Word of the Week

How Do I Know When To ______?

tumblr_inline_mluuj4tJ9L1qz4rgpAs a pastor, I am often asked by people: "How do I know when to________?"

These are often personal questions that I cannot answer. But what I do have is this: the gift of listening.

Spiritual direction is the ancient practice we have in the church for listening alongside another person.

If you aren't familiar with the term, the Catholic church birthed this practice. Dating back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the 3rd century, folks would leave the rush and demands of their lives in the cities seeking out wisdom from those who lived in the deserts of Egypt. At this time, spiritual direction became a gift of deep listening for when many where searching for answers in their lives.

But over the years, spiritual direction is no longer not just for Catholics. Protestants began engaging it and not just clergy. Lay people received training. Now, spiritual direction is a practice found within communities of all faiths.

The simplest way I know how to explain spiritual direction is this: when you meet with a spiritual director, it might feel like therapy at first (because you go at a set time, sit in a chair often across from the person and talk or these days often on Zoom) but it's more like just having a one-on-one conversation with a pastor or a friend who is really wise.

The spiritual director has training to help you hear what might be "underneath" what you offer, notices themes in your stories and always brings the conversation back around to "Where is God?" in your life.

The goal for a spiritual direction session is for the directee to walk away from the conversation with a deeper sense of knowing the Divine, manifested in the situations of their lives.

It's one way to sit with the "How do I know when to ____" questions.

A couple of years ago, I took a week-long course in spiritual direction at the Chaplaincy Institute: An Interfaith Seminary and Community in Berkeley, CA.

I knew the work of pastor and spiritual director held deep bonds. I wanted to become a better listener. And what an amazing week it was!

During one session of the training, Rev. John Mabry posted the question to the class, "How do you know when to speak up and when to be quiet?"

He read I Samuel 3, the call story of Samuel then asked: "When Samuel was a young boy in the temple," he asked us, "How did he know God spoke to him?"

"Three times."

Someone in the class added, "On the 3rd time that Samuel heard what he thought was a strange voice, Eli told Samuel to answer the voice by saying, 'Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.'"

Then, Rev. Mabry suggested this as a model for our work as spiritual directors/ pastors.

When we get the urge to speak that won't go away and won't go away and then really won't go away, THEN we know we cannot be silent.

I've loved this metaphor not only for listening but for so many other aspects of life.

I think about phone calls I make in this way.

I think about notes I write this way.

I even think about shopping this way.

By asking myself the same questions for the 2nd and then the 3rd time and being really sure, the self-involved  or non important rubbish goes away.

And I also think about writing this way. So I must confess, I've had this particular blog on my mind for a while now. So today I sat down to write it. It was what I knew I needed to do today.

P.S. If you're interested in finding a spiritual director, send me an email or go to the Spiritual Directors International website's database.  I highly recommend spiritual direction. I've had one for over 15 years and find it so good for my soul. You can find one in your area too.