How to Start a Spiritual Practice
Starting a spiritual practice is overwhelming! At least, it can seem that way.
It’s easy to see why. We often realize we need to make changes in our lives because something has triggered that realization–an awareness of unhappiness dawns upon us, a major life change (like a lost job) happens to us, or something unsettling, such as a health scare or significant relational conflict, occurs with us.
These things reveal an internal imbalance within us, and we seek to restore that lost balance.
This is where a spiritual practice comes in. Inherently, we know that if we do some things to quiet and center ourselves, or draw closer to God, we will be in a better place. We sense that the imbalance has been caused, in part, at least, by our neglect of spirituality.
But where do we start? Finding a beginning point can be stressful all on its own.
In the Christian tradition, we often advise seekers to begin with prayer or regular Bible reading. This advice is helpful to seasoned Christians who have been accustomed to practicing these things.
A new Christian, or someone newly walking the Christian path, can find these same things to be overwhelming. They might ask, “What do I ask for in prayer?” “How long do I pray for?” “What are the right words for me to use?”
Or, they took one look at the Bible–a collection of 66 different books, well over 1000 pages, divided into two sections, written over hundreds of years, and including diverse literary genres–and say (in their minds), “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I empathize with those who struggle to adopt prayer and Bible reading as a spiritual practice. I have been a Christian for over thirty years and I still struggle, at times, with those practices.
What I have found most helpful for myself, and what I recommend to others on the journey, is something very simple. Something that almost anyone can do. Something that can be done at almost any time of the day, rain or shine, with or without others.
My simple recommendation for starting a spiritual practice is this: Take a walk.
Walking is like therapy for the soul. Walking helps you, first of all, to make (and take) time for yourself. It is earthy; it puts you in touch with your body and with nature, as your feet hit the ground step by step and you observe your surroundings.
Walking helps you clear your mind. It’s almost as though each step helps you release tension, worry, and anxiety. I recommend that people start with 30 minutes and build up to at least an hour (with longer walks on weekends or days off). The longer the walk, the more time you have to clear your thoughts. In this way, walking serves as meditation, helping you to become aware of your thoughts, note them, and then let them go.
As your mind becomes freed from anxiety and the jumble of words, ideas, and thoughts circling within it, you will find space to process new thoughts and plans. New creative solutions to problems will emerge. Your mind will become quieted.
And in that quiet, you will find prayer.
All this from a simple practice of regular walks. Who knew?
— — — —
Need help connecting with God in prayer? Get my free prayer guide, 7 Days to More Effective Prayer, when you join my Daily Discipleship email community.
If you’re interested in learning more about walking as a spiritual habit, I wrote several chapters about it in my Soul-Care for Shepherds book. The book was written mainly for pastors, but it would be helpful as a general spirituality primer for anyone interested in spiritual growth.