6. Types of Spiritual Direction
Types of Spiritual Direction
Part One: One-On-One Spiritual Direction
What is spiritual direction?
Spiritual direction occurs when one individual (normally identified as a spiritual director) accompanies another person (the spiritual directee) in their journey toward being transformed into the image of Christ. Although it is an ancient practice of the church, it has been largely ignored (until recent years) by many in “evangelical” churches. Spiritual direction, together with direction-in-common (part two of this paper), represent two resources upon which individuals and churches may use to ensure that their lights shine forth brightly in this broken and wounded world (Phil. 2:15). Directors seek to “help people find and follow God’s will” (Dynamics 335), assist directees to “appraise the supernatural movements of grace in their soul” (Dynamics 335) and ultimately pose the following question to their directees, “Will you live for yourself or will you take up the cross and follow Jesus” (Webster 130)?
Essential to this ministry is the Holy Spirit who brings spiritual discernment so that “we might know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Muto and van Kaam explain that spiritual direction should “. . . help others to hear the call of the Spirit” (Dynamics 333). Another way to describe the role of the director is as one who accompanies another Christian as “he or she seeks to increase attunement to the presence and direction of the Spirit of God (Sacred 90).
Spiritual Direction seems to be most needed during crisis events in a person’s life such as when a person faces a cross-roads situation in which guidance from God is needed. A spiritual director can assist a directee during these formative times to overcome barriers which arise from within and without which make discerning God’s guidance difficult. Directees may need aid to be receptive to the work of the Spirit who desires to bring His illumination in the dark places in their lives. “We need to bring before God every painful discovery we make about ourselves” (Dynamics 331). Paul describes this process as taking captive “every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Limits of Spiritual Direction
It is important to be aware of the limiting factors in SD. Since SD is generally associated with more advanced or deeper stages of the spiritual journey, it is best if the one seeking spiritual direction understands the basic Christian disciplines. With a basic understanding of the Christian life, the directee will be better prepared when the director tries, according to St. John of the Cross, to “explain things ultimately unexplainable” (Letters 2). A director is not responsible to tell his directee “what to do”. Instead, the director’s role is to help the person discern where God is at work in their life.
Unlike counseling, SD is not problem-based but Spirit-based. While it is possible to see SD as an alternative to Christian counseling (Sacred 88), Directors are more concerned with what the Spirit is saying rather than seeking to understand the person and their feelings. This means that a Director needs to be aware of basic psychological problems and be ready to refer the directee to mental health professional should these be indicated. Psychological issues may limit a person’s ability to discern how God is at work within them since they may not have the proper self-awareness. However, Muto and van Kaam note the following, “To be avoided is either an over-estimation of what therapeutic counseling can itself accomplish or an under-estimation of what spiritual direction can do to resolve problems not related to helping someone grow closer to God” (Dynamics 330). Since SD can be used as a complement to therapeutic care, the following is suggested “We should only refer directees to specialists when their difficulty is such that it cannot be dealt with either directly or indirectly by one-on-one spiritual direction” (Dynamics 330).
Dangers of Spiritual Direction
It is worth noting and being aware of the potential intimacy that can be created when intimate disclosures occur by directees talking honestly about his or her relationship with God. If this caring relationship is not carefully guarded, there is the potential of a co-dependent relationship developing in which seduction and/or abuse occurs. This is one reason that special care must be made to maintain the focus of one-on-one spiritual direction upon a person’s experience with God rather than upon their feelings and life situation. The role of the director is to “share in the spiritual journey of their directees while at the same time remaining respectful observers” (Dynamics 344).
