After not running for a few days, choosing A/C and video games instead, I remember showing up to a summer workout at the hilly Sunken Meadow State Park in New York with baseless confidence. Sure enough, a few miles later I stopped to walk (something I do more in a distance run now, but definitely avoided back then as I thought it made me look weak) and I felt so silly. I’ll never forget what happened next. One of my friends, a runner for a rival school, asked me what was up and I told him I hadn’t been running recently. He turned to me and said – if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
Being educated by or educating with the Jesuits since 2003, I’ve come to understand some foundational concepts and phrases that help define what makes Jesuit education different, this one, however, I hadn’t heard a lot about – from good to better.
“from good to better” is a recognition that implies that not to make a conscious effort to improve one’s spiritual life every day is already to begin sliding backwards.
– William A. McCormick, S.J.
Reading this today stopped me in my tracks because recently I’ve been doing a lot of what I know is helpful – praying, going to mass, attempting to practice what I preach, doing professional reading, and actively participating in learning opportunities. I’m also evaluating my priorities and where and on what I spend my time, but I have also felt drawn to disconnect from these things. Drawn to distraction – not the healthy occasional Netflix binge, but just occupying downtime either on my phone too much or spending time worrying about things I can’t change.
The advice Ignatius gives on this is helpful,
In those who are making progress in the spiritual life, from good to better, the good angel touches the soul gently, tenderly, and sweetly, as a drop of water entering a sponge, but the evil spirit touches it sharply, with noise and agitation, like a drop of water hitting upon a rock
from The Spiritual Exercises “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits”
Agitation. That’s the word. A state of agitation.
When I know what needs to be done, what should be done, but simply choosing to not and choosing to live in this agitation instead, in this unhelpful distraction.
Immediately I’m back at Sunken Meadow, doubled over trying to catch my breath in a predicament of my own making.
What did I expect?
I had actively avoided getting better. The hills were not going to climb themselves.
Now, all these years later I am grateful for this experience, in addition to the scholarship on Ignatian spirituality, because of this understanding I now know where to go. It is the conscious everyday effort to improve or actively contribute to the backsliding – this is an Ignatian lens I can look through and better notice those shifts. It is also a way I can travel in my spiritual and physical journey on the road to better.