“Pure joy is found in a life of growth, not in a life of ease,” writes Douglas D. Webster in Finding Spiritual Direction. Tough words to live by in a world that values comfort above else.
Webster uses a study of the book of James to provide a basis for the essential practices of anyone wanting to provide spiritual direction to others who seek to grow in maturity. He sees spiritual directors as “physicians of the soul” (14), as “parents” (16) and as “farmers who love the land and understand their work.” 171
Webster also talks about prayer, “Prayer sustains the resistance of the soul against an undertow of evil . . . Prayer does not tidy up life and arrange it in labeled folders. It focuses and intensifies life. Prayer orients our thinking, directs our actions and prepares us for God’s work.” 40
So, here is the question: When given an option, do you choose a life of growth or a life of ease? If you choose a life of growth, you should also understand that growth usually requires that we move through resistance as we encounter suffering and hardship. At the end of growth lies joy as Webster says above.
From Letters on Spiritual Direction by Susan Muto, a book of “imaginative” letters that St. John wrote to his directee Dona Ana Penalosa.
John writes about the danger of placing ourselves under the spiritual care of the wrong person and writes sobering comments about who should NOT be a spiritual director:
One is perhaps highly educated but inexperienced, or one full of clever answers but indiscreet, not a listener but a controller, not a humble person but one proud of being so accomplished, not an experienced guide in spiritual matters but a counselor mainly trained in psychological techniques and personality analysis. 90
I want to continue my progress in dealing with the “veil of temporal detachments” (which Ana says, “hinder longing for transcendence 23) and natural affections that block the soul from union with God. (21, 65) Yet, I realize how easily I fall back into old habits and especially the big three: appetites for power, pleasure and possessions. A sad and sobering reminder to me was the statement made by John about many people, “Called for much more, they settle for much less.” 72
I must remember as John says, “Your delight in him is the delight he feels in you.” 51
We need to be available to people as they feel an empty life apart from God, “a thirst that is unquenchable, a hunger that is never satisfied.” 67
God is always the initiator, “It is humbling to realize that we could neither raise our eyes to the divine light nor desire it if God were not turning our eyes in the right direction.” 72
Storytelling is an old form of communication. But it is not just for oral cultures. Even our written cultures connect with storytelling.
In Mark Miller’s Experiential Storytelling: (Re)Discovering Narrative to Communicate God’s Message, Miller is attempting to motivate and model this old communication form so that the church can reach today’s postmodern generation. He writes because he believes there is much at stake for the church. Listen to Miller,
“I believe in the church. Christ died for it, and the Spirit moves it. Further, it is the primary instrument God has chosen to use on earth. If that is not a reason to be more creative in our communication, then I am at a complete loss. . .I also hope that you can be a part of creating a culture of creativity in your church that will eliminate the restraints on innovation.” 75
When we go beyond the Scriptures to hear God, we face significant dangers.
“Supernatural knowledge that reaches the intellect by the exterior bodily senses” must not be relied upon says St. John of the Cross. Why says John? Because we can be easily deceived by counterfeits from the devil.
“Individuals who esteem these apprehensions are in serious error and extreme danger of being deceived.” (AMC 2:11:3) He says false visions and communications from the devil “cause in the spirit agitation, or dryness, or vanity, or presumption.”
On the other hand, communications from God, “penetrate the soul, move the will to love, and leave their effect within. As Muto says, God’s self-communications …penetrate the soul like fragrant oil softens dry, cracked skin.” (58)
In our longing for these sensory communications we are vulnerable. We must detach ourselves from desires for these special communication. As Muto says, “If good, their effects will show up anyway; if bad, they will be eliminated from the start.”(60)
A good reminder to not seek out special experiences with God or from God. I do need to spend time listening rather than always talking but when I start hearing voices, it is time to be on the alert!
“I cannot give if I do not receive. In giving, I am also able to receive.”
In John 4, Jesus initiates a discussion with a Samaritan woman with “Give me a drink” even though he knows that the woman needs a drink from him more than he needs the drink he is requesting.
The Samaritan woman had to discover her own neediness and drink from the living waters before she could give a drink to others.
I have too often tried to help others with a drink when I myself have not allowed Jesus to fill me with His living water.
Many people in the world today are thirsty and hungry and yet they are not aware of their thirst. Activities, busyness and self-medication (alcohol, drugs, sports, etc) serve to mask the thirst that exists. People refuse to admit their restless desire for God and “repress the awareness of it” because they are “unable to bear the terrible craving for God that eats away at their hearts.” (Adrian van Kaam)
I need to “be attentive to that kind of thirst of Jesus in my fellow men that I can relieve best because of the person I am.” I need not pretend or try to be someone that I am not. Do I fail to see people in need and do I lack compassion because I have been unable or unwilling to receive from Jesus. Unless I receive from Him, I have nothing to give.
Only in recent years have I paid attention to notice my own thirst. In doing so, I am much more aware of the thirst of others.
Attachments and affections may prevent me from receiving His love. It is only when I give these attachments to Jesus that I am able to give my whole self to Him and receive His love. Van Kaam says, “To live a spiritual life is to excel in the art of receiving without fear or withholding.”
I am comforted that the Lord did not give up on the Samaritan woman and He has not given up on me. This is grace. In the same way, His grace enables me to persevere with those who initially reject, are hardened or even fearful of that which I am offering to give to them—new life in Jesus.
Van Kaam is helpful here. “The lie of self reliance never covers up the hollowness that gnaws at the core of our existence.” It requires the work of the grace of God to enable a person to see in their own blindness.
For many of us, we tend to confuse love with emotions. But if the emotions are not there, is it still possible to love? For Therese of Liseux, the answer is yes!
Despite receiving no consolations from her relationship with God in the last years of her life, Therese continued to pursue and love God during her “dark night.” Ahern states, loving God for Therese was not to be confused with an “emotional experience”. 51
Her love for God and His love for her was the “central reality of Therese’s life”, says Ahern He later says, “The whole purpose of her earthly life was to love God and make Him loved.”
She asked her friend Maurice to pray the following for her: “I ask you to set my sister on fire with Your Spirit of Love, and to grant her the grace of making You deeply loved.” Therese understood that because God had drawn her to His love, it was natural that she herself would draw others to love Him.
I love the prayer she sent Maurice “I ask of you Jesus, a heart that loves you, a heart that cannot be conquered, always ready for battle after each tempest, a heart that is free, never seduced, a heart that is straight and never walks on crooked paths.”
What do you do when you have a compassion deficit?
Consider the empathy and compassion of Jesus and ask God to help us feel the same compassion He feels when we see others in need. Susan Muto says that reception of mercy generates compassion for others; compassion “will flow from the sacred heart of Jesus.”