Despite being aware of a heightened spiritual sensitivity since I was a child, it has taken me a long time to learn some of life’s necessary lessons. In fact, some of them I keep learning over and over, because they don’t seem to stick.

Not until I studied with the Rev. Joe Stabile, one of the co-directors of Life in the Trinity Ministries, did I have broad categories for the lessons that kept confronting me. Here is Joe’s list from our class on the theology and practice of spiritual disciplines:

  1. Life Is Hard.
  2. You Are Not That Important.
  3. Your Life Is Not About You.
  4. You Are Going to Die.
  5. You Are Not in Control.

Think about these five statements for a moment. How do they compare with the messages that we get from the world around us? Perhaps this side-by-side comparison will help:

  1.  Life Is Hard vs. Life Is Easy When You Get a Lot of Money.
  2. You Are Not That Important vs. What’s in It for Me?
  3. Your Life Is Not About You vs. I Got Mine; Sorry About You.
  4. You Are Going to Die vs. You Can Live Forever with Enough Exercise, Tofu and Money.
  5. You Are Not in Control vs. This Product Will Give You Control Over Your Life.

Christians who read their Bibles frequently will find these five necessary lessons echoed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel according to Matthew. Many today believe that Jesus’ teachings from these three chapters form the true heart of the Christian faith. Here’s one example:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42.

The Five Necessary Lessons of the Spiritual Life, as Joe Stabile titles them, are all about one thing: Learning how to let go. In fact, the idea of letting go may be the most reliable gauge by which to assess the authenticity of any spiritual path or theological system.

At the same time, these instructions are shocking, and they are extremely hard to follow in everyday life. For instance, the baptismal rituals of many Christian denominations today include a vow to “resist the power of evil by whatever means God gives you.” That is clearly the opposite of what Jesus teaches in Matthew. How do we reconcile these two statements? For that matter, how are we to know what is the right action at any given time?

Discerning right action in a situation develops from practicing spiritual disciplines. By spending time apart with God through prayer, contemplation, journaling and other means, we can review our actions and our relationships in the light of what God would have us do and be. In particular, we can test both what we’re told and how we respond through the lenses of these five essential spiritual lessons. In this way, we learn to let go of the false ego that always must be justified in its actions, and give ourselves freely to God’s loving correction and improvement.

 Today’s Thought: What kind of messages am I getting from the world around me? How am I responding to them?