, or trying a new sport. You dabble in it to see if you’ll like it. At first, it seems strange, odd, and difficult. Some give up at this initial stage. They have some skills. They have dabbled in it. But they don’t enjoy the activity. They don’t receive the full benefit of those who are committed, determined, and diving fully into it.
A few years ago I started dabbling in Spanish. I wanted to learn the language. I purchased courses and visited websites. I read that to learn a language, I would need to spend an hour (or longer) listening, speaking, reading, and studying the language. I didn’t want to take that kind of time, so I dabbled. Some days I would watch some videos, other days I wouldn’t. My results…well…not so good. I know some things, but not a lot. I can pick out some words here and there, but not many. I don’t spend much time on it, because I don’t enjoy it. Joy comes with ability. Ability comes with practice.
I wonder what would have happened if I would have been dogged determined to learn the language. To take the time that was needed, working on it every day. I think of how far I would be right now and what I could understand. Sadly that is not the case because I am a Spanish dabbler.
There’s a huge difference between dabbling and dogged determination. Dr. Smith pointed out what it looks like to be dogged and determined with prayer. I needed that. I needed to know that there was more. I needed to be given a reason to dive deeper.
Some may stop reading at this point. Thinking about two twenty-minute sessions of centering prayer and a once-a-year seven to ten-day retreat is beyond comprehension. Our busy lives just don’t allow for those kinds of practices. Instead, we find ourselves praying on the run in between our busy schedules. No wonder those of us in the west are dabblers.
Start Where We Are
Dr. Smith encouraged listeners to not start with forty minutes, but rather with ten-minute sessions. We grow into determination. We might start with dabbling, but hopefully, dabbling turns into something more enriching. We begin by doing what we can and grow from there. We start where we are. If that means 10 minutes, great. If we can find 5 minutes, fine. The journey starts with the first step. What would be a good first step for you right now? What would be one step toward dogged determination?
Yes, as in anything, commitment is involved. But what do we miss out on by being dabblers? What do we forfeit? What have those in the East who are spending time seeking God, God’s peace, God’s love, and God’s presence, received? What do we give up because we believe we just don’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal, to be dogged and determined in our spiritual practices?
I miss out a lot on what God wants to give by dabbling. Apparently, those in the East who Dr. Smith referred to are finding the time spent in prayer worth it. From what I heard in the interview, Dr. Smith also has found the time worth it. When asked what the result was, he said, “Effortless Living.”
We are Too Easily Pleased
It was C. S. Lewis who said we are far too easily pleased. We are content with a little bit of Jesus, aren’t we? We want enough of Jesus to help us feel better, but not enough to be better. Jesus desires to transform us from the inside out. This, I sense, will take time. It will also take prayer.
Please remember, Jesus loves you. Jesus also knows you. Jesus desires to guide us to places of blessing where we find his peace, joy, and rest. When we dabble in Jesus, we never discover the richness of his presence and transformation. We forfeit joy and peace. We love in our power, rather than allowing his love to empower us.
I for one and tired of dabbling. What about you?