Not long ago, I ran across a blog post that provoked me. The writer’s assertions struck a raw nerve that brought up a few ghosts from my past. I felt compelled to respond.

The first draft of my response felt angry and haughty. I needed to breathe deeply, approach it from a more dialogic place in my heart, and tone down the language. So I did that, and the final result was OK.

Still, I was disappointed in myself. I’ve been on this journey with God for almost 40 years, on the monastic path for seven. Shouldn’t I have stopped getting defensive by now?

Alas, that’s not the way the spiritual life works. At least not usually.

Usually, the spiritual life is more of a one-step-at-a-time affair. Along the way, we cultivate habits of the heart. They take a lifetime to grow. Meanwhile, the old habits keep popping up. Over time, fewer of them pop up, and less often. We grow more into the habits of the heart that speak of God. But the old ways are always there.

The “way of dialogue”—which is itself a kind of spiritual path—is the same. We don’t walk it until we reach a state of perfection, and then dialogue from some lofty perch of perfect enlightenment. Rather, we dialogue all along the way, and to each dialogue we bring our vastly imperfect selves.

That simple truth calls us to be gentle with ourselves, in the same way that dialogue calls us to be gentle with others. Clearly, accepting my own lack of progress is not my strong suit. But when I can do it, I am in a better position to welcome others and hear their perspectives in authentic dialogue.

Is it a challenge for you to be gentle with your own progress (or lack thereof)? How does it affect your connections with others?