Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A gift in this year: Spiritual Direction.

 I told her to look "spiritual director-ish".

This is Lisa. She is my spiritual director. She has red hair and a nose piercing and wears long dangly earrings and laughs a lot and prays all the time. So clearly she is epically wonderful to rock star proportions.

What, you may ask, is a 'spiritual director'?

I'm sure it varies from person to person, but I just googled around and liked these two quotes:

"The spiritual director is one who, by virtue of personal holiness and spiritual maturity, helps the directee to pay attention to the presence and work of God in her or his life." 


"Spiritual direction is a time-honored term for a conversation, ordinarily between two persons, in which one person consults another, more spiritually experienced person about the ways in which God may be touching her or his life, directly or indirectly. In our postmodern age, many people dislike the term "spiritual direction" because it sounds like one person giving directions, or orders, to another. They prefer "spiritual companionship," "tending the holy," or some other nomenclature. What we call it doesn't make any real difference. The reality remains conversations about life in the light of faith."

(Interesting context is that apparently a typical demographic seeking spiritual directors these days are middle-aged women wondering what to do when their kids have left home. ...And she got me post-HNGR. Sorry, friend.)

It's different from mentorship in that we didn't "do life" together. We hug and we chat when we see each other at church and I know a decent amount about her life. But when we met it was focused on my spiritual life, not a mutual relationship- similar to a counselor in that way. And she rarely gave straight up advice (although I generally have to beat that out of my mentors anyway. Unlesss it comes to what state they think I should live in... hmm who might I be speaking to??...).

 Generally to start, she'd just ask me what I'd been praying or thinking about this month.
I'd pull out my journal for reference  and vent about whatever'd been on my heart, while she nodded and looked empathetic (or laughed, depending on the source of my venting).

 Then I would pause for breath and look at her...
and we'd have a conversation that typically went like this:

Me: Sooo... what do you think?
Lisa: What do I think?
Me: Right. I mean... so, that's what's up! So... spiritually direct me! Ready set go!
Lisa: (laughs)

So annoying.

And then. She'd shrug, and smile... and ask me what I sensed God telling me.

And I don't know what was so magic about her asking me that. Because, it's not like I couldn't ask myself the same question. But for some reason every time she did ask me, I'd stop and actually... you know... think about it.

Honestly, sometimes, I told her that I had absolutely no idea, and that was fine.
But a good amount of the time, when I sat and was quiet and listened... Usually, I would start noticing things in my heart. Whispers I'd heard. Just... themes, of things. I don't know how to explain it?

Deep down- not always, but sometimes- I do know His voice.
The funny thing is, the things He says are usually way smaller and less exciting and directive than what I want Him to be saying. So I half-notice them... and push on in my anxiety, or impatience for a Big Revelation, or dissatisfaction with His words.

Spiritual direction didn't let me do that.

It gave me a space and accountability, to notice the whispers.

 I'm so grateful for that.

I'm grateful for who Lisa is. She exudes wisdom, compassion, and humor- not just haha humor, but humor as defined by Anne of Green Gables... "just another word for a sense of the fitness of things".

I'm grateful for the fact that she has the kind of wisdom and prayerful spirit that only comes from living through suffering. When I was looking for a spiritual director, a few months after I returned from Bolivia, I knew I needed someone who would not try to give easy answers to my girls' stories. I needed to rebuild my world and my theology in a way that had room for a good and sovereign God, and for what had happened to them without silver-lining it. Lisa can do that. She lives with open hands, to joy and to pain. She is hopeful and believes in redemption; but she acknowledges that this world is fallen and not our home. She has asked and lived incredibly hard questions and built her faith through years of hard work. Knowing and working with her coming from that perspective, was such an incredible gift to me. (Side note- on the one hand it is awesome that so many women I admire and pray to be like tend to have this quality... and the other hand, um, well that's terrifying... :-P)

I'm grateful for the space spiritual direction was- a chance to explore the hard and scary places with God, without having to worry about putting extra burdens on my close friends (who did such a fantastic job of loving me that HNGR-and-cancer year).

 I'm grateful, as I am with Rez in general, for the example I saw of someone who believes in a good God while engaging in lament. Oh how that taught me and gave me hope.

 I'm grateful for what I learned from her about prayer. She prays. All the time. And the way she prays is weird, and contemplative, and wordless, and in connection with Jesus, and clearly where she draws her strength from. And it makes sense to me in some deep-down way and I pray often that God will develop that kind of a heart in me.

 I'm grateful that usually if I cried, she would too. "What, why are YOU crying?". "I don't know. I'm just praying. You can keep talking." (That sounds super emo. Usually we would both be laughing in that exchange).

I'm grateful for her prayers for me- part of spiritual direction is committing to the pray for the directee. She prayed for me like crazy. It was nuts.

I'm grateful that I felt completely comfortable in that setting. She was SUCH a good fit for me in that role and that was so crucial in a really vulnerable spiritual season for me. I don't say this lightly- I could really see God's hand in us being matched up.

