Should Spiritual Growth Be Fun?
Have you noticed that everything is supposed to be fun? “Did you have fun?” is a universal response to pretty much anything you have done. Trying to cajole another adult to join you for dinner with four unruly kids? “Come on—it’ll be fun!” Perhaps you have created smiley faces out of peas to convince a 4-year-old that vegetables are fun. And those dancers and bachelors (and bachelorettes) on TV are all having FUN! All the time!
One of the appeals of all this fun is that it is, well, fun! It’s noisy, outgoing, extravagant. It moves us a step away from any parts of our lives that are boring or humdrum. And there is nothing wrong with that. If it’s a party or a show we are talking about, well, it’s perfectly natural and something would be wrong if it wasn’t fun. (Although, Death of a Salesman or The Diary of Anne Frank might not be quite so much fun!)
But anyone who cares about the growth of the spirit knows that we also need something less noisy, less outgoing, and more internal, quieter and deeper. But in a culture that focuses on fun, offering something boring is not going to work. We need something deeper than just fun—but it has to appeal to people who are used to having fun—or are not currently having much fun and really want to!
Traditionally, things that grow the spirit include silence, sacraments, study, and selfless service in addition to those things that are more easily associated with fun—like singing, praising, or belonging to a group. And trying to make silence fun is not going to work for most people. Making the sacraments fun is just plain wrong—though there is no need to make them pompous or pretentious either. Most people don’t find study fun—so there is a tendency to dumb it down. And selflessness and fun don’t usually go together—though some have found themselves to deeply enjoy that kind of service.
“Deeply” is the key. Fun is the antidote to boring, shallow activity. When we go deeper, we find meaning in selfless service. And we can find a more serious show or film deeply profound. If we get to the meaningful level of silence, Meaning is a whole lot better than Fun! If activities are kept on the surface, ostensibly to keep attracting people to the spiritual life—making if fun, then we have failed to help people discover true meaning.
When the sacraments are approached with a spiritual expectation, and the elements are treated reverently, and the whole experience establishes a deep sense of mystery, then discovering Meaning is possible. But so often we rush through these activities that we are afraid are viewed as arcane, outdated, and not fun, so that we can get on to the fun social afterwards—the thing that will keep people coming.
The thing about fun is that looking for it is never ending. That’s because it is not a destination—there is very little there that meets real needs at the depth we need them to be met. But if people discover the real meaning in deep silent meditation, the true presence of God in the sacraments, the depth that comes from a study that really stretches you and the real joy from selflessness, then it doesn’t matter if it isn’t fun. We just found something better.