I mentioned briefly last week that I’ve begun meeting with a spiritual director, the concept of which goes back to the fourth century. The idea of the practice is to provide a believer with a more intentional form of spiritual mentoring. A spiritual director is trained theologically and pastorally to do the work of listening, advising, and leading a believer in his or her own spiritual life. Having one is like having your own personal pastor, who knows all your gunk and helps you discover fresh ways to connect with God in spite of it. It’s only been in the last few years as I’ve become more and more connected with the liturgy that I’ve been drawn to the idea.
For me, having a spiritual director means giving myself an option for honesty. It’s a way to hold myself accountable to my tendency to pretend I have a vibrant life of faith for the sake of the people around me. I can be honest about my doubt, my prayerfulness (or prayerlessness), and ask for help.
I found Debby’s name through a pastor at our church. I contacted her, set up an appointment, and emailed with her a few times before ever realizing that she was on the same Young Life prayer team of 6 people that I had just joined and was having over for dinner the next week. It turns out that Debby is my kind of woman. She was on Young Life staff in the late 80s, served as a pastor for years, and loves talking about Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality. That combination is miraculous.
So, last Tuesday, after dropping August off for his new class, I drove to Debby’s office to meet with her, knowing what I would say. In these past two years of conversations interrupted every two minutes by my little boy, I’ve learned to get to the point quickly. I shared my bullet points: New to the area, left my job in ministry and am realizing how much I found my worth in it, struggling to find time for Christ in the midst of life at home with a child, full of doubt while at the same time in love with Jesus.
There seems to always be a calmness over the women I meet who really challenge me in their faith. Maybe I’m just drawn to peaceful people, but it seems to me that the wisest women I know are non-harried, even in the way they sit and speak. (It reminds me of why I want to practice speaking gently, truthfully and simply…there’s something about how one’s speech and physical presence seem to match each other.) I sensed that from Debby as we sat across from each other and she asked if she could lead me in a time of prayer.
One of the things that has most drawn me towards the liturgy and more ancient forms of prayer is my frustration with the contemporary, evangelical prayer’s ability to be done “well.” Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I’m so well trained in how to pray out loud that I know how to impress with my words and depth and seeming connection with God. I’m not saying that I’m never sincere when I pray out loud; most of the time I am. But, usually, my years of learned “prayer as a performance” trickery seem to be crouching alongside those good intentions. There’s always the yuck side of me that wants you to think I’m good at being spiritual.
So, it was a relief when Debby asked me to pray silently as she led. She instructed me to ask God for a word or phrase that I could focus on, something the Lord wanted me to hear for that day and take with me. As I sat there, trying to focus my mind and allow myself to listen, a thought arrived. It said: Whatever phrase comes to my mind could just be me convincing myself that God is speaking. And then: What if God doesn’t give me a word at all? Will I just make one up?
Over the years, I’ve grown to expect those kinds of thoughts and quickly pray that I might really believe, especially in the faith sucking crevices of me. I tried again. My soul said: God, my brain wants me to think that I’m convincing myself that the things I come up with are from you. Please give me a word that isn’t my own. Let me know that your presence is real.
And then I sensed one word: Believe. Believe. It was floating around my brain, repeating itself over and over to me.
Debby was still leading me. She directed that I look at what that word means in every part of my life: at home with August, in how I see myself, in my marriage, in my calling, in my struggle with life after ministry, in my friendships.
I watched from inside myself, as each part of my life floated up to my awareness. What does it mean to believe God is good in the midst of the moments home with August when I most happy, most fulfilled? What does it mean to believe that God sees my worth as bigger than a career title in those afternoons when I look at my hands folding towels and think: Is this really what I do with my life? What does it mean to believe that I am utterly loved when I am so frustrated that three days have passed and I still have not worked on the book I long to write? What does it mean to believe? In my marriage? In my attempts at meaningful friendships? Can I believe in God’s nearness? Can I believe in God’s goodness in every ordinary moment of my life?
As I shared those things with Debby, she said: “Believe. What an invitation.”
Yes, an invitation. And it has been for the past nine days. No matter what I read or hear or experience, the opportunity awaits for me to either write it off with a surface level meaning, or live deeply into it. I can believe that my Lord is waiting for me at breakfast while I mix honey into August’s yogurt. I can believe. It’s just a matter of recognizing the invitation.