Spiritual growth, like shaving, is an art whose finer points we have lost sight of in modern society. Look at how we are willing to drag several sharp blades across our faces all at once just to finish our morning routine a little more quickly. Just the same, we become easily discouraged in view of the slow pace of spiritual growth. And this predilection for instant gratification seeps into every aspect of our life. Perhaps, by taking our cues from more traditional forms of shaving, we can gain helpful insights into progress in the spiritual life.
One of the most important principles for traditional shaving is that the goal of shaving is beard reduction, not beard elimination. If you try to take off as much hair as you can all at once, what your shave lacks in smoothness will be compensated for in skin irritation. You will get a much better shave with an easier pace, using one blade to make one stroke at a time. Likewise, if we try to tackle all the problems in our spiritual lives all at once, we will get a lot more frustration than results. Better to work on one thing at a time and make our way gradually to the subtler, trickier aspects of our lives. In the end, proceeding in this way doesn’t really take any longer; it can even be shorter. The alternative is to go nowhere fast.
Another gem of shaving wisdom is that your milage may vary. Because everybody’s hair and skin are different, there is no one way to shave that works for everyone. What works for someone with thicker hair will not work for someone with thinner hair, what works for someone with sensitive skin will not work for someone with less sensitive skin, etc. There are a ton of different kinds of blades out there precisely for this reason. Nevertheless, there are certain constants that hold true regardless of individual needs, e.g., shaving with a dull blade is never a good idea.
Likewise, there is no one-size-fits-all regimen for the spiritual life. There are universal principles, e.g., acting contrary to human nature is never a good way to grow spiritually. And yet every soul is very different. This is why there are a ton of different saints out there. For some people consolations abound, for others there are long periods of dryness. Some people have a more active disposition, others a more contemplative disposition. Our Lord works in each of us in a way different from how he works in anyone else. As a result, we ought always to resist the temptation to demand “fair” treatment: “When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’” (John 21:21-22).
The closest parallel between shaving and the spiritual life might be that both are matters that require regular maintenance. Hair keeps growing no matter how often we shave it off. Likewise, there is no end to our pilgrimage this side of the grave. Every day, there sprout new complexities in our lives which, if left unchecked, can grow into a shaggy mess. Unlike shaving, though, spiritual growth is not something we can keep up with on our own. If we can think of the Lord as our shepherd, perhaps we can think of him as our shearer as well, cutting away the thick layers of sin and imperfection that weigh us down. “The Lord is my Shearer, I shall not be unkempt.”
Image: A Barber Shaving a Friar