I've been striving to get more into spirituality. But it seems that every time I make some progress, I find myself slipping right back to where I started. I'm getting discouraged and feel like a failure. Can you help?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Spiritual slumps are a natural part of spiritual growth. There is a cycle that people go through when at times they feel closer to God and at times more distant. In the words of the Kabbalists, it is "two steps forward and one step back." So although you feel you are slipping, know that this is a natural process. The main thing is to look at your overall progress (over months or years) and be able to see how far you've come!
This is actually God's ingenious way of motivating us further. The sages compare this to teaching a baby how to walk. When the parent is holding on, the baby shrieks with delight and is under the illusion that he knows how to walk. Yet suddenly, when the parent lets go, the child panics, wobbles and may even fall.
At such times when we feel spiritually "down," that is often because God is letting go, giving us the great gift of independence. In some ways, these are the times when we can actually grow the most. For if we can move ourselves just a little bit forward, we truly acquire a level of sanctity that is ours forever.
Here is a practical tool to help pull you out of the doldrums. The Sefer HaChinuch speaks about a great principle in spiritual growth: "The external awakens the internal." This means that although we may not experience immediate feelings of closeness to God, eventually, by continuing to conduct ourselves in such a manner, this physical behavior will have an impact on our spiritual selves and will help us succeed. (A similar idea is discussed by psychologists who say: "Smile and you will feel happy.")
That is the power of Torah commandments. Even if we may not feel like giving charity or praying at this particular moment, by having a "mitzvah" obligation to do so, we are in a framework to become inspired. At that point we can infuse that act of charity or prayer with all the meaning and lift it can provide. But if we'd wait until being inspired, we might be waiting a very long time.
May the Almighty bless you with the clarity to see your progress, and may you do so with joy.