Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tending the soul


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Where we live, the seasons are stunningly beautiful.
But they change, ever so quickly.

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When you see that the colors are changing, the sun is shining,
and there is cooler weather or rain on the way,
you know the wind can come up out of nowhere and blow it all away.
So you do well to find time to enjoy it while it lasts.

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I was so thankful my friend Lisa could spend this day savoring autumn with me.

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There is no one better equipped to help me tend my soul
in preparation for the season ahead.

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Lisa is one of my dear friends from college.  It has been a privilege to be an observer of the life and ministry that she and her husband Chris have amidst the brokenness that dwells in the inner city.  Their focus is on children, and they have extended themselves as family to countless kids and parents over these years.  They live in defiance of the odds, providing stable, dependable (and sometimes tough) love to all who God brings their way.  It has made a life-giving difference, numerous times over.  It has been heart breaking and heart warming and everything in between.  They know what it is to live a life of utter dependence, to have faith, to come up short, and still declare that God is good.  They are not fix-it-for-you kind of people.  They are sit-with-you-in-it kind of people, providing a haven, a hand, a tissue, laughter and a good dose of wisdom and truth.  They are the hands and feet of Jesus.

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But Lisa is more than everybody's mom, as if that weren't enough.  She is a spiritual director.  And for the last couple of years, she has been my spiritual director.  I have been wanting to write about my experience with spiritual direction for a long time, but I have found it defying words.  Spiritual direction sheds light on the holy places in all of life that are more for listening than talking.

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Spiritual direction isn't something I ever really heard about and thought, "Hmm, that sounds like something I would pursue."  Had I given it much thought, I might have feared it would be a little new agey or feeling-based rather than truth-based.  Because honestly, we Bible believers tend to be a little uncomfortable with the Spirit doing new things and moving in unfamiliar ways that we can't immediately find in a chapter and verse.  We can forget that the God who gave us the unspeakable gift of his story in print is the same God who today is still writing his story in our lives, throughout humanity, continually. Thankfully it was Lisa who introduced me to the idea of spiritual direction, because I thoroughly trust her to be firmly rooted in Christ.  

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In a nutshell, I would say that spiritual direction is the practice of learning how to listen for God's voice in your life.  It's the art of paying attention, of tending to your soul.  In group spiritual direction, you have others to help you listen.  And wait.  We had a group of four who met with Lisa, one who was also a friend from college, and two others who I had never met before.  Each month when we met we would take turns sharing that day's page in our story, if you will--wherever we were in that season or  moment in our lives. 

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It took a lot of paying attention just to notice what my story was on any given day.  It would be the issue on my mind, demanding something new of me that I didn't feel I had the resources to offer.  The problem needing a solution or a new approach.  The source of frustration that wasn't going to go away, so it needed a new response. The old baggage that popped up out of nowhere, needing to be unpacked. The important decision to be made.  Or the cycle of a relationship that needed a new direction.  Even the joy of a season of blessing.

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All of these things were an opportunity to notice the God of new things working on his story in me, calling me to see what he was up to.  His gentle beckoning to acknowledge him as the author.  We would share the matters of the moment, and spend some time in silence, inviting God to show himself at work in the midst of it all, waiting for him to reveal his presence in each story, disciplining ourselves to remain present long enough to see him there. 

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The thing I found most helpful was the questions Lisa asked, and taught us to ask of ourselves and one another.  She would ask, "What is your prayer in this?" Or,  "What do you think God's prayer would be for you in this?"  And my favorite, "What is God's invitation to you in this?"  The beauty of the group was that each individual brought such a unique way of being insightful into the souls of the others.  One with beautiful word pictures.  One with pithy sayings.  ("It doesn't have to be working out to be God's will.")  One with a keen sense of God's delight in each person's uniqueness.  And as often as not, the insight spoke not only to one, but to all of us in some way.

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As Lisa and I walked the other day, we reflected on the need to tend our souls, on an ongoing basis.  To pay attention to the work being done, and the work needing to be done--and sometimes the work being craftily avoided--in order to let God be God, within and without.  To embrace the beauty within the fleeting moments and rejoice with the creator.  To acknowledge the brokenness and the need for the healer.  To receive the issues on our minds and the matters on our hearts as an invitation from him to draw near and process it with him.

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As with all seasons, the season of our group has transitioned, and we are no longer meeting.  It is a little sad, and a lot hopeful, because we have learned to be present with God whenever, wherever we are, and that is the point.  The seeds have been planted and nourished, and the life continues, sometimes visible, sometimes hidden.

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7 comments:

Life with Kaishon said...

What a beautiful post. What a beautiful friend.

HJ said...

Lovely post, Tracy!! This line particularly resonated with me, because I am so lacking in this discipline: "...disciplining ourselves to remain present long enough to see him there." I think I often do see him there, but I'm not disciplined enough to really stay and hear him out. Maybe I'm too afraid. :-)

Anyhow, thank you for this beautiful and though provoking post! What a wonderful group experience for you! I'm so happy for you having that!!

StitchinByTheLake said...

I wish I could have been part of that group. blessings, marlene

Skeller said...

seasons coming to an end always have a little (or a large) taste of bittersweet with them. this sounds like it was a very good (in a digging deep kind of way) season. these pictures are a stunning accompaniment to your beautiful thoughts ...

LauraLiz said...

What breathtaking photos! Isn't Fall just the most amazing thing?! I enjoyed reading your thoughts as well.

Unknown said...

Tracy ,
Interesting post to me bc I am in a position of seeking spiritual direction all alone...any authors you or Lisa would recommend?
Thanks for your post and prayers!
Cathy Benton

Anonymous said...

Wow Tracy, you captured the journey and our groups experience so well!! I was so blessed to be a part of this group with you, and echo your thoughtful words about our friend and spiritual director, Lisa. Thank you!

FYI I am partial to David G Benners books