"We often confuse forgiveness with a single willful act rather than seeing it as an ongoing process that begins in the heart."
On the heels of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, each of us are invited to consider the sensitive and critical work of forgiving. Here is an article I wrote for Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman that just posted. I hope it will provide you with the courage to forgive as you have been forgiven. PLEASE SHARE!
"We often confuse forgiveness with a single willful act rather than seeing it as an ongoing process that begins in the heart."
Why We Need Spiritual Direction—More Than Ever!
A good part of my work week is spent sitting in a chair, turned toward another, prayerfully listening to this person convey what he or she believes are the most significant movements in his or her relationship with God. It’s quiet work; reflective work. Almost always, at some point in this hour or so of offering spiritual direction, I will feel overwhelmed with gratefulness at the gift of participating in such a holy exchange.
David has compared the fit of this work with slipping on a glove. For him, discovering and offering spiritual direction is like getting all five fingers in a glove, unlike in past roles where only a few fingers fit and the others were left dangling. I feel similarly. I find this gentle work of listening and helping a directee attune to God so gratifying and enlivening. And I firmly believe that anyone seeking to deepen her or his spiritual life needs spiritual direction—more than ever!
Why? What is it about the particular demands of our lives that make spiritual direction such a vital and restorative ministry? Let me share a few reasons sifted from my own practice of receiving and offering spiritual direction.
Four Reasons Why We All Need a Spiritual Director
1.Spiritual direction helps us integrate our splintered lives.
Life today is incredibly complicated and trying to keep up is impossible. The speed of life and continual innovation of technology spewing a magnitude of information and options at us causes us to splinter. Our attention is diffused as though being pitched a hundred fast balls in a split second and trying to decide which one to catch and which ones to duck so that we don’t get smashed in the face. Entering spiritual direction, especially over a length of time, helps us SLOW DOWN and pay attention to the recurring themes, threads and patterns that help integrate the disparate parts of our lives. Most importantly, we begin to see God in the fractals.
2.Spiritual direction pulls us toward the center of our being as life draws us away.
We know what it is like to feel the pull of centrifugal force as we go about our days. The draw of work, relationships, technology, social media, going, doing, traveling and play tug at us to move out and expand more and more. Yet, little in life has the same force of power to draw us in toward the center of our being. Spiritual direction focuses our attention on the interior life; on our moods and the movement of God within our desires. We pay attention to emotions as important messengers of the truth that we possess and the potential lies that possess us. Spiritual direction offers the counter-balancing centripetal force, grounding us in our true identity as people completely known and completely loved by God.
3.Spiritual direction awakens us to God’s presence and activity in the midst of suffering.
For as many cures discovered and advances made in our day, an unprecedented number of people are suffering from the most obscure, evasive, un-diagnosable maladies. Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, as well as physical issues stemming from allergies to food and/or the environment are disheartening those who have them and the experts who are looking for causes and cures. These elusive and perplexing conditions often contribute to an unwelcomed spiritual fog and the perceived absence of God. While spiritual direction doesn’t promise a cure or assure the return of distinguishing God’s presence, it does provide loving and supportive companionship. Meeting with a spiritual director, someone who is trained to be a compassionate listener and keep confidence, is a balm to those who need a safe place to suffer honestly and not alone.
4.Spiritual direction acquaints us with the mysterious and often surprising means of God’s formation in our lives.
It’s true that many who begin looking for a spiritual director do so in the second half of life. And it’s also true that many enter into this relationship because the construct of faith they once espoused no longer works for them. Whether toppled by unexplainable adversity or fueled by questions their old paradigm no longer answers, mid-lifers look for someone with whom to process the confusing dynamics of life on a spiritual journey. What their quest for a spiritual director suggests is the fact that we are often too close to what’s happening in us and to us that we need someone with objectivity to help us sort it all through. Through meeting for spiritual direction, many are able to recover their faith as they discover God in the midst of the rubble of their deconstruction and begin to see the mysterious and surprising means by which God forms them into their true-selves-in Christ.
