‘No holds BAR’
Everyone who has played addicting tablet games such as Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies, Temple Run type games, Candy Crush and even more sophisticated First Person Shooter (FPS) games comes across a common feature in them: most, if not all, video games –especially the real captivating and enjoyable ones– have a LEVEL BAR.
The level bar is an indispensable part of any game. It reflects in real time the progress the player is making. Bars differ from each other: there are life or health level bars, power or money bars, or the simple a progress bar that when filled ushers the player into another more challenging level. It’s unthinkable and very difficult to play any game without these bars.
Bars also reflect the environment or objects that we interact with. For example, if an enemy is about to be defeated or an obstacle hurdled, their respective bars flash a warning colour. Sometimes the shape and size of these bars change, indicating that we have additional power or strength.
In real life, we also depend on similar ‘visual indicators’. For example, the battery level of our smartphones and laptop, the signal strength indicator, the Wi-Fi strength of a hotspot and so on. We just can’t do without these important and helpful signs for our day-to-day engagements.
But what about our spiritual life? Surely, in something important as our eternal destiny, shouldn’t there be indicators to show us how we are progressing and how we might be able to upgrade ourselves and win the reward of Heaven?
Thus, a common concern for both teenagers and adults is: what ‘indicators’ are there to help us gauge spiritual progress? How will I know that I’ve already acquired a particular virtue? What can quantify my efforts in my spiritual life and formation?
The desire to materially quantify one’s spiritual life is something normal. But we must remind ourselves that, like many realities in life, there are no strict indicators for progress. For example, there is nothing that can precisely quantify human love or sacrifice. To do so would mean providing a ‘silly’ monthly remuneration for say, fatherhood or motherhood.
However, there are still ways of arriving at certain measures that will at least give some assurance of progress and fruitfulness. There are two helpful means: a norm sheet and a notebook.
The norm sheet is a simple table which contains in the leftmost column one’s habitual norms (e.g. prayer, Holy Rosary, spiritual reading, etc.) and the topmost row contains each day of the month. One then goes on ticking off, in whatever helpful manner, by grading or rating how each norm was performed. This will give one an idea of his progress in each spiritual engagement.
The notebook is similar to a diary, but does not have to rigorously follow a diary’s narrative style. The notebook (classical or digital) gives one the possibility of jotting down notes, insights, and resolutions that stem from the norms carried out through the day, significant events during the day, or the punctual advice given in spiritual guidance.
One must remember that these only serve as means to a the specific end of achieving constancy and a more profound grasp of the motivating factors behind one’s thoughts, words and actions. They, so to speak, act as spiritual ‘selfies’ showing a more objective presentation of our self before God and neighbour. Converting them into ends would deform them into a mere spiritual hit-list and even an avenue for self-contentment.
Perhaps, the best spiritual indicator that will integrate the previous ones would be spiritual direction. Not only is this a wonderful venue to enrich one’s spiritual life, but will also reveal the non-quantifiable variables indispensable for an enduring spiritual growth and richness.
For example, even though we may have been relatively successful with our morning prayer, spiritual guidance will further help one to examine his intention behind its execution. One discovers not only how to recite this prayer with fervour in order to avoid routine, but also how to extend one’s resolutions throughout the entire day.
Another would be how we practice charity with our neighbours, colleagues and relatives. We learn to go beyond mere cordiality or thoughtfulness and are guided to overlook our feelings, comfort zones or first impressions.
Thus, together with the norm sheet and notebook, spiritual guidance truly enriches the person’s spiritual journey. Even though these means may not clearly usher us into any spiritual level, they constantly raise us into the one and only playing level known to God: His infinite love for every man and woman who seeks to do only His will. In the end of life’s game, God will ask you and me only one thing, “How have you loved me? (St. John of the Cross)”
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