Problems can occur when directees become dependent upon the director or when the focus is “. . . more on the personality analysis than on the leading of the Spirit (Dynamics 329). When there is an overvaluing of the relationship between Director and directee, personal attractions can easily develop. The Director must work to maintain the appropriate balance, “reserved concern that manifests the right balance of distance and nearness. Reserve must not be mistaken for coldness or indifference. It signifies an awe of the presence of the Sacred in and around us” (Dynamics 367). Perhaps this is also why they suggest that it is wise for private SD to be limited (“lest unappraised emotions result in a diminishment of gentle yet firm guidance” (Dynamics 369). It seems unlikely that there be any reason for private SD to occur beyond a few meetings until there is resolution of the crisis event. Since in meeting with a directee, the Director may be reminded of similar issues within themselves, anyone offering private spiritual direction should also meet with their own Director on a regular basis.
A final danger is that of thinking that the personal spiritual journey of the Director should be imitated by the directee. In order to discourage this potentially unhealthy mentality, it is critical that the Director show respect for the directees own personal journey. As Muto says, sometimes it is better to be quiet and “don’t disturb what God is doing” (Letters 94).
One-on-one SD brings the Director into direct contact with the “spiritual hunger (that is) raging through the population depleted of meaning” (Dynamics 406). St. John of the Cross describes this longing as “a thirst that is unquenchable, a hunger that is never satisfied” (Letters 67). Muto and van Kaam conclude, “If God entrusts this ministry to us, we must pray for the wisdom it takes to handle care dynamics in normal encounters as well as in these one-on-one sessions (Dynamics 406).
Qualifications for Spiritual Directors
According to Muto, spiritual directors should be wise, learned and experienced:
They are wise in the sense that they are prudent, saying the right thing at the right time. They can discern what is important and eternal and what is temporary and does not matter. A good spiritual director has learned the art of reading the soul They are considered to be learned not because of their academic achievements but because learned from the school of life and they have absorbed the truth of the Scriptures. They have experienced what it means to seek direction for one’s soul and themselves have been directed. (Muto class lecture)
The qualifications needed to be a good Director are qualities that cannot be gained by taking a course on SD or by reading books on the subject. These qualities are formed out of an experience in life over time and under submission to the Spirit of God. It is the “depth of intimacy with God that is more important than knowledge of the subject” (Dynamics 364)
It is important that a directee know that they can trust the Director with their soul and that confidences will be kept. Muto advises that a Director not be a person with authority over the directee (class lecture). The directee should feel the acceptance of the Director, even if all of his or her views are not shared. Directors should be good listeners, not only to the words of the directee but also to the promptings of the Spirit as they prayerfully consider a response to the directee. There should be a genuine respect for how God is at work in life of the directee. A gentleness is required when matters of the spirit are shared and yet there must also be a willingness to be firm in offering up the needed direction (see 1 Cor. 4:21). Directors must be able to speak the truth but in love (Eph 4:32). Paul describes his gentleness among the Thessalonians “like a mother caring for her children” (1 Thes. 2:6). Even though there may be an element of spiritual parenting in SD, directees should be reassured that it is God alone as their heavenly Father who has all the resources that they need.
To be a spiritual director, a person should have some affirmation from their church leaders that they are gifted in this way. It seems to be clear that not all have the necessary gifting or temperament for the ministry of SD. Some do not have the temperament, time or patience (Dynamics 362). The demanding nature of SD necessitates that an individual possess an inner strength and an outer courage. A qualified spiritual director should be carefully chosen since the care of the wrong person can be damaging. St. John describes the wrong person who may be considered for 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. (Letters 90)
If a qualified spiritual director cannot be found for one-on-one direction, then it would seem better to pursue spiritual self-direction or direction in common.
Elements of One-On-One Spiritual Direction
As one-on-one spiritual direction is begun, there are a number of suggestions that have been made to maximize the benefit. It is important to stay focused on the task at hand and so to avoid being distracted; care must be taken at the beginning to focus on matters of the soul. One way to bring this focus is to begin the direction time with a time of silence and prayer. Since SD is both an art and a science, there is no rigid formula for effective one-on-one SD. It is helpful if the atmosphere of the meeting place is relaxed and yet one that reminds the directee of the presence of the Transcendent One. The physical arrangement of the room and the space between the Director and the directee is important since “too much nearness can be as disturbing as too much distance” (Dynamics 391).
