The other day the friend of a friend posted on Facebook. His wife is in remission from illness and he expressed gratitude for “prayer, pills, and positivity” – a nicely balanced message I thought. Amidst predominantly supportive responses, two comments got my goat: “Don’t forget to give the doctors and drugs some credit!!” and “Why not give credit to the God we pray to?” Both of these suggestions were redundant: “pills” covered the first quibble, “prayer” the second.
There comes a time when God appears to change. This may happen many times in a life. It is not so much that God feels distant or absent, though this may also be the case. It is more that you look for God in the usual place, or you think of God in the usual way, and this no longer seems to work. The usual is no longer satisfying, or now seems childish or naïve, or has become intellectually lacking. It is not that you no longer want God. It is not that you no longer want to pray. It is that you thought you knew and now you are not so sure.
Stop asking God for what you think you want.
What God is waiting for is not a right conclusion to a matter but for our suppleness in falling into His hands for Him to work in us.Benedicta Ward, Discernment: A Rare Bird
When I ask people what they say to God, they often tell me they ask God to change their, or other people’s, attitudes, behaviours, and situations.
A manager asks God for more patience (with her difficult colleagues).A mother worries about her adult children’s standing with God and prays God will make them come back to church (which bores them stupid).
A man feels guilty that he feels angry towards his husband (who never helps out at home) and asks God to help him be kinder.
A vicar (who is harried by a demanding congregation) asks God to help her enjoy visiting the sick.
A city dweller (who is fed up with the frenetic lifestyle and noisy, dirty streets) asks God for help to find a place to live in Cornwall.
I’m feeling a lot of fear at the moment (more on this another time). I want God to stop me being afraid.
This is the pre-emptive strike. I make my request before giving God an opportunity to comment: “I know what is wrong. Please sort it out.” Not that I think I know what I need better than God does; rather, I fend off being vulnerable with God.
This year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic (p. 4)
It is clear that this is what Jesus was doing all day every day. But it is not what his followers have been doing in very large numbers.
What shall I do? What is the best thing to do? How shall I make best use of my time? These are perennial human questions.
[See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, inter-mission, & 5]
It’s about an authority that emerges from yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source … [We] are empowered, emancipated, to use the transforming energy we can exercise by acknowledging our dependence upon an unconditional source of affirmation.Rowan Williams: Being Human, pp. 72–3
Spiritual direction relocates authority from out there to in here.
[See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & inter-mission]
Our human identity therefore becomes one in which we both acknowledge in prayer this dependence [upon God] and respond to the gift that sets up not only our being but our renewed being in Christ; and in acknowledging that dependence we are empowered to ‘do the work of God’.Rowan Williams: Being Human, p.72
“I want to know what God wants me to do with my life.”
People often seek spiritual direction with this question uppermost in their minds. Spiritual direction is the right place to ask this question. Spiritual directors have training in discernment, and it is a question we ask ourselves frequently. My contention is that this is not the right place to start.
[See Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4]
If people destroy something irreplaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable make by God they are called developers.Joseph Wood Krutch (quoted in David R Loy, Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis, p. 16)
You may be wondering why I am banging on about this at such length. Why does it matter that God is “not an alien will but an affirming source”?
[See Parts 1, 2, & 3]
When God is “an alien will” I may feel the pressure to make amends for the mistakes of the past and to work towards an improved self in the future. When God is an alien will there is a to-do list.
[See Part 1& Part 2]
… yielding …
When we are freed from the idea of God as “an alien will” we can fall back into an utterly relaxing Presence that is our “affirming source”. The alien will is jealous and requires attention and conformity to an arbitrary set of standards. The affirming source is not alien, not demanding, not jealous because we are what it is. We do not have to do anything to earn this. We do not have to work for it. There is no rivalry.