First Spiritual Step: Ask
The four steps to spiritual freedom are Ask, Release, Surrender, and Act. We can't receive until we ask.
It can be difficult to let go of certain things. This isn’t because what we need to release is something valuable, and we’re afraid to lose a treasure. Rather, it’s because our habits and internal rhythms are so ingrained within us that it’s easier to cling to the familiar, even if it no longer serves us, than to face something new.
Release is a crucial aspect of spiritual progression, but before we can even get that far we need to ask. This means that we have to become open to the knowledge that we can’t do it alone. We need to become aware that yes, we do need supernatural help and yes, it is available to us. So often we go through our days on our own toes, stretching ourselves to the limit yet still unable to see the tops of the trees. What we need to realize is that the treetops don’t matter—the spaces between the branches hold the greatest treasures. It’s these little blessings we need to look for, but in order to see clearly we need to ask the Holy Spirit for the inner release to recognize our needs so our spiritual path can open up to us in brilliant new ways.
One of Jesus’ most famous teachings comes from Luke (11:9) and Matthew (7:7) “Ask and it will be given to you ... knock and the door will be opened to you," but what is this asking thing all about, and will it really change our lives in discernible ways?
“Ask and it will be given to you, see and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." (Luke 11:9; Matt 7:7)
To ask means we have a desire: a desire to seek, a desire to change, a desire to progress, and a desire to know God. The actual details of desire often remain shrouded at this early stage, yet that’s natural. We know we’re yearning, we know our soul needs to be filled, but how—and with what, exactly?
At this beginning point our asking takes on the pure form of belief, a belief that we will receive once we knock, once we allow that door to be opened to allow the Light of Life (John 8:12) to stream through. Yet even if we don’t know what we’re asking for, one crucial component remains true: part of our asking should always be a request to be open to divine possibility, to the light and the truth which God guarantees if we just allow ourselves to be filled with His goodness.
Whenever I heard the quote, “Knock and the door will be opened,” I used to imagine myself standing outside, perhaps even in a cold, wintry landscape, knocking on a door so I could be welcomed into the warmth of God’s presence. But what if we reverse that image?
Imagine this: We’re not outside, waiting for interior entrance. Rather, the door we’re knocking upon is inside. We’re inside our own small room, and it’s dark; because we’ve closed the door we can’t see anything, but we can feel our way around, and this is our saving grace. We knock. Our knock is a cry, a scream, a whimper: Let me out, let me out!
We put ourselves in this small room—and we must take the steps to get out. The first step is simply to ask.
Often it’s fear that drives us out of our self-imposed room. We’re afraid of the dark. We want the door to be opened so the Light will stream through, so we can join the rest of the Household. This initial fear is fine, and quite natural, but it needs to quickly be replaced. The path of fear must become the path of Love. Love, gratitude, and holy desire ... all these virtues build our spiritual strength.
This means that through an inner commitment of prayer, we turn from the fear of what if? which often plagues our lives, and tumble into the surrender of God’s will. That’s one of the purposes of prayer, and one of its benefits. When we envelope ourselves in that atmosphere of God’s loving peace, it’s easier to see the door when it creaks open. Scott Hahn says in his book, Signs of Life:
There are many good, natural reasons to take up prayer. Physiologist recognize that they relax our bodies, reduce our stress levels, and unfurrow our brows. They also burn durable neural pathways ... Even amid the most extraordinary circumstances, we can escape to God, we can endure, and we can prevail, using the most ordinary means of prayer. It is a very good thing if all we need to do is touch a bead ... in order to turn our thoughts to God, because we may come to moments when that’s all we can do.
“Pray constantly" (1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer, inner commitment, devotion, and peace literally reform our brain. Once we’ve established these patterns in our lives, old habitual tendencies which no longer serve us tend to fall away as we make room for spiritual growth and inner harmony. We create the soul space for God to enter. He’s eagerly awaiting our knock. He wants to open the door of our souls, to help us out of our dark rooms and into His merciful Light.
If you’re not quite sure how to ask for a deeper spiritual path and inner commitment to peace, simply repeat that one word--Peace--in a slow, meditative way throughout your day. There’s no need to pray with a lot of words, explanations, or beseeching; it’s the energy of your soul, the inner commitment of your spirit, which God hears.
This week, focus on the theme of asking. One of the greatest spiritual tools you can use for daily renewal is this simple morning request, made as soon as you wake up: What occasions for love will I be given today? Then, allow your intuitive eyes to open to the possibilities. So many of us begin our morning with the unconscious yet more egotistical question of What can I get out of this day? When we shift our focus just slightly, searching for ways to love within every part of our day—including ourselves, all circumstances we’re faced with, the people and situations and animals we interact with—our lives take on an entirely new bloom of renewal.
In a nutshell:
Asking God for spiritual graces is simple, yet so very profound. Let’s begin today, and continue all our days. Ask and you will receive—in ways expected and unexpected, yet always in the best way possible.
Inspirational quotes for the week:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9 and Matthew 7:7)
“Don’t give up, then, but labour at [prayer] till you feel desire. The first time you do it, you’ll find a cloud of unknowing, you don’t know what, except that you feel in your soul a naked purpose towards God.” (14th century mystical text, The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 3)
“A soul rises up, restless with tremendous desire ...” (St. Catherine of Siena, introduction to The Dialogue)