By means of open ended formative questions, the goal of the Director is to help the directee begin to discern where God is at work in their life situation and what may be keeping them from hearing and obeying God. Restatement or reflective listening may help the Director to clarify exactly what is being meant by the directee. Just as it is important to open the SD time well, the Director should also be aware or sense when it is time to close out the meeting. Although the Director could summarize what has been learned during the private SD session, more value may come when the directee summarizes what they have learned and how God has been at work.
Muto and van Kaam emphasize the importance of silence during spiritual direction. “Silence can enhance good communication much more than constant interruption, completion of sentences, or putting words into a directees’s mouth” (Dynamics 394). Silence may bring about insights, may allow the resistance of a person to be overcome and provide a refuge for a directee that is recovering from pain. The goal of the Director in one-on-one SD is to step out of the way so the directee can see where the Spirit is leading (Dynamics 438).
My Personal Experience
I understand the damage that can happen when we choose the wrong person to be our Director. About 10 years ago, I began to sense my need of a Director and asked a friend that I respected in matters of the spiritual life if he would meet me as a spiritual director. When I had to explain to him what a spiritual director should do, I should have been warned. Our meetings together became times in which I would listen to him talk about his ministry in the Spirit and the power of prayer. He used terminology with which I was unfamiliar. After each meeting, I would come away more and more discouraged, knowing that I was not able to reproduce his experiences and yet feeling pressured that his way was the correct path. After a few meetings, I stopped coming to see my friend, without any explanation. While he may have been a spiritual man, he did not really understand how to walk with someone else as a spiritual companion. He did not listen to me very well nor did he ask me formative questions about my experiences with God. I was treated more like a student, who receives instruction, reduced to asking questions about his lectures. Instead, I needed to be treated like a fellow heir of the grace of life and encouraged to explore my own unique story and journey with God by being asked questions or offered suggestions for ways to deepen my own walk. As I compared myself with my friend’s “deeper experiences” and his corresponding lack of humility, I realized that I needed to find another guide in my spiritual journey. Fortunately, the Lord held me close to Himself until I was able to find others who would care for my fragile soul in a gentle yet firm way. Until SD is understood as an accompaniment on the journey, information dumping, perfectionism and the monolithic fallacy (Dynamics 147-56) will continue to be obstacles towards healthy one-on-one SD.
Most of the times when I have received positive one-on-one SD, it has been in the context of a silent retreat. Usually, I have met with a Director for about one hour. Since I knew what I wanted in SD, there was very little wasted time talking about peripheral issues; we went right to a discussion about where God was at work in my life. If it was the first time with my Director, then by necessity, I had to share some background material to give a context to my journey. Often, I have benefited from recalling stories about how God’s faithfulness had been at work in my life. I usually came with various questions to which I was seeking answers. Rather than giving me answers, the Director gently suggested that I bring my questions to God. On a number of occasions, the Director helped me to clarify an issue that I was struggling with—what exactly did I want to hear from God about? Finally, the Director suggested certain spiritual practices and/or Scriptural readings that might provide me with guidance in the area in which I was focused during the remainder of my time on the silent retreat.
How Spiritual Direction Can Help Others
I probably would have described most of my experiences in assisting others in spiritual formation as more of spiritual companionship. Part of this comes from a reluctance of people in my church community to recognize and understand the concept of SD. We would be more familiar with “Bible Study”, “accountability groups”, and one-on-one discipleship than SD. For some, there is negative baggage attached to the idea of SD (to be rejected because it comes out of the Catholic tradition) but for most people, they remain ignorant about the meaning of SD. Trust needs to be developed with people in order for them to feel safe in talking about their spiritual journey. Again, in our individualistic culture, this is rarely done. There is almost the implication that my spiritual journey is my own business and no should dare intrude into this hallowed ground.
