Strangely the spirit is like a plant. Two organisms–one invisible, the other invisible–and yet they are very similar to each other.
They are very similar to each other in terms of growth or development, particularly in the hindrances to their development.
A plant grows or develops with the help of the sunlight, the soil, the freedom from predators, adjustment to climate, and the help of human beings.
So also similar factors help in the development of the human spirit.
This article discusses the hindrances to spiritual development. You can develop faster spiritually if these hindrances are overcome or eliminated in your life.
A plant needs sunlight. This is very basic to its growth. It cannot be kept indoors most of the time, unlike animals and human beings. In a similar way the human spirit needs the sunlight of God’s Word.
The Scriptures say that the Word of God is a light to the path of the righteous. The sun not only gives light, it also gives out heat and warmth. The Word of God also warms the heart of spiritual persons.
Failure to expose the spiritual person to the Word of God is the number one hindrance to spiritual development. This exposure, like the exposure of the plant to the sunlight, needs to be done daily.
Secondly, plants need soil in order to develop. Today we know that there are plants which are no longer planted on soil. Some species of plants just hang on air. Other kinds grow on water or some kind of liquid. But even these grow above the ground and are nourished by substances which are naturally found in soil, like nitrogen.
In a similar manner human spirits need the spiritual soil, the events happening to their lives around them. They move in the midst of world events. Even the hermit or the most enclosed monk is surrounded by air, vegetation, buildings, electromagnetic waves which make available information about the events around him with the touch of an electronic gadget. These events spur the spiritual person to live on, to pursue spiritual growth. After all he develops spiritually in order to be of benefit to others. The human spirit who lives only for himself is more barren than the most barren of deserts.
The life of Thomas Merton helps us reflect on the idea of spiritual soil. He was a Trappist monk, a member of one of the strictest Order in the Church. And yet he did not live just by and for himself. He thought of the world around him and wrote of the many things he observed around him. Because of this he developed spiritually faster than his brother monks and left us lots of spiritual food.
The second hindrance to spiritual development is forgetfulness of the world around us, a forgetfulness that is like uprooting a plant from the soil.
Thirdly, a plant needs to adjust to an appropriate climate. There are some plants, like bananas, which cannot grow in cold places where snow abounds. Other plants cannot grow well in warm climate, like apples.
In a similar manner human spirits need the proper spiritual climate for their development. There were two periods in the Christian Church history when there was an abundance of saints: the first centuries when there were persecutions, and the Middle Ages when Christian learning flourished in Europe.
The third hindrance to spiritual development is an inappropriate spiritual climate. When most people turn to material comforts as a way of life, their spiritual development is suffocated by the things around them. But when more and more people react against materialism, more spiritual development is bound to happen.
Fourthly, plants can be stunted in their development by predators: human beings, animals, or fellow plants. Some human beings cut plants indiscriminately. Animals graze on plants. Other plants which grow faster and therefore consume more nutrients from the soil may grow very near to less fortunate plants, stunting their growth.
In a similar way, there are spiritual predators, spirits who envy our human spiritual development and thwart it. Paul the Apostle warns us that our real enemies are spirits who roam this world. They too hinder our spiritual development. They are the fourth hindrance to spiritual development.
Fifthly, plants tended to by a human gardener develop faster and better. Wild plants do develop. But plants in a garden cared for by a human being develop more.
In a similar way, human spirits who have good spiritual directors develop faster and better. We now have spiritual coaches who guide others in their spiritual path. Some of these coaches are good, others are not so good. The fifth hindrance to spiritual development is lack of a good spiritual director or coach.
These are the hindrances to spiritual development: 1) lack of daily exposure to the Word of God; 2) forgetfulness of the events around us; 3) inappropriate spiritual climate; 4) spiritual predators, spirits who envy our human spiritual development and thwart it; 5) lack of a good spiritual director or coach.
It is up to you now to discern which of these hindrances are more effectively hindering your spiritual development. Then you seek ways to get rid of or minimize these hindrances.