I'm grateful for the ways that she affirmed me to connect with God as He made me to be. A lot of times she would point out patterns in how I was drawn to pray and where she saw me sounding like I felt the most peaceful and connected to God. That was super helpful for me in giving myself permission to "pray as I can" and try more to serve Him with the gifts He's given me.

I'm grateful for her insights. I know she tried to balance keeping her own life out of it and pointing me towards the Spirit, but whenever she would share from her own relationship with God and how she had processed similar places I learned so much.

I'm grateful for where I feel like I am with God now- which these conversations had a big part in.

A few examples which show why I loved spiritual direction so much (I went through my journal from the last few months and found some quotes):

...Once after I SUPER vented-
Lisa: Oookay. Well... why don't we pause to pray...
Me: Am I overwhelming you?
Lisa: Umm... nooo... but... I feel like you could use a spiritual deep breath for a minute.

...Once while interacting with Lisa and her husband, I was kind of hyper-
"See, this is what your wife had to put up with all the time. This is what spiritual direction sessions with me looked like... Well, that and crying and cursing."
John laughed. Lisa just chuckled, and said, under her breath but not quietly,
"Oh-ho, and not necessarily in that order either...".

..."What is the Lord calling you to be faithful in today? Just today."

..."I don't expect life to be anything other than a mixture of fallen and redeemed."

..."Lord, show me Your perspective."

 ..."Lord, we pray that in this season You would increase Emily's capacity for joy." I had forgotten she'd prayed that until I found it written down several months later. I believe it has been answered and it's a prayer I'm continuing to pray, and so grateful for.

...Lisa: Okay, Emily, I have a question- do you feel connected with the word 'centered'?
Me: Mm... what do you mean by connected?
Lisa: Like... does that, hit anything deep for you?
Me: I mean... I like being centered...
Lisa: What about... 'rest'?
Me: (blank stare)
Lisa: Just, what word, if you hear it, makes you feel that you are good with God. That you and He are where you want. How about 'peace'...
Me: Open communication.
She laughed so hard she started tearing up.
Lisa: Of course. Oooffff course.

...Once after hearing me freak one more time about the whole good-God-horrible-things paradox, she (incredibly tentatively and compassionately) asked if I knew anything about physics.
She then explained string theory to me... the idea that two ideas can seem to contradict each other yet are mutually true. Because there are is a gap law no scientist has discovered yet.
She acted like she felt so silly using that as an example, but for some reason it was one of the first ways I'd heard that put that I felt like I could sort of hold it.


Recently, in the car on the way to meet with her, I was thinking about what I would talk about. I had been turning a certain situation in my head over and over for days and was super stressed about it. And I was feeling like I was definitely dishonoring God in this. I was not being trusting. I was stressed and distracted and it was bad, and so I was going to talk with her about how to turn my focus onto other things.
"Mmm. So... what do you sense the Holy Spirit telling you?"
Um. I mean. The trust thing, right? And the selfish thing?
She waited. And I thought about it. I thought about on my lunch break that day, when I had gone to the armchair by the big picture window in the West Chicago library and stared out at the trees before God. What had I sensed, really, if I thought about it?
"I guess... well, this doesn't seem to really have much to do with the situation."
"That's okay."
"Well...  I guess when I was praying today... the only sense I really had from God,
was that He was glad I was telling Him that I was sad."
She grinned. "That sounds good."
Um? "...What sounds good?"
"What you just said. That God's calling you to be sad with Him."
"...It does?"
"It doesn't do any good to not be who you are in front of Him."
...And that was what she said. I had fully expected for her to give me some verses to look up on trusting God in the face of anxiety, or something. And we talked about trust, but it was never in a condemning or shaming voice. It was always to guide me to the Voice I already knew, was already hearing, needing to listen to. She wasn't trying to guide me to a particular conclusion; she just wanted to tune me in to Him.

So grateful for that.

 Thanking God for giving me spiritual direction this year.



Anonymous said...

OK, for the record, it's not middle-aged women at Rez that are looking for Spiritual Direction. We don't have enough middle-aged women for that. :-)

Mary said...

Not me! :) so when are you moving to Maryland again....D.C would also be acceptable....VA is a stretch...

Human Needs Global Resources Covenant, 2009

As fellow travelers on this journey, we commit to this covenant before God. Lord, in Your mercy, hear these our prayers:

When confronted with scarcity, need, and inadequacy, may we be nourished by the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Abundance overflows from Your table, sustaining all who come in faith. Father, help us.

When monotony blurs our vision and dulls our senses, may we encounter others as Christ did, through intentional presence in daily life, submitting as clay to be formed into vessels filled with the Spirit. Christ, guide us.

When wounded by the fractured condition of Your people, may we be united by Your Lordship in faith, hope, and love; seeing, as through the facets of a diamond, the beautiful spectrum of Your light reflected onto Your holy Church joined in praise. Spirit, empower us.

When all Creation groans, afflicted by injustice and driven to despair, may the promise of redemption root us in the hope of Your Kingdom: "Behold, I am making all things new!"

Holy Trinity, send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve You with gladness and singleness of heart.