What About You?
If any of these situations describe you and your present spiritual life and longings, I’d recommend that you consider seeking out a spiritual director to help you attune to the movement of God in your life. Spiritual directors actually don’t tell you where to go; they help you discover the Spirit’s direction and leading within you. If you would like to find a spiritual director in your area, let me recommend contacting Spiritual Directors International or the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association or Sustainable Faith for a list of trained spiritual directors you can interview.
And if you find yourself curious about being trained to offer the ministry of spiritual direction, let me encourage you to find out more about the Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction, offered all around North America and Europe, as well as here at Sustainable Faith Indy. For those who’ve graduated from our program, the most common response we hear is that participants have come to listen differently to everyone in their lives!
P.S. We will be hosting an informational gathering for folks who are interested in the Sustainable Faith Indy School of Spiritual Direction training on Friday evening, May 13, 2016. Contact me through our web site for more details and to RSVP.
Have you ever felt called to something that seemed of God—a good and noble aspiration—yet struggled as you carried this desire in your heart, so full it could burst, with nowhere to channel it? Here's an article I wrote for Today's Christian Woman on how to live with an unfulfilled calling. Hope you are encouraged!
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I began to seriously contemplate my word of the year for 2016. I was conscious of the desire for it to choose me rather than me choose it. So, one morning, as David and I went about reclaiming our living space from the glorious chaos of Christmas day, he selected a Beatles play list as our background music. We went about tidying up and concurrently lost ourselves in these old tunes that had once shaped our young lives.
I was in the kitchen when Paul’s voice began to croon the all-familiar song, “Let It Be.” It had been some time since I’d listened to the words and was immediately drawn in by the lyrics. “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’ ‘Let it be, let it be. There will be an answer, let it be.’”
The phrase “let it be” seemed to reach out for me, taking hold of my attention and drawing me into its simple, trusting character. So, naturally, I began to contemplate them as my mantra for 2016. Simultaneously, I had emailed my spiritual director and asked if she would also pray with me for my word of the year. And when we met a few days ago, she shared what had come to her.
Nancy offered the word “balance” for me to consider. She proceeded to explain how she understood it. Drawing a picture of a teeter-totter with a fulcrum in the middle, she described the concept of balance (as a verb) from the tradition of St. Benedict. On one side of the teeter-totter is the idea of continual conversion; on the other side, the idea of stability. In the middle, at the fulcrum, she wrote the word “listen.” She suggested that I consider the verb “balance” and the role of listening and discernment as I navigate when to lean toward growth and conversion and when to remain stable and settled.
Nancy knows me. She recognizes that my natural inclination is toward growth, expansion and continual conversion. My less natural inclination is toward stability, preservation and contentment. Her concept of balance and my words “let it be” form a meaningful relationship. My task is to find the “middle way,” as it’s called in Benedictine spirituality; to listen and discern when it’s time to innovate and when it is time to “let it be.”
It makes me smile as I consider the serendipity of God’s ways coming together through pop culture and the ancient charism of spiritual companionship.
The Disappearance of Thanksgiving
While peeling potatoes, I decided to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. After about 30 minutes, I couldn’t stand it any longer and turned it off. My mind began to scan the last several days of preparation for this great American holiday; a holiday, in my opinion, that is disappearing from the American calendar. I thought about a recent trip to Target and the noticeable absence of Thanksgiving displays—ceramic turkeys, cornucopia and festive paper goods. My mind recalled the obvious decreased mention of Thanksgiving in commercials and other advertisements and as I interacted with clerks at stores. Did anyone wish me a Happy Thanksgiving this year?
In Thanksgiving’s place, I noticed the encroachment of commercial Christmas, which was why I turned the television off while watching the Macy’s “Thanksgiving” Day Parade. I couldn’t take one more cheesy Christmas jingle. Where were the pilgrims? Where were the grateful commentators who spoke of the many blessings we enjoy each day in abundance throughout our nation? Why has commercial Christmas eclipsed this beautiful and historic celebration of the many gifts given to us by God?
