There is an old monks’ tale about a spiritual seeker who asked St. Benedict, “What do your monks do all day?”
Benedict replied, “We fall down and we get up again.”
When a spiritual journey begins, it is common to wonder, “What should I do all day?” What practices will keep me strong? How can I order my steps to live in harmony with God? What do holy people do all day?
Often we assume it requires some herculean effort, where everything is turned upside down and we immerse ourselves in a strange universe that is completely other, in order to find complete union with the divine, a life of sanctified bliss.
Yet I’ve found in my own journeys, that those who are wise – those who have made space for God in their lives – are those who have found that today’s ordinary struggles are more than enough for God to use as sanctifying and transformative.
Simply falling down and getting up again, in the ordinary routine of life, is the spiritual work before us every day.
Can it really be that simple? Why don’t I feel God’s presence more fully if living for today is enough?
Well, the problem with daily life is… it’s just so daily. It becomes monotonous. We want exotic. We want new. We want escape. We want otherness. We want quick, easy fixes that take us away and make us something else.
And then there is the other problem – I don’t like falling down. It hurts. It’s embarrassing. It’s exhausting. Isn’t the point of the spiritual life to be freed from all of the falls?
During our teenage years, we become all too aware of our daily falls. Often, this awareness quickly gets caught up with a sense of shame. We feel that by falling we have disappointed others, or worse – made a fool of ourselves. It is far better to lay low, hide in the crowd, and draw as little attention to ourselves as possible.
Yet this is precisely why falling down and getting up again is sanctifying and freeing work for our souls. God comes along side of us, like a loving parent, teaching us how to walk – holding our hands, letting us go – letting us fall – so that we can grow stronger and walk for ourselves.
When we follow the daily path of falling down and getting up as a spiritual practice, we take a journey with God that frees us from shame, guilt, embarrassment, and our smaller selves. We learn to rely on the grace of God to dust us off, give us an encouraging word, and risk trying again – knowing that each time we fall, we grow stronger.
We are only a few short weeks from Advent. It is a season for getting ready, for new birth, and new beginnings. There will be ample time for each of us to practice falling down and getting up, as we struggle and delight in the Christmas season with family and friends.
Through it all, I pray that God becomes Emmanuel (“God with us”) for you. I pray that you may remember that each day, in your ordinary work of falling down and getting up again, you are doing the sacred work of life with God. Each Advent, we remember that God chooses the ordinary, unassuming, daily parts of life to break through and bless. Through the daily work of an ordinary teenage girl, a humble carpenter, and an overlooked stable, God chose to be with us. Through the first breaths of a newborn child, God claimed our daily life, learned to live with us, and grew to understand the importance of falling down and getting up again as a young child who took his first steps and grew as Jesus.
This Christmas, may you have the courage to fall down and get up again, and again, and again.