Becoming a Gritty Christian

I’m “back in the saddle again,” co-leading a group studying Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr. The lesson this week focused on the life-long process we engage in as we look deeply into our “private self” – the person we are when no one is looking.  Rohr calls this “hidden me” our shadow self. He encourages us to engage in shadow-boxing – an internal boxing-match with whatever we uncover deep down in that shadow self.

This is a difficult and wearying process – and we don’t always score a knock-out immediately. It includes:

  • recognizing that I can’t heal what I don’t acknowledge.
  • digging down deep with the Holy Spirit to learn who I really am when no one is looking.
  • nurturing what I find that is Christ-like and tossing in the dumpster the parts that are not.

As I recalled the shadow-boxing conversations I had with this group, the term “true grit” popped into my head. Shadow-boxing takes grit. When you hear the phrase “true grit,” you may flash to one of the movie versions of the novel, True Grit by Charles Portis, in which a stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father’s murderer. Since grit means perseverance, firmness of character; tenacity, resilience, and determination, the movie is a great representation of the term.

While grit is not a term we often encounter in a spiritual context, it may be one of the most important characteristic of  spiritual formation.  We are on a journey of  “long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson’s definition of discipleship).  Tenacity, resilience, and determination are required for any journey, let alone a journey of transformation. 

Our goal is to become like Jesus. That process demands a hardiness and grit that Jesus warned us about. He said that we should expect to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, pure in heart, and to become peacemakers, accepting persecution as we go.  He advises:

  • sell all you have and follow me; deny yourself and follow me.
  • let me lead; I am in the driver’s seat, not you.
  • turn the other cheek; walk another mile.
  • find  your treasures in God’s kingdom, not on this earth.
  • take the log out of your own eye, before you attempt to remove the splinter from another’s eye.

Living like this takes grit. It takes bravely searching for who we really are and the vulnerability to reveal that person to others. It takes learning spiritual disciplines and soul training habits and practicing them our whole lives. It takes the acceptance of powerlessness and the practice of surrender – which takes the most grit of all.

Spiritual transformation doesn’t happen in a day or  a week or a month or a year, although the desire to change from a worm to a butterfly may arise suddenly. Our transformation requires  faith that the Holy Spirit will reveal what qualities in us must die or rise. It needs trust in God’s plan for us so that we can walk the journey bravely. And it takes grit to weather the struggles and conflicts of life and bounce back with tenacity and perseverance. Our reward for that journey is the healing Jesus promises.


Find more information on shadow-boxing

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