I’m taken back to a passage of Scripture that has been meaningful to me of late. It describes how Israel had been overwhelmed with gifts from God and “became like a Queen.” Her fortunes increased and her fame spread. Other nations looked to Israel with respect and admiration. And the result was that Israel forgot from Whom all her blessings flowed. She forsook her husband; the One who had gifted her with wealth and prosperity and gave herself to other lovers.
“But you thought your fame and beauty were your own. So you gave yourself as a prostitute to every man who came along. Your beauty was theirs for the asking. You used the lovely things I gave you to make shrines for idols, where you played the prostitute. Unbelievable! How could such a thing ever happen?” (Ezekiel 16: 16-17)
How could such a thing happen to us—America the beautiful? Apparently quite easily and with little protest. Thanksgiving and the gratefulness it should inspire have disappeared while run over by the commercialization of Christmas. I’m sad and mad about this. I know that even though I live within this candy-coated culture that has erased Thanksgiving from the calendar and replaced it with a vulgar facsimile of Christmas, I can personally protest. We, as a family, can make decisions to live counter-culturally. And we will.
So, here goes. I’m making a public declaration of my own intentions. If you are exercised in a similar way, maybe you can think about doing something similar.
Okay. Done with my rant.
A friend sent me a Face Book message with a link to a blog post by Allison Vesterfelt that she thought was interesting and made her think of me. I skimmed the article and then kept thinking about it. That’s when I knew there was something important for me to notice; that I needed to turn back and re-examine this burning bush. So I did. I re-read the blog post a second time—this time noticing what was speaking to me. It was a post primarily for women about what it means to have confidence.
Confidence. I guess I would consider myself to be a confident person in most situations. Certainly not all. In fact, I'm often surprised at the situations when my lack of confidence sneaks up on me.
How about you? Do you think of yourself as confident? On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being low and 10 being high, where would you plot your confidence level?
Now consider this definition of confidence from Ohio State University psychology professor, Richard Petty: “Confidence is the stuff that turns thought into action.” If this is the measure of confidence, how do you score?
That’s the line that got me. Am I confident enough to take action on what I think? To speak up when I have an idea or an objection? When I see an injustice I want to remedy, a problem I want to solve, or a stranger I want to help? That’s a penetrating way to measure confidence.
As I consider confidence through this lens, I do think about my mission three years ago to start Sustainable Faith Indy. At times the thought-turned-to-action felt like pushing an enormous rock up a hill. It was so hard and required perseverance and patience (of which I didn’t have an inordinate supply). At many points I felt like giving up and I questioned whether I had what it took to do what I wanted to do.
Yet, something inside me wouldn’t let me go. It was a yearning, an ache to labor for a dream that had captured my heart. Was that confidence? I wanted to start a retreat center in an urban neighborhood in Indianapolis and offer hospitality to harried souls who needed a place to come away, be still and re-pair. My heart was so full of desire and my prayers unrelenting. And somehow one step led to the next until thoughts-turned-to-action-turned-to-gold.
I certainly felt what I thought was a lack of confidence throughout the process. I would dance with the voice inside me that told me I should “play it safe.” “There was too much at risk.” After all, I grew up in an era where women were taught to live in dependence on a man, not lead their man. This vision was my vision, not David’s. Yet he recognized that for most of our marriage I had followed him and now it was his turn to follow me. And he did. Now after three years, we wake up most days, pinch ourselves, and offer a prayer of gratitude for this new adventure that’s become our life.
We meet a lot of people today who have the desire to make changes in their lives but lack the confidence to turn their thoughts into actions. Some seem overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. Others are paralyzed by the fear of failing. Still others just don’t know how to develop a workable plan to set things in motion.
If any of these describe you—if you lack confidence to know how to turn your ideas into actions—I have two recommendations.
1.First of all, buy and read Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-given Dream. It is unique book that will walk you through the stages and steps of birthing your dream.
