I think the desire first grew as a reaction against the burnout I was experiencing in my job several years ago. As providence would have it, even though I was drowning in the overwhelm of work, it was happening in a place where I would regularly see a smiling, peaceful Catholic Sister whose life was fully integrated with a rhythm of work, prayer and rest. I worked alongside many others, but Sister Sophia became a refreshing friend. The rhythm of the church calendar and the people with whom I formed relationships were helpful for me to gain a better understanding of not only some issues I’d had with the Catholic church but also the meaningful Christian practices they have kept alive for centuries.
At that point in my life, however, I merely observed the seemingly foreign practices and desired the results. But one certain year while attending an outdoor missions festival at Beautiful Feet, we had a simple guide through lectio divina (think Bible-study) and the examen (think quiet-time and journaling) included in the weekend schedule. I went back home and purchased (and read) Prayer as a Place by Charles Bello. Okay, maybe I was a little confused still, I’m a slow learner, but I could sense the direction I was seeking lay in those pages, so I read it again and it made more sense. I began practicing some of the spiritual disciplines on my own: lectio divina, the examen, breath prayer and prayer walking. At least for a while. I seem to keep allowing the pressures of the rest of my life to push into my spiritual pursuits.
But God is gracious and he was helping me… I switched jobs to an Anabaptist setting and encountered people there who had incorporated contemplation into their lives. And soon, a friend, Tim, became a mentor/spiritual director to me as we would meet for lunch and discuss life and ministry. He would listen, encourage and challenge me and I got way more out of the relationship than he did. Soon after, I began attending a class at Grace Community on Sunday mornings led by another friend, Jeff, where we explored Christianity inside and out which began to piece together for me the fragments of faith and practice that I had been collecting from Catholics, Mennonites and evangelicals. I made another friend there in that class, Brandon, who invited me to come to his garage for fellowship and spiritual discussion. He calls the gathering “Pipes and Pints.” To be a part of that group was a significant and meaningful encouragement to me. A few years ago, he invited whomever wanted to come, to go spend a weekend at a monastery in Oklahoma in silent contemplation with some Benedictine monks—robes, cathedral, prayers chanted in latin, the whole bit. It was a little intimidating that first year, but it has become something I anticipate and crave every fall.
Then I left my career (and my paycheck and all the support God had built around us) and went into full-time mission work with Beautiful Feet. It was the right decision and I’m so glad to be a part of what God is doing around the globe. But let me be honest, it’s been hard. Everything in our lives has changed and there’s distance now between us and our support people, including a group of people with whom we would get together every week after church. So now, we’re left with ourselves and Jesus. That should be plenty though, right?
I used to long for a life that was integrated. One where my faith, my family and my work were all intersecting and overlapping. That’s how it is in missions and it is pretty fantastic, but our faith, work and relationships are under constant stress and I’ve realized—with a whole new level of understanding—how crucial spiritual health is and how much I’ve unwittingly neglected it.
As humans, we have to nourish our intellectual, social, emotional, physical and spiritual sides. It seems that many of us live with a perpetual lopsidedness that feels normal, even unavoidable until your life requires balance in order to continue functioning. Then you find out very quickly that however normal or unavoidable it may (or may not) have been, it’s not going to be able to continue like this. And this is where I have found myself. This is no longer a nice little pursuit, it’s essential.
One thing I’ve learned about myself through the years is that despite really valuing peace and occasional times of silence and solitude, I very much need people around me who are on the same pursuit as I, or I will falter. And that’s where I’ve been… I’ve been having an on-again-off-again relationship with the spiritual side of my health. As I have been feeling the implosion of life and the urgency for spiritual oxygen, I began thinking again of how I might not only regain but maintain balance. Not many around me have seemed to have quite the interest in contemplative spirituality as I have… until recently. Several of the people we work with seem to have experienced a reawakening to this and have begun to earnestly pursue a freshening of their own spiritual health practices. I feel hopeful now that my walk will continue with increased intentionality and vigor, traveling with a community of fellow pilgrims deeper in to this life of unity with Christ and his children.
What’s been your experience? I’d love to exchange stories about encountering struggle and experiencing healing.