Sunday, February 10, 2008

Spiritual Direction - Must Everything Change?

Rick asked me what I meant when I mentioned wanting a pastor/spiritual director in my last post. Apparently I was incapable of a short answer.

Even as I have a love/hate relationship with chaplaincy (which I've been doing for about 5 years now), so also do I feel about spiritual direction (check the link for a description). I think it's valuable and helpful and a recovery of something that used to be a clergy function, but had become less of one. And I've had a spiritual director at times, and found it extremely helpful.

On the other nominal spiritual director has so much going on that it generally takes a month or two after I've contacted him to schedule a time. But I'm generally calling at a time where I feel a pretty immediate need.

And even that much only gets managed 1-2x a year, so I never feel like he knows me or what's been going on with me well enough to do much more than listen. And we spend so much time with me trying to catch him up that we don't seem to look to the future or even necessarily the present much - even though that's what I've actually come for.

There's also the fact that, while I believe "the worker deserves his wages," I always feel a little odd having to pay another Christian to help me listen and practice discernment. (In the same way, as a chaplain it felt odd to be paid to show concern for the sick.)

Have we over-professionalized Christianity? Shouldn't we be doing this stuff for each other anyway? Shouldn't we have communities where this is part of what we do? Shouldn't spiritual direction be a primary function of pastors? And shouldn't we do this out of our connectedness to each other within the Body of Christ?

As you might guess, this particularly is an issue during this time when I'm out of work and feel I can ill-afford pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. So admittedly it's as much an economic issue as a theological one. (But then, so is a lot of Scripture. And life.) But some of it is theological, and comes too from a conviction that most of the western world (Christian and otherwise) has lost a sense of what community means. Some of it, too, comes from the Everything Must Change tour in Charlotte last weekend. Brian McLaren was talking about the need for pastors and church planters to plant new post-modern faith communities and churches, and also the need for pastors to help existing churches with post-modern transitions. This struck me because, as I'm feeling drawn back to local church staff/leadership, I feel really excited about the idea of a church with an emerging/missional ethos - and a sinking sensation of being at a church without it. That doesn't necessarily mean I should do one and not the other, I might be surprised - but it's one of the things I'm struggling with as I look for direction.

I actually got a chance to ask Brian about it during a Q&A session, and he talked about the need to recover a sense of how we practice discernment and seeking for God's will, and pointed me towards these folks to get some help. I've been in touch with them a little this week, and it may be that they'll be wonderfully helpful - but it still feels a, somehow.

My primary sense of personal epiphany during the Everything Must Change conference, by the way, came in prayer time after this conversation with Brian. His wife, Grace, prayed for us during the Q&A - a simple, short, and heartfelt prayer that was basically this: "keep it up. Hang in there. You're on the right path. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going." It was, though I've not conveyed it well here, extremely powerful for me - a moment of God's voice speaking through someone else, offering reassurance in the midst of hard and uncertain times - God is with you. He sees that you're trying. Don't give up. Keep going.

That was during an early morning (7:29 am - because, you know, we're post-modern, we don't schedule things at 7:30) session, and afterward I went back to help out at the registration table. I got to talking to the other volunteer that was there that morning. I was intrigued because she's in her, I think, early 30s, and has 5 kids between the ages of about 4 and 12. Turns out she was widowed a while back, and through a bizarre chain of providential circumstances, met her new husband, and they married, and have blended their families and their separate kids, Brady Bunch style! But I was really moved hearing her talk about her prayer life prior to the second marriage - how confidently and naturally she talked about prayer, and also how unselfishly. She'd been praying to meet someone and get re-married, but not because she was afraid of being a single mom or being alone - she was praying for a dad for her kids. I don't know, maybe you had to be there - but listening to her talk, very naturally, about this, I had a couple of thoughts. 1) I don't often pray this naturally or with this confidence that prayer will change things. 2) I'm not surprised her prayer was answered, even with the bizarre chain of circumstances required for these two people to meet (online, as it happens) - she has such an unselfish prayer, for something she wants for her kids - and how could God not want that, too? Of course God would answer that prayer.

Brian's response to my question, and Grace's prayer for everyone, and this new friend's story of her family, all came together in my own prayers later that day to lead to that epiphany I mentioned. Which was this - why would God not want to answer my prayers for discernment? I'm sure there's some selfish stuff mixed in with it, but at the core, my desire for direction is about wanting to do with my life what God wants done with it. It's about wanting to honor and thank God, and to be a blessing to his world. Of course God will answer that prayer. This also led to the further thought - which I've already expressed - that spiritual direction, helping another pay attention to how God is working in there life, is a key part of discipleship, and a key part of what a pastor ought to be doing, in my opinion. That helped me see that it's part of what I'm supposed to be doing - but in and through the church, not apart from it.

Anyway, I suppose one of the things I'm praying for...that I *think* I need, though I may a community and some kind of mentoring/spiritual directing relationship with a more experienced pastor, to help me in transitioning back to church or even church-planting. That desire may just be feeling intimidated by the scope of the changes I'm contemplating, and it may be the answer to the prayer is to get over my doubts and step out in faith. Time will tell. God sees that I'm trying. And I - I feel incredibly blessed and grateful, because I see that God is working. I'm going to keep going. Hope you will too.


Rick said...

Agreed - that would have been an awkwardly long comment :)

I think a good spiritual director needs to be someone who can ask a few pointed questions to get a quick-ish feel for (1)where you've been, (2)where you are, and then ask you the ongoing questions to help you discern for yourself (3)where you're going.

Chris Cottingham said...

Sounds about right to me.

darkmark90 said...

I'm sure you'll do well, and I appreciate the efforts you made in the wake of my Mom's death. Take care.

Chris Cottingham said...

Thanks, DM - you too. And hey - belated congrats on your graduation!