2.Second, come to the Dream Incubator Workshop on Saturday, October 24th. David and I would love to host you at Sustainable Faith Indy and lead you and other participants through a valuable process of discerning the essence of your God-given dream. Take action. Register Now!
Don’t allow a lack of confidence to keep you from incubating your dream!”
“We’ve had two generations of college bred people now who have really been indoctrinated with the idea that every big problem has a big solution. And I just don’t believe it! The big problems we have now will be solved by hundreds of people accepting local responsibilities for small problems.” Wendell Berry
I watched several Wendell Berry videos last week that were posted by my friend Chris Smith and the Englewood Review of Books. They were posted in honor of Wendell’s 80th birthday. I’m intrigued by this man; his message as well as his demeanor. I was captivated by something that I wasn’t at first able to name. It came to me the next morning as I sat with my impressions and listened to my heart. Wendell isn’t afraid of being against.
His message came through loud and clear as though someone took a Sharpie marker and reinforced the letters over and over, giving them permanence and definition. I watched and listened as he shared his thoughts about the big problems of the world related to the environment, ecology and community. I sifted through his orations noticing that what made them so strong, so compelling, so intriguing wasn’t just what Wendell said he was for but what he clearly and un-apologetically said he was against.
Like in the above quote. I not only love what it says but also what it confronts. Wendell speaks out against big solutions to big problems. He goes on to assert that people who say they have a big solution to a big problem only have a simple solution. And simple solutions will only create bigger problems for our world. That rings true for me. In my book, Starting Something New, I suggest that we are living in the “day of small beginnings” and perhaps through people birthing God-given dreams, these micro-initiatives will weave a web of care that will span the globe. The big problems Wendell says “will be solved by hundreds of people accepting local responsibilities for small problems.” That’s my belief, as well.
As I sat with this reflection of Wendell’s strength of character and message because of his “against-ness” and I thought about myself it became clear to me that I’m uncomfortable with saying what I’m against. I’m too committed to being nice to be anti-something. I also suspect that it’s not as acceptable for women, as for men, to speak with conviction that’s reinforced by an against-stance. So, I think it’s safe to say that I have a bias against being against.
Then I thought about Jesus. In so many of the gospel stories he certainly spoke about what he was against. He blasted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He rebuked those who lacked compassion for the marginalized. He cleared out the temple of greedy money mongers. But Jesus had a way of confronting what he was against without attacking and disrespecting people, even though he certainly implicated them by what he said.
So, what does against-ness do for us? Is it, perhaps, what fuels action? Is it what gives stronger definition to our lives by naming not only what we are for but what we oppose?
As I wrote in my journal about my own dis-ease with expressing what I’m against, I wondered how it has affected me in addressing problems in my own town and on my own block. Am I so committed to playing it safe and being nice that I shrink back from being a creative contrarian? What has that cost me? And what has it cost my context?
As you can tell, I’m writing all of this while still in process. It feels like a holy invitation to think and write about what I’m firmly against; and to meditate on how Jesus was able to speak out against what bothered him without maiming the people he spoke to. I think that’s what Wendell Berry modeled so well and why I was so taken by him.
I suspect that for me and you to get engaged in our jobs of addressing the small, local problems in our neighborhood by doing our small part, we must confront and move toward the things that aggravate us; the things that provoke angst and raise our ire. I welcome your thoughts and reflections on what it’s like for you to be “against” and how you navigate expressing your “against-ness” in a way that ultimately builds up and doesn’t destroy. Please comment!
By the way: if you have a small solution to a small problem in your neighborhood and want help developing it, I’ve scheduled another Starting Something—Dream Incubator Workshop on Saturday, October 24th. David and I would love to help!
By all appearances, she belonged in the life stage called "the elderly." My first impression was of a person who seemed withdrawn, insecure, lacking the spark of spirit or gumption. She came up to me after I finished speaking and told me she didn’t have a dream. Didn’t think of herself as someone capable of dreaming. She went on to share that her husband of more than 50 years had died five years ago. She’d been lost from herself and from life ever since.
