Tis the Season
For the gym to be filled. Another new year has dawned, and resolutions have been made - this is the year I'm going to work off the fat I've gained over the past year, 5 years, 10 years, or whatever. Starting January 1, I will lose all those pounds that so much fast food and office work have added to my frame. I'm going to feel better about myself, I'm going to look better...
...until one of those bugs that goes around hits and I get out of the habit of going to the gym.
...or until a big snowstorm hits and I can't make it.
...or until things stack up at work or home and I can't find the time.
...or until I realize how hard it is to lose that weight; that it comes off about as fast as I put it on.
...or whatever the excuse.
Then it's back to the normal routine, and no real change has been made.
I see a spiritual parallel here: often something comes along that kicks us in the seat and causes us to want some sort of spiritual transformation. Maybe it's a "mountaintop" experience at a church camp or retreat. Maybe it's a moving church service or a particularly touching message. Maybe it's a crisis (9/11 provided one of those, and churches were full for the next few weeks).
But something happens: maybe you miss a week or two, which becomes three or four; maybe other things compete for your time; perhaps you keep hearing hard sayings - hard to reconcile with the world as you know it or hard to actually accomplish, maybe you realize that this Christianity thing isn't so easy and it just seems easier to go along like before; or maybe you are carrying so much baggage that you don't see the results you hoped for and you give up.
This is why I think personal relationship is key for spiritual growth. It is one of the reasons I cringe when I hear someone say that they stay home and watch one of their favorite preachers on TV and that's "church" for them. They miss out on the group, and the group misses out on their input. They miss out on the work that is naturally a part of living in community, the work that causes growth.
I'm not saying that people can't grow spiritually by themselves; I'm just saying that it's not the usual way it happens. And just like I know that the gym will be much emptier in a month, so, too, will those who just begin showing up for Sunday-only church experiences drop off if they don't make a connection.