Over the years, I tried several times to get back into running, but until recently, was unable to restart what used to be a favorite practice. In the past, I’ve tried to pick up where I left off—trying to put in a five-mile run when I hadn’t run at all in the past year. But last summer, I started where my body was ready to start.
I walked hills and ran shorter distances, listening to my body when it was too tired to keep going. Amazingly, I found that after a few weeks of walking hills and running shorter distances, I was ready to add another half mile to my run, and then a mile, eventually working up to a good pace and distance.
Through this process, I realized that I tend to set unrealistic goals for myself that I can’t meet, and then get frustrated when I fail at them. I recognized that I needed to give myself permission to start small.
I’ve found this to be particularly applicable to how I approach faith practices. Feeling like I’m not doing enough to show my gratitude for God’s great gift of salvation, I make grandiose plans, such as spending an hour every day reading the Bible in its original text and another hour in prayer.
These aren’t bad goals. They’re great goals. But, like my attempt to go from not running at all to running five miles a day, they’re too big. They set me up for failure. And the discouragement from failing at these big goals leaves me downhearted, often resulting in me abandoning the practice altogether.
A better approach is to evaluate where I am and attempt faith practices that are at a pace with my life. I have young kids and work full time. Life is busy. My goals need to match that reality.
For me this means that, instead of setting big goals for reading Scripture, I simply strive to engage with Scripture every day. Some days this means I listen to part of the Bible while I walk my dog. Other times I meditate on a particular verse of God’s Word while I create art with my children. I also spend several days engaging with the same portion of Scripture, spreading in-depth study of God’s Word over days or weeks instead of minutes and hours.
With prayer, I’ve never been good at sitting down and praying for an hour. So my goal is just to pray daily. Sometimes these prayers are desperate one-liners offered up as I try to sleep at night. Other times, these quick prayers are spoken throughout the day as stress and concerns present themselves. At times I can’t find the words to pray, and turn to Every Moment Holy, Common Prayer, or the psalms, speaking prayers that convey my heart more than my own words.
Adjusting my expectations has meant that instead of big, grand attempts at faith practices (that often fail), I’ve been able to create more steady, consistent practices. And as I take baby steps toward faithfulness in these practices, those small steps build into giant, life-transforming leaps.
For more on faith practices, visit Faith Formation Ministries’ Faith Practices Project to find resources for individuals, groups, and families.