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As we begin Lent, Monica Portogallo discusses how adjusting obstacles and addressing motivation can facilitate spiritual growth.

I have a theory about laziness I often share with my nutrition patients: it doesn’t exist. What people usually call laziness, I contend, can be explained by obstacles and/or lack of motivation. 

Some patients resist this idea, but as we discuss it further, they usually embrace it. For instance, David thought he didn’t exercise because he was lazy, but as we explored it further, the obstacles of his knee pain and self-consciousness about exercising in front of others were really what kept him from exercising. When he tried chair aerobics at home, he found it much easier to exercise. Or there’s Lina, a busy woman with diabetes, who said she was “too lazy” to prepare vegetables with all her meals, and besides, she felt fine whether or not she ate vegetables. When she started checking her blood sugars more regularly, though, she could see that her sugars were lower after eating more vegetables and less starch. After that, she felt more motivated to find ways to add vegetables to her meals. 

This change of mindset can be quite helpful. Laziness seems like an inherent character flaw, but obstacles can be removed and motivation can be increased. People who once thought they were doomed to failure can start to find workable solutions.

What’s more, what works for nutrition often also works in the spiritual life as well. [Aside: this might be considered a corollary to one of my other theories about Jesus being a Good Nutritionist.

I find this especially true in terms of increasing “good” spiritual habits and decreasing “bad” ones. Remove the obstacles that get in the way of the things you want to do and place obstacles in the way of those things you don’t. It may seem too simple, but it really can help. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Forget to pray at certain times? Put reminders somewhere you know you will see them or set a reminder alarm to go off on your phone.
  • No time to read the Bible as a busy mom? Incorporate it into things you have to do anyway. Read a digital Bible on your phone while doing things like waiting at the dentist’s office, or even listen to an audio version while doing chores or driving.
  • Want to decrease your time on social media? Add obstacles to make it harder to log on. Delete the app from your phone, or log out after every visit and don’t save your password. Make it less convenient to just tap a button and scroll away 45 minutes. 

female hurdler during track meet


Sometimes, removing or adding obstacles may reveal that we have a problem with our motivation. I may find that even with a digital Bible app, I was doing crossword puzzles during times when it would have been literally just as easy to read the Bible. With the obstacles gone, I can see more clearly if motivation is the problem. Then I can pray for help with it.


We can’t grow in holiness on our own, no matter how motivated we are. #catholicmom

It’s also possible that your chosen practice is simply not the right method of spiritual growth for you. Not every spiritual practice suits everyone. This is where prayers like “Lord, guide me to the path to grow closer to you” or “God help me to see what you would have me do” come in.

After all, we can’t grow in holiness on our own, no matter how motivated we are.

We need Grace.


Copyright 2021 Monica Portogallo
Image: Pixabay (2007)