Spiritual direction: Staying the course

As my husband and I begin a new year under trying circumstances, one of my priorities is to continue the spiritual direction journey I began around five years ago.

Spiritual direction – for those unfamiliar with the concept – is a partnership in which one Christian helps another grow in a personal relationship with God. Monthly one-on-one meetings have involved examining my relationship with God, my prayer life, my personal values and various lifestyle choices. For me, spiritual direction has been a supplement to – rather than a substitute for – church. 

Several factors led to my decision to seek such direction: the transition in focus and priorities prompted by my retirement; the “time is limited” epiphany that comes with being 60-something, losing loved ones and developing chronic health problems myself; and the internal tug-of-war over my personal values brought on by the increasing divisiveness and polarization in our society.

I’ve begun to think of this decision as a “God thing” that came at exactly the right time. Pete and I have recently lost what feels like an unbearably long list of loved ones. We’ve taken turns being hospitalized ourselves. COVID-19 has upended our lives relentlessly. Now we’re dealing with chemotherapy (Pete) and cardiac rehab following a heart attack (me).

As we struggle to establish new habits/routines and ward off depression and exhaustion, spiritual direction has turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered. In fact, when Pete saw how much I was benefitting from the process, he decided to begin spiritual direction himself.

So what’s next, as I continue my spiritual direction journey? Here’s what I’ve worked on so far and where I want to focus my attention in the coming year.

Doubt. I began this journey by learning how to address those pesky doubts about God’s existence that creep in from time to time – mostly by going outside and immersing myself in the natural environment, which constantly reassures me of the presence of a Creator. But I still wrestle with questions about God’s nature, especially in the midst of our current crises. I’ve often found myself asking, “Is God really concerned about each of us personally, let alone each sparrow? Or is that idea just wishful thinking?” One might say I’ve graduated from “Does God exist?” to “Does God care?”

Prayer. I’ve explored a variety of prayer techniques – meditation, prayers of petition and intercession, prayers of thanksgiving, writing or journaling as a form of prayer, nature prayer. I must confess that lately most of my prayers have been of the “foxhole” variety. (“Dear God, please get us out of this jam.” Or simply, “Dear God, help!!!”)

Self-care. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and my recent medical adventures have sent an unmistakable message that I need to take better care of mine. I really, really need to establish better eating habits and a sustainable exercise program. I want to help nurse Pete back to health as well. We’re assembling a good medical team that can help both of us get the ongoing physical care we need.

Emotional support. Getting the right support system in place has been crucial for surviving recent events. Family and friends have been supportive, and members of our church congregation have reached out as well. We’re on several prayer lists. I’ve added a professional therapist to our medical team to help Pete and I cope with the emotional fallout from battling a pair of life-threatening conditions simultaneously.

Staying spiritually connected. I participate in our church’s community service and faith formation committees and am helping keep our micro pantry filled. Pete and I continue to co-facilitate Sundays@6, our congregation’s adult faith formation class. We are part of an associates program for the Dominican Sisters in our community, where we are involved in their anti-racism initiative.

My writing. I want to start making some real progress on my book, and keep working on my blog. From age 10 onward, I’ve dreamed of writing a book. More than 50 years later, that goal is … still on my bucket list. I’ve known since grade school that writing would play some role in my life’s purpose, whatever that turned out to be. I do consider my writing ability to be a gift from God that should not be wasted. 

Gardening. We had extensive landscaping work done last spring. I planted lots of native perennials, as well as an abundance of annuals, and the yard is looking beautiful! We’ve turned our flower beds into a welcome center for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. I like to think of this project as “God’s work, our hands,” and have found gardening to be enormously therapeutic.

Finances. This past year, Pete and I updated our wills and power-of-attorney documents. We also established a donor-advised fund with our local community foundation in honor of his parents and mine. This coming year, we want to consult with our financial advisor to help us find socially responsible investment opportunities. 

Clutter. My first spiritual director recommended I devote one hour each weekday to sorting through the physical clutter in our house. This priority may seem trivial in the face of everything else we’re dealing with right now, but when the house is a mess, the rest of my life starts to feel unmanageable. Decluttering is one small thing I can do to feel less helpless when life gets chaotic.