How have I been able to help people? By asking them where they see God at work in their life or in their crisis (if there is one). This serves to point out that God has already been at work in their life. From time to time, I have suggested various Scriptures for people to read as well as other resources. As I have focused on deep listening and prayer during a discussion with a directee, the Spirit seemed to lead me to appropriate questions that caused the directee to reflect on “possible” wrong assumptions that were influencing their thinking and ability to see where God was at work. “Whose church is this anyway? What do you want God to do in this situation? How has God provided in the past?” I look forward to further opportunities to grow in my ability as a shepherd of the soul by offering one-on-one SD.
Part Two: Direction-In-Common
What is Direction-in-Common?
Direction-in-Common (DIC) is a means of spiritual formation which brings together a group of fellow believers who have the goal to be present before God as a group using a spiritual text and who trust that God will reveal himself through common divine disclosures from the spiritual text. Muto and van Kaam say that DIC “is the most basic kind of formation we receive or, for the most part, may need to receive” (Epiphany 18). Rather than group leaders, there are group facilitators, who choose the text and direct the discussion time. After our experience in class with two co-facilitators, I think this is the preferred method. When I have led DIC groups alone, I believe that I have been seen much more as a leader of the group than as a fellow participant who is facilitating or directing the discussion. DIC may happen in different types of groups such as a spiritual reading group, during a sermon in a worship service or when one meets with spiritual companions to focus on one another’s spiritual life. The focus upon texts of Scripture and/or the Masters as “centerpieces of reflection, brings people rather quickly . . . to sharing on a much deeper level of faith formation” (Epiphany 19).
In my faith tradition, we commonly meet in small groups for Bible Study and sharing. Usually, there is a group leader or teacher (rather than just a facilitator) and rarely is silence an intentional part of the meeting. The focus of these meetings is usually an informational reading or analysis of the Biblical text. Spiritual texts from the Masters would not be considered. If the formational reading approach of the text that occurs in DIC is to be used in these groups, some instruction will be needed for the group about formational reading, listening to God, the purpose of silence, the role of the facilitators as well as the importance of confidentiality. The choice of a shorter text lends itself more easily to formational reading.
Components Of Direction-In-Common
There are six components of DIC that Muto and van Kaam suggest when DIC groups meet (Epiphany). For new DIC groups, it would be profitable to explain briefly these components. Since many groups often start with a greeting time and refreshments, some orientation might be given in another room or location where the DIC is not taking place. Then, when the group moves into the room, everyone knows that the DIC will begin. This brings about a readiness of heart and creates anticipation. Since the goal is to establish a commonality of the faith experience, the use of music that all do not know can be distracting. Technology and creativity should not be overemphasized; simplicity seems to be preferred in the room arrangement. Ideally, the meeting room is a place that is conducive to listening to God and one another. The use of simple symbols (candle or a cross), the seating arrangement (in a semi-circle as opposed to classroom seating) and the lighting (subdued lighting is preferred) may contribute to a non-distracting atmosphere.
During this time, the facilitators assist the members to move from their fragmented, noisy worlds into a stillness that will foster the ability to listen to God. The use of silence along with a invitation to the group to prepare themselves to receive what God will give In my faith tradition, an explanation is necessary about what is happening since this initial time of silence may be disorienting to some or bring a frustration to others who do not know what to do with the silence. Muto and van Kaam suggest that a recitation of the Lord’s prayer or another familiar prayer be used as a transition to the conference portion of DIC (Epiphany 24).
During the conference time, the text is introduced by the facilitator and may be read corporately if preferred. When I have used Lectio Divina, the reading of the text by the facilitator allows the participants to engage formationally with the text as well as tending to prevent a private analysis of the text when read informationally. Following the reading of the text, the facilitators should share with the other group members how the text relates to them personally. This models the intent of the group as well as demonstrating that the facilitators are a co-group member.