Explaining to me that she had a hard time thinking straight; that her thoughts were fuzzy and she couldn’t really form clear plans, I wondered if she might be suffering from depression. It would certainly be a normal response to such a devastating loss. I felt tender toward her and she noticed that and responded. Her eyes even brightened a bit.
The next morning, during a sharing time before the retreat ended, this quiet, withdrawn and shy figure spoke up. She said to me in front of everyone and with notable conviction, “Don’t stop asking people about their dreams!” She went on to say that she came to the retreat without one. Couldn’t even think of a suggestion of a dream as she pondered her life and her tomorrows. But she looked right at me and spoke with an energy I hadn’t seen before. She said, “It’s been good for me to think about my dreams; to wonder if maybe God could have a dream for me and my future.”
Of all the conversations I had and comments I received from this retreat, this woman’s meant the most. “Don’t stop asking people about their dreams.” I won’t. I won’t.
This experience made me think about the power of perennial questions—questions that come up naturally, again and again, throughout our lives. These questions survive through all the seasons of life, even if they die back and go underground for a time. When they come up again, they help us take inventory of life--do an “audit” of where we are and what we want. Perennial questions, like the hostas, Salvia or Sweet William in my garden, aren’t planted anew each year or artificially forced to break ground. They just do, year after year. They have within them a regenerating life force that causes them to come to us just when we need them, when conditions are right for them to break ground and re-emerge during a new spring.
Questions, like these, are the artistic medium of spiritual directors. I’m learning to ask compelling and (hopefully) well-put and well-placed questions to allow a directee to explore the ground around the question; to till the soil, drill down, find the roots and weed out what doesn’t belong. Questions, after all, “raise us up toward God” according to Rabbi Moshe, Elie Wiesel’s mentor. They help press us toward that for which we quest; the voice of God calling us to “arise and come up higher because he has need of us.”
David and I have been asking some perennial questions lately.
· What do we want our 60’s to look like?
· What kind of persons do we want to be?
· What do you want to live for?
Merely asking these questions reminds me that I have some choices to make in life. It’s within me, within my own self-agency, to seek their answers. I’m not a victim of my life circumstances or imprisoned by my personality structures. I can grow and change. There are things I can do and things I can pursue to become the kind of person I desire to be and live the life I want to live. I’m not suggesting it’s always easy or doesn’t necessitate God’s support and strength. It does. It certainly does.
Socrates said that “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m inclined to agree with him. And these perennial questions are what help me put on my spectacles and search for answers. What about you? What are you dreaming about? What kind of person do you want to be and what kind of life do you want to live? Don’t be afraid to ask these questions and seek their answers. BE AFRAID NOT TO.
"An artist friend of ours stumbled onto a creative process when she simply started pouring paint onto a canvas. It was during a very painful time in her life; one that she had no words to describe or way to get in touch with. So one day, she bought some clearance paint at a store, brought it home and just started pouring colors together. As the cool and bright tones combined and swirled, undirected but somehow purposeful, she stood over top and studied what emerged. Deborah began to see images, shapes, and words come to the surface and surrendered to them, adding her own flourishes."
"The result was not only an extraordinary and beautiful work of art, but emotional healing from this therapeutic process. She described the impact of what happened when she gave herself to this new way: 'An alternative universe began to emerge. I became a reverent but wounded observer, detached but willing to see a new design—still providential but unintended.'" (From Chapter 2 of Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-Given Dream)
If you find yourself a reverent but wounded observer, detached but willing to see a new design emerge from your own shattered dreams, register now for the Starting Something New "Dream Incubator" Workshop. This workshop will give you the gifts of space, time, content and vital conversations that will help you make sense of what you really want for your life!
Double Click to hear Beth talk about her new book, Starting Something New, and SSN Retreats.
Beth Booram is the co-founder and director of Sustainable Faith Indy, as well as an author, spiritual director, facilitator of the SF Indy School of Spiritual Direction and retreat speaker.
Categories: spiritual direction, spiritual formation, contemplative spiritual practices, sustainable faith