Christianne Squires is a trained spiritual director who shares her thoughts and insights through a weblog and online community called “Still Forming Land.” I have been a subscriber to her blogs for a while and find them often thoughtful and challenging. This one today, however, rather than challenging was suddenly simply illuminating….a real “aha” moment, as it helped me understand more clearly and articulate more beneficially some of my own otherwise inexplicable behaviors at times.
Yesterday, I exhibited what could be classified as a hissy fit — twice. (I’m quite un-proud of this fact.) And then there’s the matter of the weeping prayers that have emerged on the scene all week and don’t seem near to leaving anytime soon.
I’m going to tell you about both of these. And then I’m going to invite you to notice how something similar — fits or tears, or something else altogether — may be part of your lived experience right now, too, and what you can learn from what they have to offer you.
So, first, the hissy fits.
They cropped up while Kirk and I sat at our front room table late in the afternoon yesterday, working through some planning exercises concerning the future of Still Forming and its next steps. My husband has a terrifically strategic mind, one that can pull back to take a thirty-thousand-foot view and then create processes for vision and decision-making. It’s marvelous, the way he can see the whole and hold the possibilities and invite us into a process regarding these things together.
But sometimes I find the exercises hard. They require, for instance, brainstorming all possible options — which causes me to wonder, what if we forget something important that should be on the list? Or they invite us into narrow down all brainstormed possibilities to the most essential — and I think, how could I possibly cross anything off this precious list we made?
And so for each exercise we ran like this yesterday, I grew agitated and fretful. “I don’t know!” I would cry out, when it was time to cross things off a list. “These are all important! How can I cross anything off?” Then I’d hem and I’d haw, and eventually land back in the same place: “I really don’t like this process!”
(It’s good he’s in the mix here, you see, or I’d end up offering you everything, and all at once, instead of being thoughtful and strategic about any of it.)
And then there are the weeping prayers.
I’ve mentioned to you before that we’re part of an Ignatian retreat this year at a local church. We’re moving into the final month of the retreat now, and the movement of the retreat in our prayer lives is taking a particular shape — namely, that of calling us into greater freedom and release into God’s expression through us in the world. It’s an intense time that gathers up all that has come before and then thrusts us forward into a meaningful and sacramental future.
For me, these intentional movements in prayer have begun to bring many tears. Lots and lots of tears that sometimes begin the moment I sit down and start reading the assigned prayer exercise for the day — before I’ve even begun to consciously pray. In this place, my heart is weeping before the Lord, partly in surrender and partly in gratitude and partly in acknowledgment of all that’s led me to this exact place.
It’s been surprising and has taken me off-guard.
And it’s here where I want to turn to you.
I want to invite you to notice similar moments in your life recently that have provoked a visceral response in you. Where are the places you’ve found yourself hemmed in by fear, or anger, or tears, or ecstatic joy? Where has your response to a circumstance or situation been wrenching, or gut-level, or surprising?
Instead of turning away from those moments or hurrying past them, I want to invite you to turn back toward them. Can you do that right now? Because the truth is, they want to be your teacher. They have something to say to you. Will you let them speak?
As an example, the agitation I felt during the Still Forming brainstorm session yesterday points to the high value I place on all that we’re creating for you and all that you might possibly receive from any given experience that’s offered to you here. Eliminating options or distilling a host of variables down to just two or three feels physically painful to me, and it’s because I deeply value every aspect of this work and want you to receive the greatest fullness of it you can.
This teaches me about my protective instincts — and invites me to consider where I might need to open to a greater practice of letting go or holding things loosely or opening more to possibility.
Or consider the tears in prayer. One response I could have to those tears would be embarrassment. Or a hurried feeling, wanting to rush past them or sweep them under the rug.
But what if, instead, I honored them and asked them what they have to say? When I do that, I notice that God is penetrating new layers in my heart, is inviting me out from behind locked doors erected around it, is dissolving barriers and shields so my heart can live with greater tenderness, exposed to greater air. And then I can ask myself: Will I let God do that? Will I say yes?
What strong responses have cropped up in your life recently? Can you take a moment and turn toward — instead of away from — them? What do they seem to want to teach you?