There should be a smooth transition from the sharing of the facilitators to the sharing of the other DIC group members. Members are invited to respond to the text by questions such as, “How does the text touch your life right now?” The goal is to draw out any divine disclosures that may be given which can become common directives. During one of our class practicum, Dr. Muto suggested that when tears are present, it is a sign that God is at work. She did warn that to move into a time of prayer for the crying person moves the group away from DIC and into a counseling focus (Class notes).
The role of the facilitators is to note any possible common directives that arise out of the group by acknowledging and affirming these statements and encouraging others to share any way in which they would identify with these statements. During this phase in particular, the facilitator should not fear periods of silence since these may be times when the Spirit is at work in the lives of the participants. Another role of the facilitator is to make sure that no one feels pressured to contribute and that no one is allowed to monopolize or sidetrack the discussion away from the text.
When it appears that no more directives are being disclosed, one of the facilitators can summarize the common directives that have been given. This can serve to facilitate an incarnation of these directives by members of the group following the DIC session. It should be acknowledged that God has been present in the group and that the common directives have been given by the Holy Spirit.
Closure acts as a bookend together with the communion time in which it is appropriate to have a time of silence as well and have one of the facilitators close the meeting in prayer thanking the Spirit for the directives given. Members should be reminded of God’s presence with them as they move out of the DIC meeting. A reminder about the next meeting can also be given during this time.
During these last words, participants are exhorted to commit to following at least one of the given directives and to pray for other group members. By encouraging members to share what they have learned in the session, there will be a reinforcement of the directives gained.
Obstacles To Direction-In-Common
Since the goal of all formation is the enabling of each individual to move faithfully along the unique journey and calling of God, “blind compliance” to the common directives or to the facilitator is a danger of which facilitators should be aware. When people are needy and feel inferior, they may find an ease in following the crowd or an individual rather than pursuing their own unique life call. When there is respect shown in the story of each individual’s journey and when comparisons are avoided, each person can be encouraged by how God is at work uniquely in their life.
An obstacle on the other end of the spectrum occurs when there is spiritual resistance and individuals “begin to withdraw mentally, if not physically from mutual acceptance” (Dynamics 286). This sometimes occurs because of personality conflicts within the group. At other times, resistance arises out of “an excessive need to be independent” (Dynamics 286). When a facilitator notices this dynamic in the group, he or she should encourage the group to focus on respecting one another’s views, how limited our insights remain when alone and by a return to a focus on the spiritual text.
A final obstacle to overcome that Muto and Van Kaam point out is that of envy for the spiritual insights or spirituality that another may possess which we do not (Dynamics 288). This leads to a critical attitude and an inability to learn from the sharing within the community. This arises out of unfair comparisons that bring about divisions. By considering others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4), by recognizing that we need all parts of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-26) and by being grateful for the way God has blessed and gifted us (Rom. 12:3), individuals may be freed from this destructive sin.
Conditions For Effective Direction-In-Common
DIC is built upon the foundation of spiritual reading which is defined as “the reading of Scripture and the Masters in a formative or meditatively reflective way rather than in a merely informational way” (Epiphany 11). When we read Scripture formationally, we read slowly, stopping to pray frequently or as Muto and Van Kaam say, “Dwell leisurely on the text” (Epiphany 69). They also suggest that people keep a spiritual reading notebook which can “clarify and deepen” the experience of spiritual reading. (Epiphany 68) Spiritual reading brings surprising results:
When we read formationally, there are many new insights we find. The opposite happens when we approach the text with an anxious urgency to master it, to achieve inspiration, or only to gather information. In formative reading, we surrender to the pace of grace. . . As time goes by, it becomes easier to for us to shift from informative to formative reading. (Epiphany 70-71)
This should not be meant to disparage the importance of informational reading and a study of the
text of Scripture. It is only to say that during DIC, formational reading is to be preferred.
