I spent this morning with 7 friends creating space to reflect on 2016 and look ahead to 2017. We tapped into gratitude, grief, regret, hope, and longing.
It was beautiful because our reflections were voiced and heard and held with great tenderness and care by others. We experienced the vulnerability of being known and the weight of actually saying things we felt called to do.
I’m so grateful for people who help me hold open space for the deeper reflections that help me see God’s activity in my life and press me to grow.
Here are some questions that some of us used as a tool for our time.
REFLECTING ON 2016
Looking ahead to 2017
During one of the most spiritually dark times of my life, I felt like I didn’t know what to make of God. I couldn’t sense his presence, and while I knew intellectually that he was there, the inability to connect emotionally felt cruel. And I was horrified by the stark reality of having only my own resources with which to cope. I wish I had the wisdom of Ignatius during that time.
I’ve been doing the Ignatian exercises with a group in Baltimore this year. Ignatius knew something about the spiritual ups and downs of life and writes about them as times of consolation and desolation. Spiritual consolation is an experience of being on fire with God’s love and feeling alive and connected with others. Spiritual desolation is an experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil that may lead to restlessness, anxiety, and feeling cut off from others. (p. 117, The Ignatian Adventure)
Ignatian offers “rules” for how to live during times of consolation and desolation that I think are very astute and helpful.
During consolation, we are to store up experiences to help us through times of desolation.
During desolation, these are his suggestions:
The wisdom of this teaching is that Ignatian tells us that both consolation and desolation are to be expected as a normal part of a lifetime of faith. If you are like I was, we see desolation as an anomaly or a sign that something is wrong. We lack tolerance for these experiences and often make rash decisions or drop our prayer life out of a sense of hurt. With Ignatian’s wisdom, we might walk through desolation with more steadiness and patience. We might be able to understand desolation through the lens of normalcy rather than anomaly.
For more information on the exercises, click here.
Need some silence after the holidays? We may not realize how much we do. Max Picard, in his book The World of Silence, says, “The human spirit requires silence just as much as the body needs food and oxygen.” If you’re anything like me, silence has been harder to come by than food in the past month! Silence is hard because it requires, subtraction; subtraction of people, activities, background noise, and productivity. As good Americans, we tend to be adders. We add things more readily than we subtract. And the New Year just begs to us to add things as we resolve this or that and make commitments to gyms, yoga studios, meal programs, and subscriptions. Where is the room for silence and subtraction?
So….silence. Parker Palmer says that “we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul….and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives” (p. 35). It is easy to do! We can be very successful, busy, and popular while being very disconnected from our own souls. That’s where silence forces the issue. Palmer describes the soul as shy, like a wild animal that may require a certain amount of stillness and quiet to even show up. I like this description. It helps me understand phases of my life when silence is so difficult for me. It is because my soul shows up and confronts me with all my discomfort with myself. Those times are critical for my development, however, because if I keep things noisy, I’m not listening to my own soul; my own voice and the voice of God inviting me to more integration and depth.
I’m trying to think through what subtraction may be required for me to have more silence in my life. It’s hard. I started a list in my journal to help me brainstorm. “I want less of _____________ and more of _____________.” Since we tend to be such “adders” considering subtraction has never been my strong suit. I haven’t worked it all out yet, but I’m on my way. In the meantime, I’m letting quiet times stay quiet, I’m leaving my headphones at home for more of my walks/runs, I’m practicing wordless prayer, and pausing to be mindful in the midst of my day.
How about you? Is silence something that your soul needs in order to show up and speak to you? What subtraction will entice your soul?
I’m trying to wait well this Advent season. In my small group, we have looked at this theme of waiting and it has challenged me. Reflecting on those who waited and longed for the Messiah so long ago has helped me get in contact with my own temptations to rush and be ahead of myself. Waiting in line can feel like torture beyond torture as I catalogue the many things I have ahead of me, mostly not at all urgent, just a part of the master plan I’ve concocted for my highly efficient day!
One sermon I heard by John Ortberg gave the challenge to approach our times of waiting during Advent with a contemplative bent. In lines while shopping, on hold while on the phone, waiting at traffic lights or in waiting rooms, Ortberg suggested refraining from looking at the phone or allowing irritability to consume our thoughts. Rather, during those moments, try leaning into the longing or contemplating what we are really waiting for. He even suggested driving in the slow lane!
This week, it has meant a wide range of thoughts; from looking forward to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations to poignant thoughts about the parents of the Palestinian children who were so brutally killed. But waiting well has taken me out of the impatient rush and into a different space. A space that breeds compassion and roundedness. I like that better than constantly pressing to simply get stuff done.
What does waiting well mean for you?
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As people of faith, we expect to see these qualities grow in ourselves as we mature. As I consider the patience, kindness, gentleness part of this fruit, I have only ever heard this talked or taught about in terms of how we treat other people. Never about how we deal with or talk to ourselves. I haven’t heard a pastor say, “A hallmark of spiritual maturity is having patience, kindness, and gentleness towards oneself.” Why not, I wonder? It seems that so many of us aspiring to develop these fruits allow ourselves to look to our attitudes and actions towards others and while harshing, berating, and belittling ourselves, as if we can be mature followers of Jesus and despise ourselves at the same time. Can we? Why don’t we think of ourselves as inconsistent if we are kind to others and horrid to ourselves? Are we not all God’s creatures, worthy of patience and kindness?
We let ourselves get away with it without the same kinds of question and scrutiny we would apply to our treatment of others. Are we thinking that harshing ourselves does something more helpful that harshing others? I’ve been thinking about what makes it so hard to turn patience, kindness, and gentleness towards ourselves. I believe it has everything to do with shame. Shame gets into us from all over the place; our families, media, social interactions, and the church. We’ve been made to feel we are deficient, ugly, and unworthy by all manner of life experiences, both intentionally and unintentionally harmful.
I’m going on record saying that our maturity in our faith is evidenced by increasing patience, kindness, and gentleness with oneself. The inner critic grows quieter and a tender voice grows louder. The treatment of others and treatment of self grows more similar. No more excuses. We should consider how we talk to ourselves to be vitally important information about the growing fruit of God’s work in our lives.
Being patient, gentle, and kind towards ourselves does not necessarily imply feeling just fine and dandy about mistakes that we’ve made or difficult, stuck patterns in our lives. But it could very well mean a very different tone to your inner dialogue. It may sounds like, “here I am again, stuck and needing help” rather than “you idiot! What’s your problem?” or “I am so entrenched in this behavior, how can I do this differently?” rather than “how could you do this again, you are just awful!”
How can we get started?
Bottom line, love, patience, kindness and gentleness are not just gifts we offer others out of a life of growing maturity. They are meant for us to offer ourselves as live out of a life of honoring God’s image in ourselves.
What about this challenges you?