Remember that time that I said I was going to write about what I have been learning in my spiritual life over the course of this strange Covid year? Well, it took longer than I expected to get the right words out. But here they are. I’m not convinced that they’re all the “right words”, but they are at least headed in the direction of what I wanted to communicate.
About a year ago, I was attending my church’s ladies’ retreat.
I took this photo on Sunday morning of the retreat weekend.
Just a few short hours earlier, this room was filled with women. There was late, late night laughing, talking, and a strong sense of togetherness. When I came into this same room again on Sunday morning, it was quiet and still, shadowy and soft. It felt to me that the air gently held the laughter, tears, and stories from hours ago.
One moment, we were together.
The next, we were heading to our homes, unsure of what the coming weeks would hold or when we would next see each other. The pandemic was just beginning, and we had no idea what to expect.
When I got into my car and began the drive back to Toronto, I cried. I cried because I could sense that God was giving me permission to let go of some things that I didn’t want to let go of. I cried because I finally knew that the beautiful group of ladies that I had spent the weekend with wasn’t going to be mine anymore. It felt like a loss. A death.
And thus began a very unusual year. Some of the spiritual rhythms that had been part of my entire life changed. Some of them were security blankets that I was wrapping myself tightly in. To have them pulled away and to stand exposed to the elements was jarring, but I’ve learned so much about myself and the ways that I tend to interact with God. Would you laugh at me if I used the phrase spiritual personality? (I’m not offended if you laugh… it does sound a little bit fluffy.) It seems to me that we each have ways of relating to and connecting with God that feel more natural than other ways. In the past year, I’ve found it interesting to think about how my personality affects the way I approach my spiritual life.
So what have I learned about my spiritual personality?
Here’s a shocker:
I have realized that I am a reserved person. It is the way I tend to be in my real life, and it spills over into my spiritual life too. I was a private person even as a child. (Side note…I distinctly remember thinking that it would be utterly humiliating to actually date a boy someday, because then EVERYONE would know who I had a crush on. In my mind, there couldn’t be anything more awkward than that.) Even back then, this tendency played into my spiritual life. When I became a Christian, I felt that I did not want to tell anyone about it. Not because I was ashamed, but because even in my young mind, the words “I accepted Jesus” felt awkward to me. I felt awkward about sharing that personal choice with others, and something about the phrase itself didn’t sit comfortably with me. You see, Christianity is a language all its own, and as I grew, I kind of grasped it. But to this day, when I speak it, I feel like I am being less than genuine. Like I’m performing. Singing an Italian opera. While wearing uncomfortable shoes. And trying to open a jar of pickled beets without spilling purple juice everywhere. (Cue years of preparatory services where I opted to merely say that “I have peace with God, and my fellow man, and I desire communion.”)
This past summer, while driving through the mountains in British Columbia, I had a revelation. It was morning, and the soft morning light was just lovely. Seeing it got me thinking about how much I love when the morning light floods in through our apartment windows. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a little bit dim while I go about my morning routine… I will avoid turning on other lights until I absolutely need to because preserving that delicate morning light is important to me. Once that artificial light enters the picture, the glory of the natural light lessens.
And this is the way I feel about spiritual expression.
My interactions with God tend to be like the morning light- unformed, a little hazy. More of a mood than a specific word. Sometimes, trying to put language to it feels like turning on an artificial light. Sure, it might technically be brighter and easier to see, but something has been lost in the process. This has been a frustration to me over the years. I struggled with envy when I saw other people expressing their journey with God so clearly and genuinely and connecting with others because it. I struggled with guilt for all the times I simply didn’t feel I had anything to share. Sometimes, when I did try to share, I would revert to familiar phrasing that didn’t actually express what I wanted it to, and it would feel like nails on the chalkboard of my soul.
But throughout this past year, when attending church physically wasn’t an option, I have felt free to simply bask in the morning light. It has been a season of changes and questions, and to set aside the pressure I was putting on myself to solve, name, prove, and share has been a positive step in my relationship with God. To simply be with God has been a welcome rest.
So there you have it.
I tend to be a quiet one who doesn’t necessarily have words to speak about her relationship with God, and that’s okay.
This is not to say that there isn’t room for growth and doing things that don’t feel easy or natural.
This is not to say that there isn’t a time for accepting that words often do fall short of the truth, but trying to share anyways.
This is not to say that community is not necessary or not an important part of living out the Gospel.
It’s just to say that I’m learning that I don’t need to be ashamed of my natural tendency to keep things private or unnamed. I can find ways to honour that part of my personality and spirituality, while humbly acknowledging the weaknesses that it brings with it.
About a year ago, I was part of a group of ladies. It was a beautiful gift.
Currently, I find myself in a quiet and still place. This is a gift as well. And even in the stillness, the air hangs soft with memories and with the promise of future things.
Another lesson that I have learned…
For my whole life, I have attended a physical church every single Sunday that it was possible. Church has always been such a beautiful and positive part of my life. With regular services and events, church always provided a steady input of stimulation and inspiration. This year, when church became a digital event that takes up an hour of my Sunday morning (a beautiful and meaningful hour, to be sure), I realized that I was going to need to take some ownership of my spiritual life, rather than simply riding the next wave of study that church naturally brought my way.
It turns out that you can set goals for your spiritual life, and that those goals can bring direction and energy to your relationship with God. Now, there is work that only the Holy Spirit can do in your heart- work that is deeper than we can fully comprehend. But there is room for creativity and planning in my spiritual life. I can pay attention the questions that I have. I can research them bravely. I can read books, I can listen to podcasts, I can pray about it, I can make note of the real-life examples that show up. I am not helpless in the face of my questions. I can take responsibility and be intentional about pursuing growth.
All in all…
I’d say that the past year has been an unexpectedly rich step in my relationship with God. I have been afraid of God for a long time, and this year, that fear lessened.
I wrote the following words back at the beginning of 2021 in response to reading about the flood waters going down in Genesis 8.
In response to Genesis 8
I see them below-
The small peaks of the mountains.
It’s been a long time.
Although celebrated and sought after, the peak is actually the smallest part of the mountain. It may be precarious and exposed, but after a couple years of rippling water being the only surface in sight, I’m relieved to be seeing hints of something firm. It is a new stable ground, different than what I expected, but it is a gift, God is here, and I am beginning to trust it. I hope to discover more and more of the mountain.
In response to Genesis 12
This land is for you.
Go on; explore long and wide.
That’s my gift to you.
As always, I’m curious about what your experience has been. How has this unpredictable and disruptive year affected your relationship with God? And what is your tendency in your spiritual life? Do you find it more natural to process privately or to share openly? (Even as I wrote that question, I couldn’t help but think, “Is it actually possible that someone might find it natural to share openly???” I guess that reveals how unnatural it feels for me.) I think we could probably all learn a lot from each other.