As I seek to provide spiritual direction to others, I need to respect and honor the way God is already at work in the other person and should “never get in the way of the process already in motion in the heart of a person-in-formation” (Epiphany 14). Rather than seeking to control the process, I was reminded that “Good facilitators let common formation happen” (Epiphany 22). It is not necessary that I “click” with all the participants; only that I respect and value each participant’s contribution to how the Spirit is at work in the group. My role as facilitator is to try to discern the spiritual needs of the group.
It is necessary to debunk the notion that spiritual formation-in-common will lead to some special or ecstatic religious experience. Formation should include a commitment to “expose the self-deception that covers up our total dependence on God” (Epiphany 62). In DIC, as in all formation experiences, it is critical to remember, “Transformation is a grace only the Spirit can give” (Epiphany 63).
Part Three: Spiritual Self-Direction
What is spiritual self-direction?
Spiritual self-direction is the life-long attempt to discern the movements of the Spirit in our lives. The first step in this process is being open and willing to be led by divine initiatives that God provides for us. A divine initiative is an invitation that comes to us through the Holy Spirit” (Class lecture). The second step involves the discovery of these divine initiatives or disclosures that God brings into our lives. Finally, we are committed to make the changes and corrections that are needed in our life if we are to remain faithful to what God has revealed to us. The end result of all divine guidance will be a transformation of us into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:17, 1 John 3:2).
The Heart Condition Necessary For Spiritual Self-Direction
The essential heart condition for spiritual self-direction could be described by Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ”. There must be desire for the whole of one’s life be conformed to the image of Christ and not just the spiritual life. Demarest believes that the path to spiritual growth involves the mind, will, affections, character, relationships and actions; and when any of these are neglected, spiritual growth will be stunted (Epiphany 51). Before we can expect to receive divine guidance in specific areas, we must first develop a lifestyle in which our normal living of life is shaped by God’s will.
If we are to be led by God, there must be a commitment to know the truth about ourselves. Gruen describes how the desert father came “to realize that patience and steadfastness was needed in order to come to terms with the truth about oneself” (28). We may begin this with an examination of our conscience. Paul said that he sought to serve God with a clear conscience (Acts 24:16, 2 Tim 1:3, Heb 13:18). “An informed and formed conscience is a necessary condition to spiritual self-direction” (Dynamics 223).
Since the conscience is subject to corruption (Tit. 1:15) and can be seared (2 Tim. 4:2), the conscience needs the examination of the Word of God if we are to be able to see how we have fallen short (Rom. 3:23) and if we are to know what God would have change in us. “Self examination includes putting our plans to the test of reality. It involves not just us but other people. We must be ready to change the moment we discover that we were mistaken” (Dynamics 231). Spiritual self-direction cannot occur without an ongoing self-examination.
However, until there is a dissatisfaction with our journey, there will be little motivation for self-examination and change. According to Muto, it is often at crisis times that people are ready to face the reality of themselves and seek true change. She says, “For most of us the Holy Spirit awakens us through a series of challenging situations to the fact that the road we have been following is no longer the one he wants us to take” (Dynamics 259). God does not leave us alone and by His Spirit brings conviction of the need to change (Jn. 16:31). “The call to holiness beckons us to return to the basics, that is, to those conditions for fostering single-hearted, awe-filled, grateful abandonment to God’s will, revealed in the midst of our life in the everyday world” (Pathways 31). This requires the relinquishing of inordinate attachments such as pride, greed and materialism, self-centeredness and power. It is possible that we may take pride in spiritual exercises and our spiritual development becomes another attachment to overcome. In other words, says St. John, “no effort of our own can affect this movement of mutual seeing: us of God and God of us” (Letters 83).
When Jesus met with the woman at the well in John 4, he initiated the discussion by requesting a drink, even though he knew that the woman needed a drink from him even more. She had to discover her own neediness 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. So many people in the world 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 there. 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” (Van Kaam 73).