With you in the strong responses, Christianne Squires
In 2014 I experienced strong “visceral responses” to a constellation of experiences that descended upon me, seemingly all at once. And while the various components seemed unrelated, the fact that they all came concurrently meant that I had to deal with them all at once, a task that stressed my resilience and coping skills beyond anything I’d ever known. There was a combination of bereavement, confusion and anger over inexplicable and uncharacteristic behavior in someone close to me, confusing unwarranted antagonism from a new work supervisor, multiple professional losses, delays and disappointments, financial changes, demands for day to day decisions in a home remodel project, consequent chaos in our living quarters due to the construction, beginning a new ministry, and more. One thing after another stacked up. But unlike the stones one sees balanced one upon another in certain visual depictions of serenity and peace, my stones tumbled into a pile. As I attempted to pray and discern God’s guidance through that time, there were days when I found myself indignant with anger and at other times weeping in despair. God was present with me, I knew. I felt his comfort. I knew there were gems of instruction in the midst of these circumstance, but what were they? It took months of prayer, talking it through with trusted counsel, and lamenting through the emotions. Sometimes tears and a posture of lying on my face, broken before God, were the only relief I could find.
Eventually, several lessons emerged.
I discovered that the depth of pain, betrayal, and hurt that I felt in having a particular goal temporarily thwarted and fear that it might be threatened altogether revealed the high value I placed on the journey toward, the companions accompanying, and the destination of that goal, bordering on idolatry. Pursuit of that goal was not for myself alone, although I was joyful and fulfilled in it. There seemed to be clear evidence that my motives were not merely misunderstood but were even viewed as suspect and unworthy. Additionally, because of the potential consequences to those whom God had called and equipped me to serve, the delay and potentially permanent loss of the goal seemed petty and unjust. Having my sense of God’s calling thwarted by those whom I believed should have understood it best, was unexpected and disorienting. The Lord was loving and intimate as he revealed to me the proper role that the goal and the people associated with it should hold in my life.
In a similar sense, another of the lessons was related to that insight, as I discovered that my call to ministry was not tied to a specific locale but to the purpose and people chosen by God. God disengaged my clutching grasp on particular places and people, freeing me to focus on his purpose and his choice of the people to whom he would direct me. I learned to hold every moment and circumstance more lightly in open hands. I discovered how easily one may allow something as personal as self-identity to become dependent on what one does or where one does it rather than upon the one to whom one belongs.
Another significant lesson that was not new, but was certainly reiterated in more immediate and powerful ways than ever experienced before was that God will require one to fully release the present entirely to his good and loving care, trusting in him alone for the next step, before he reveals the path that lies ahead. Having surrendered entirely to his call, I get no advance notice or sneak peek around the corner to see if I want to say “yes” to the next stretch of the path. The “yes” is unconditional and I am committed. I know his plan is good and loving and that his grace is sufficient for whatever need arises.
I had observed in the Scripture how God required the priests, as they crossed the Jordan River leading the Hebrews into the Promised Land, to put their feet into the water first, and then he would put their feet upon the stones for safe crossing. We have to step out in faith and trust that God will give us safe footing. There were times when it felt as though I was trying to cross a river walking on ice floes that were melting and breaking apart.
Another lesson I learned is that God does not allow the one he intends to use to get comfortable or complacent. He continues to prune, refine and purify. And with each part of that process the pressure and heat becomes greater. Learning to relax and give oneself over to the process can be hard, even impossible at times.
Even Christ cried out on the cross. Tears are okay. Our laments, our pleas and even our anger do not turn God away. God is compassionate and present. He will not necessarily free us from the pain, but he will help us endure, even transcend it. He will redeem it.
Finally, I have known for years that any appearance of control that one believes she has is an illusion. I knew I had no control over the circumstances. But I learned further that there are times when one has no control over emotions either. There are some things that touch us at depths of which we are not consciously aware. And it is at that deep level, where the wounds in one’s spirit exist, that the healing touch of God is needed. We may not know the wounds are there. When they are pricked, we may not understand our responses. But we can know the loving and intimate God who offers healing. We must not flee the pain or fight against it nor allow it to immobilize us. We must go on in the strength of Christ and in the promise of a hope and a future.