The American Alpha Achievement culture sells us the idea that success should be one quick upward spiral from glory to glory until we are the perfectly successful person with a perfect tan, perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect body, perfect bank account, perfect spouse, perfect kids, perfect house (or maybe two or three houses) perfect everything.
Well think again. The spiritual recipe for success doesn’t look like that. It has at its heart authenticity and simplicity. The challenge is to be real even if imperfect for a time and the perfection we seek is the perfection of the person, the completion of the soul, the wholeness of a body, mind and spirit created in God’s image, but in need of restoration and reconciliation.
The path to that reconciliation and restoration is pendular. Progress is pendular.
What do I mean? Well, think of a pendulum in one of those old grandfather clocks. Back and forth it swings.
So it is with the spiritual life. We advance in prayer and penitence. Then we relapse. We stumble into sin. We are frail and we fail, but to repeat a truism, “It does not matter how often you fall, it matters how often you get up.”
The teachers of the Eastern Church say that a soul is never closer to God than when he turns in true contrition to the Lord. At that point the soul flies upward with speedy flight.
So progress towards God is two steps forward, one step back. Three steps forward, two steps back. Four steps forward, three steps back.
This is why we must never be discouraged by our failures and never be distressed by our seeming lack of success. As long as we get up again and return to God’s mercy, then our fall has been another learning experience and our heart’s orientation towards him has been confirmed not by our tragic fall, but by our graced return.