THE ONE THING
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
My favorite prayer app guides me through a daily 12 minute meditation on a passage from scripture. Recently, their Saturday Examen, a guided examination of conscience, inspired a powerful, imaginative prayer experience for me. I share it below with the hope that it illustrates the abundant graces of spiritual direction.
The Saturday Examen
After referencing the enormity of God, the question posed in the Examen was two-fold. However, the majority of my journal entry focuses on the second part: “Remember a time in your life when you made this really big God too small in your life. How is God with you as you remember this?”
My first thought was that I’ve always been conscious of God’s greatness, even as a child. But when I imagined Jesus with me, I was reminded of how my desire to fix difficult life situations can actually make the situation more painful for me and those around me. This conjured up a painful memory. It was one of many cringe-worthy parenting moments, but this one was painful to re-live. I watched with great sadness and regret. I imagined Jesus standing close to me, close enough to whisper in my ear. He was not cringing, he was serious but gently smiling when he said “Hmm - fear. You let fear overshadow me.” I replied calmly, “and I became unhinged.”
I haven’t shared this with my spiritual director yet, but in my journal, I acknowledged that she would ask me how I, the person praying, felt while I was imagining this. My response was:
There were tears behind my closed eyelids, but not running down my cheek. My heart was not pounding nor was my breath rapid. I was calm, serene even, as I experienced these feelings. The sadness, regret, and sorrow were all deeply felt, but I was calm. I knew I was able to bear this because Jesus was with me.
This imaginative prayer experience helped me to see something new about myself. I was already aware that my desire to fix can sometimes get in the way of happiness, which is always the opposite of my intention. The new insight was seeing fear as the root of this desire. When I was looking at that memory with Jesus, I saw the fear quite clearly, but during the real-life moment, I’m sure I could not see its effect on me.
The One Thing
During my reflection, it became clear that when I allow fear to overshadow my connection with God, I almost always regret how things turn out. Further consideration leads me to conclude that fear is “the one thing” that can lift me off my foundation and lead me to a false self. If we define this “foundation” as the presence of God in me, then becoming unhinged seems to be an inevitable result.
Recognition of “the one thing” has been a gift, one that is both uncomfortable and illuminating. And with God’s help, I hope to bring this gift from my head to my heart and allow it to change my life for the better.
But the prayer experience doesn’t end there:
“I saw my cringing face as if through Jesus’ eyes and heard him say “Why so cringy? Let’s use this moment as a memento, like a ‘prayer in your pocket’ to remember what happens when you allow me to become small in your view. You lose trust in me.”
In my journal, I commented on how patient and gentle Jesus was with me. He did not judge my behavior before encouraging me to love him more fully. He bypassed judgment and took the proverbial lemon and turned it into lemonade.
As I write, I am heartened that Jesus, the one who literally “will come to judge,” did not judge my remembered behavior. This allows me to begin to forgive myself. Before this, I didn’t realize how much that moment stayed with me. Even though I apologized for my behavior at the time, and was forgiven, I have never really let myself off the hook.
But that was not enough for Jesus. He took things to the next level by dropping this gauntlet:
Jesus said “You were able to give that particular fear to me, and this has been good for your life. But what about the next time fear comes along? Will you give it to me then? ” I thought “Will I be able to let go, will I even notice that fear is at the root?” I said “I want to….”
He persisted: “Can you promise me that you will always trust me?” I thought “Do I have the courage to withstand a fear like that without losing it again?”
I felt Jesus’ eyebrow raise as if to say “Really? Am I going to make you face your fears alone? Don’t you already have all you need with my company? Hasn’t our relationship taught you this?”
I gently laughed at myself and, in the laughter, I felt something in me drop away, and I knew I could make that promise. I said “Yes, I promise” and in that moment, I also knew I could keep that promise.
I wish I could find the words to explain the peace this prayer experience has brought me. My journal continued with listing other ways I can put my trust in God. I will indeed keep this experience like a prayer in my pocket and trust that it will keep me from allowing God to be overshadowed in my heart.
It’s More Common Than You Think
My prayer experience is a common one. I promise that many others can enumerate similar graces in prayer. More still can describe the joy of sharing these graces with a spiritual companion.
This experience didn’t happen in a spiritual direction session, but the time I have spent with my director has opened my mind and heart to pray in this way. I also feel comfortable praying deeply, because I know there is someone with experience with whom I can review my prayer.
Taking advantage of spiritual direction has nothing to do with goodness or holiness and everything to do with a desire to know and love God intimately. Spending time with God is not reserved for “super spiritual” people. It’s for the everyday person who plugs along, overwhelmed and imperfect, with normal goals, like - having food on the table, a roof overhead, and happiness in their lives.
Heaven here and now
As a spiritual director, I have met directees from many walks of life, but their common desire: to know and love God more intimately, unites them. They understand that knowing God intimately makes their lives better. And knowing them makes my life better.
Both as a director and directee, I have learned that heaven can be found here in this life if we seek it. Heaven is found in our prayer time for sure, but also in one another and in our life experiences, sometimes even the cringy ones.