Thomas Keating, SJ. shares a story about a young man who spent several nights a week going to different bars to challenge people to drinking contests. This young man was able to drink everyone else under the table and saw this as a sign of his manhood and success. At some point in his life, this young bar champion hears an evangelist share how life can be different - and the young man is converted. He resolves never to drink again and feels so moved by this new way of being that he decides to join a Trappist monastery. In the monastery, during the season of Lent, they only served bread and water. As the weeks proceeded, less and less of the older monks were able to make it to daily prayers as they were weakened by the lack of nutrition. When Holy week arrived, the young man was the only one left at morning prayers. In his heart he felt that same exultation of prideful success that he had in the bars - but this time with a twist: "Ha, I fasted everyone under the table!"
Keating goes on to wonder with us: What besides this man's haircut, clothing and address had actually changed? *
Though the circumstances are different, it is not uncommon for me as a spiritual director and retreat leader to hear of people longing for change. They had ways of being and habits in living before God that haven't seemed to change. Or sometimes, I hear people who are longing to sense God's love and forgiveness - but it only feels like they are going through the motions. Most people with whom I meet long to make a difference in the world. They long for deeper intimacy and authenticity in life and relationships and ministry. But sometimes, after a lot of angst-filled words trying to explain how they are working really hard to try and figure out how to be more spiritual and have deeper purpose, they confess: "I am not sure my faith works anymore. What's wrong with me? What's wrong with God? This isn't what I expected, please...tell me there's more."
So many of us are distressed and flummoxed over the lack of God's presence actually changing anything about our ordinary, everyday lives. Our relationships suffer, we don't feel the "abundant life" that Jesus offered and sometimes the things we've done to foster our spiritual lives, like reading the Bible, praying and going to church don't seem to work anymore. I hear things like:
- "I'm not getting anything out of it (whatever the "it" is.)
- "I should be doing more."
- "Why can't I be like him?"
- "I must be struggling because I'm doing something wrong."
Again, in the quiet moments - if there is enough stillness, a sense of safety and courage of soul, the more poignant question ekes out , "Please tell me there's more."
What I love about these moments is how real they are...how true they are...how fragile and sacred. I always feel that because there is this truth, that freedom is around the corner. In these moments, I get to be the bearer of Good News that underneath the ache of discontent lies the truest and best part about you; Your ache signals your deep desire to be closer to God and all God has to offer.
The desire for a different sort of life - one that is more meaningful, enjoyable, and real - does not appear out of thin air. This longing for more is evidence - albeit even if it is only a spark - that God is already at work in you to woo you from the jaws of distress and to bring you to a spacious place, free from restriction (Job 36. 16a). Your ache-filled longing for more is your soul responding to God's invitation. Your ache-filled longing for more is critical to recognize and acknowledge - and to whatever degree you're able, if you open your heart to trust God's loving and leading, you will be led to some different places.
Adele Calhoun, in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook writes,
"Willpower and discipline alone can never fix your soul. Striving, pushing and trying harder will not recover your life. Unforced rhythms of grace depend on something more than self-mastery or self-effort. The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that 'shoulds' and 'oughts' seldom have. Jesus wants us to recognize that hidden in our desperations and desires is an appetite for the Lord and Giver of Life" (16).
Today, take a moment to rate your level of "satisfaction" with your spiritual life? Are you longing for more or different? Do you want to live in deep intimacy and authenticity with purpose? If so, good. That is evidence that God is wooing you to the deeper depths and higher heights and wider widths of unfailing Love that surpasses your understanding (Eph 3: 14ff). If you ache for more..it is more well with your soul than you know ...at least in the "hidden" parts where God is stirring.
- Read Mark 10: 46-52 - imagine yourself in the story...watching Blind Bartemaeus display his desperation so boldly in front of everyone. What most strikes you in this story?
- In what ways might you pray your own longing for more today (in posture? In drawing or dance? In journaling or poem? In sitting in silence with your hand gently on the part of your body in which you feel this longing?)
- Imagine Jesus coming to you and asking, "What do you want me to do for you?" How would you respond?
If you are longing for more, one of the greatest aids to leaning into your longing and discovering the "spaciousness" of God is to walk with a soul companion. If you've never considered walking your faith journey with a spiritual director, I'd encourage you to look into it. If you want more information about what reFresh offers, please check out our spiritual direction and day reFresh pages.
Peace and good to you on the journey.
* Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating, p 12-13