A Personal Experience
Over the past year, God has led me to resign from my position as President of a Seminary, where I had served for the last twelve years. Following my resignation as President on June 1, 2006, I began to pursue a D.Min. in spiritual formation. I believe this was the culmination of a number of divine direction disclosures that I had received.
I began to sense God was leading me out of my role as President in 2005 as I began to experience a growing awareness of fatigue, depression and loss of joy in the ministry. There was a general feeling of being dissatisfied. I began to get medical advice and discovered that I had not been listening to my body that had been telling me something was wrong. It was during this desert time that I began to see the need to release my hold on the ministry to which I was assigned. As I began to examine myself, I discovered how driven a person I had become and how my pursuit of excellence had become a barrier to a healthy relationship with God and with others. I had to face my fear of what would happen should I resign from my role as President.
I had become isolated in my role and finally recognized that I could not recover and hear the voice of God apart from a community around me. We gathered a group of people who loved us and were willing to listen and help us to process our life journey. “Mature Christians walk with us, point to possible new roads that could be taken, and leave the final decision to us” (Dynamics 220). Indeed this is what happened as a group of friends began to gather around and love us.
Silence and solitude have played significant roles in my healing journey from burnout through retreats and days spent in silence. Rather than seeing silence as an escape, I began to see it as an opportunity for God to be at work. It became a place in which I was able to develop and renew my intimacy with God. Indeed God has used silence to rebuild my fragmented soul. Muto says that everyone needs silence. “To neglect this need is to risk living a tense, fragmented, spiritless life. . . .If we do not nourish our souls, they atrophy as do bodies without food” (Pathways 58). Another benefit of spending time in silence and solitude is that I have been able to discover the true state of my level of physical and emotional fatigue. I need to be aware of reaching a level of fatigue that is dangerous and detrimental to my emotional and spiritual life (Barton 57-61). In the past, I have allowed my personal activity and busyness to block my feeling of the deepest levels of fatigue.
Formational reading has played a significant role in my discovery of God’s leading. I have spent many hours reading, meditating and journaling about what God has been teaching me. Slowly but surely, I have been able to release my inordinate attachments to success, prestige and the favorable opinions of others. I began to move into detachment from my own ambitions. “Detachment releases us to listen to life. We are less anxious about status, power and
possession . . .” (Dynamics 53).
There are a number of false selves that I identified. My failure to admit some of these previous unwelcome parts of myself has actually allowed them to “become stronger, not weaker. Operating out of sight and beyond awareness they have an increasing influence on behavior” (Gift 54).
As I have responded to God’s leading, I have seen many changes in my life. There is a new found freedom and joy in living and recently I was able to celebrate all the good things God had done in my life. As I have begun to let go of control, I have become more receptive to God and more responsive to people. There has been significant healing in a broken relationship I had within our family. Because we have been obedient to stay in Houston for the time being, we have been available to help my daughter during a crisis time, participate in a number of DIC opportunities, become healthier, build a stronger support base and pursue my studies in spiritual formation.
At this point in our journey, it has become very clear what we were told to give up and there are glimpses about the road ahead. Because so many things are uncertain, it is tempting at times to give in to fear and stop continuing to pursue this leading of God towards a ministry in spiritual formation. Muto writes about the importance of following the leading of God:
Not to commit ourselves to fulfilling our call because we do not know its outcome would be a tragic mistake. Without faithfully following the lead of the Lord in our lives, we risk living a scattered, inconsistent, and ultimately disappointing experience. We become prisoners of the passing whims of our age. We find ourselves absorbed in functions that have lost their spark. The music of eternity fades so far into the background that it takes almost a tragedy for us to hear its refrain. (Dynamics 188)
I am grateful to still be on this journey toward intimacy with God. There is an adventure in this pursuit and the reward is worth all the uncertainty of the journey.
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