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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
January 30, 2013
Direction for Life
I was feeling a little stuck.
You’ve been a Christian your whole life, I told myself in a mini pep talk. You should know how to have a meaningful quiet time, a deep prayer life, a correct perception of God. But the truth was, the practices that had been helpful in the past no longer were.
The deeper truth was that I—a trying-to-be-a-perfect-adult, would-like-to-do-it-all-on-my-own-thanks, twentysomething pastor’s kid—needed some assistance.
So I sought out a Christian spiritual director, a woman named Wai-Chin who lived near my office. It seemed like a nice, respectable, relatively low-risk and low-commitment way to find the help I was after.
When the day of my first appointment came, however, I wasn’t quite sure how the whole baring-my-soul-to-someone-I-don’t-know-that-well was going to work out.
As it turned out, my six-plus years of meeting with Wai-Chin for spiritual direction and prayer were one of the most significant factors in changing my perspective on who God is and how he sees me.
What Is Christian Spiritual Direction?
At root, Christian spiritual direction is a practice in which one person helps another see God’s work in their life. In The Practice of Spiritual Direction, authors William Barry and William Connolly define it more specifically as “help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.” It provides an opportunity for personal, caring guidance in our walk with God in the context of a safe, sacred relationship.
The task of the Christian spiritual director is mostly to listen—to the other person and to God. As spiritual director Adele Ahlberg Calhoun says in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “A spiritual director listens with one ear to God and the other to the directee, always encouraging the directee to recognize where God can be found throughout the journey. . . . The Holy Spirit is really the Director of the time together as both parties pay attention to God’s movements and call.”
And he shows up in some very transformational ways.
My monthly sessions with Wai-Chin took place in a back sunroom in her home. She would serve me hot tea, light a candle to represent Christ’s presence with us, and then invite me to be silent—always a welcome respite in my day. After she closed our time of silence with a prayer, I would recount to her the past month of my life—the moments of joy, the frustrations and points of pain, places I saw God’s work, and instances that left me wrestling with him.
Mostly, she listened. Sometimes she asked a clarifying question, or prompted me to expound on a certain statement. Sometimes she read a passage of Scripture to me, or led me through a short lectio divina exercise. Sometimes she related a story from her own life, or had me meditate on the lyrics and melody of a particular song. And sometimes she sent me outside—one of my favorite places to encounter God—to listen for his voice. Almost always she’d offer a suggestion for a discipline I might practice in the month ahead, or a Scripture passage I might sit with, or a book I might read and reflect on.
And in those hour-long appointments (which often stretched closer to two hours), I met Jesus.
I realized that God speaks to me, in ways I hadn’t imagined he could speak.
I recognized and confronted idols.
I confessed and repented.
I saw my finances and family and job and ministry in a new light.
And, over and over again, I experienced the goodness and mercy and love of Jesus.
Even in months that had been particularly painful or discouraging, where I came to our appointments with many more questions and feelings of guilt or anger than stories of God’s goodness, I left knowing that I was known and loved by the triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit.
I also came to know myself—the “true” me, the person God created me to be, as well as the “false” me, the me who tries to find significance and worth apart from Jesus’ love—in much deeper ways.
Having space and time to name joy and pain from the month—the intentional act of remembering and then speaking out loud to someone else where I saw (or didn’t see) God—helped me make connections between events, or gave me deeper insight into what was going on inside myself. Those insights then empowered me to walk a little more closely to Jesus, and live a little more deeply out of my identity as his child.
Direction for Us All
You might be feeling stuck like I was. Or maybe you’re still experiencing the glow from the fire of Urbana. Maybe you’re feeling a need for alone time with God. Or maybe you’re longing for the kind of help a Christian spiritual director could bring. In any case, we hope that, not just in January but throughout 2013, you’ll pursue Jesus by committing to practices that open you to him. Moving toward him, deeper into him, closer to him, more like him—that’s the direction we want to move in together.
Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on InterVarsity’s communications team. She worked at InterVarsity Press for over nine years as a proofreader and Bible study editor (and, as it were, resident limerick-writer). She is continually inspired by the beauty of the sky and loves good conversation with family and friends over steaming-hot beverages.