Have you ever exercised on a Stairmaster or an elliptical machine? Basically, you turn on the cardio machine and walk a seemingly endless series of steps, without actually going anywhere. Not my favorite way to get the heart pumping, but to each his own.
I decided to get on one the other day for a quick warm-up. I frequently pray as I exercise, so I started my Rosary. As the same stairs continued to roll by and return again for me to step on, my mind suddenly diverted to something kind of strange: “This Stairmaster is kind of like my spiritual life!”
The idea of connecting stairs and the spiritual life is nothing really new. Saints have written about the ascent in the spiritual life in relation to climbing a ladder or stairway.
Throughout our lives, we attempt to scale our way up this massive ladder between earth and heaven, with the starting point being our fallen sinful state and the ending point (hopefully and God-willing) being our state of blissful sanctity in Heaven.
But the climb is rarely easy, and sometimes it feels like we just aren’t making any progress. In fact, sometimes it feels like we are walking on the same few stairs or rungs, over and over again. Perhaps we don’t even realize it for a while, until all of the sudden we think to ourselves, “Wait a second, I’m not going anywhere!”
Boy has my life been peppered with many spiritual lulls just like this.
Sometimes, I can feel my spiritual quads tightening and ascending with purpose and fierce determination. Prayer is strong, Scripture reading frequent, growth in virtue evident. Other times, I can feel the laxity of wearied spiritual muscles, sadly moving backward looking for rest on stairs already behind me, when true rest can only be found at the top of the staircase or ladder. But still other times, I’ve been too busy living life, only to find that for some past amount of time, I’ve been walking on the exact same stairs, over and over again, not moving up or down at all! And we know what God says about the lukewarm…or in this case, the spiritual Stairmaster exercisers.
Advent is a time of preparation, when we strengthen our spiritual muscles to push ahead in our faith journeys with greater resolve. Is your spiritual life stagnant? When’s the last time you’ve made practical resolutions to progress seriously in prayer, in reading Scripture (and the Catechism during this Year of Faith), in growing in virtue, in exercising the works of mercy? There’s no excuse to see the same stairs roll around for you again after this season of Advent is over. Prepare. Make a change. Move up a few stairs to get a closer look at the King of Kings. The best view is at the top.
A final thought: If the stairs become a little too much for you, remember you can always take the elevator. St. Thérèse of Lisieux once wrote, “I, too, would like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, for I am too little to climb the rough stairway of perfection… The elevator which must raise me to the heavens is Your arms, O Jesus!” When the stairs get steep, call on Jesus. Your humble surrender to His strength guarantees your spiritual progress.
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