Discernment. From the beginning, I have been questioning all kinds of dogma, from the spiritual and religious to the political and ideological. This “deconstruction/reconstruction” work started with questioning a lot of things I thought I knew, along with beliefs and values other people – whether liberal or conservative – want me to hold. I want to develop a belief/value system that both my rational mind and my conscience can accept, rather than simply parroting a set of values  and beliefs that will let me fit in chameleon-like with my peers. What do I actually believe about God and why? What is God’s purpose or plan for my life? What are my values, or what should they be? How do I live my life in a way that is consistent with my beliefs and values? What are my own beliefs about the hot-button issues that consume our nation’s culture warriors? What is my role as a Christian in fighting or mitigating society’s problems and political battles? I would like to continue this discernment process.

Keeping our heads above water, for the next few months at least, is going to be a challenge for my husband and me. But I also want our lives to move beyond mere survival mode – from surviving to thriving. Hopefully our continued spiritual direction work can be a key part of making that happen, with God’s help.

32 thoughts on “Spiritual direction: Staying the course

  1. Stopping by your blog to see how you are doing. Continuing to pray for you! I loved this post so much. It sounds like SUCH an enriching pursuit that God has shown you to engage in! Thank you so much for sharing in detail about it. I thought the decluttering idea was super insightful. I so identify with feeling better after I get my surroundings in order. I have been going through drawers, one at a time as I find time, and each purge and reorganization adds a surge of satisfaction for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Spiritual direction: Staying the course – NarrowPathMinistries

  3. Your explanation is what I thought it was, but as I wasn’t sure, I figured it was best to ask. Thanks for the link. 👍 I read it and now understand in full what you mean by Spiritual Director.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s kind of hard to explain, because spiritual direction often gets confused with counseling, which it’s not, or with Bible study, which is slightly different. The spiritual director might direct an individual to appropriate Biblical passages, then discuss how that would apply to our personal situation if we’re having some kind of problem or have questions about God’s will for our situation, etc. So it’s not so much like a Bible study, where a group of people all discuss the same passage, but more one-on-one discussion between one Christian and another more experienced Christian about personal issues the directee is having. The spiritual director can also be kind of like an accountability partner. Am I making sense? Christianity Today has a very short little boxed article on spiritual direction as a sidebar to a longer piece on spiritual formation, but I’m not sure if you can access it unless you’re a subscriber. I’ll include a link here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/january/27.30.html

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  4. I’m glad that although you’re going through trying times, you are making your spiritual journey a priority.

    This was an insightful read. I wondered about your last point on discernment. When you have these questions, where do you turn to for answers?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent read. I really look forwarding to further updates about your spiritual direction journey! You’re asking the big questions with courage and I love that.

    This part in particular really resonated with me: “I want to develop a belief/value system that both my rational mind and my conscience can accept, rather than simply parroting a set of values and beliefs that will let me fit in chameleon-like with my peers.”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Debi Sue, I feel I know you better after reading this. And I see so much wisdom in what you say, especially in the area of “discernment.” It’s so hard to change our perspectives and opinions. I’ve had to do an about-face on some areas in the past couple of years. It’s been good for me, in that it gives me empathy for those on the “other side” and understanding why they believe as they do. A quote I seem to see a lot these days is that “it’s easier to fool people than to persuade them they have been fooled.” (Mark Twain) Good for you for being willing to break out of the limited molds people seem to conform to so regularly.

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  7. How did you go about finding a spiritual director? I have been interested in something like this for quite a while, ever since I began exploring the disciplines and spiritual formation.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. So with your spiritual direction you meet with a fellow Christian to help with accountability in the areas you mentioned? Am I understanding correctly? I love what you said here: (“God’s work, our hands,” and have found gardening to be enormously therapeutic.) I agree so much!! And also love this little saying you used too — surviving to thriving! Beautiful! Praying now for you and Pete’s health!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sorry I click too soon, had more thoughts. It’s so easy as age creeps in to live in a survival mode instead of a thriving one. I have had to flex so much at my age I want to coast the rest of the way home. Your post stirred me into a new thought process. I do teach a bible study but I think God has more for me to do, I just have to get out of a coasting way of living and get back on the life road. Thanks

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  9. “I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy.” (Brother Lawrence)
    This is the Practice of the Presence of Father.
    Your consultation with a mentor or spiritual advisor is something from which many Christ-followers would benefit. I did not do this until around 1999 and was wishing it had happened when I was a teenager! Of course, that may have benefited me then, but probably would not have been the last time it was needed. But, as with you, better late than never!
    See you in Heaven, my friend, if not before.
    ❤️&🙏, c.a.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. When we are of service to others, sometimes it enables us to overcome our own overwhelming situations. I love the spiritual direction journey you chose! God bless you and Pete. And thank you for the many times you’ve been of “service” to your followers.

    Liked by 3 people

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