I was sitting glumly in office of my spiritual director. It was in the week before Holy Week, and I was feeling stressed. As I looked ahead to all the special services and extra activities that lay ahead, I had the sense that everything was just happening tome, and that I had very little say in the matter. I am a Presbyterian minister, so week by week, I am called to “stand and deliver”, which I seek to do faithfully. But still, it felt like a lot of external effort and very little internal life.
To borrow from Robert Frost, my feeling was that “The woods are beautiful, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” And so I was gearing up to press on through another high and holy time in the church.
As I described my feeling about all of this, my director listened and started asking some diagnostic questions. He wanted to get a sense not only for everything that I had to do, or even how I was feeling, but mostly, for where or how I sensed God to be with me in the midst of it all.
I admit that I wanted him to just side with me, and say, “yea, they’re working you too hard.” Or maybe, “by this time next year, you should be off to greener pastures.” But instead, he zeroed in on my own sense of being wiped out from relying on my own resources, inventiveness, and effort. He wanted to know how I could find God again, in the midst of my busy ministry life. Not off somewhere else, but right in the middle of it all.
I shared about how I wished I was reading scripture more regularly, not in order to preach or present on it, but just for my own sake. And then, I shared about how relating to other cultures and languages was always enlivening to me and gave me energy. And there, in a rather ordinary room, on the Wednesday before Holy Week, God showed up again.
It was the still small voice of which we read. The way of the camel that nuzzles a nose under the tent, and soon enough is fully inside. It was in reflecting with a patient friend, that I heard myself describing the kind of spiritual life that I really wanted, and then, to hear God’s invitation to me again.
In a way, The Deep Change Field Guideby Robert E. Quinn is speaking into the same situation that I faced. This book, which is a companion to Quinn’s earlier work Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, is meant to be a practical way to engage these big questions of our lives.
Quinn describes the dilemma faced by leaders and workers and most people in modern society. It is that, where we seek deep meaning and joy in our work and our lives, and we want to be effective and successful in what we do, we are often caught in paralyzing patterns, fears, and ruts. Our efforts to change ourselves often lead nowhere and leave us feeling more stuck than before we started. In the Christian sense, this is analogous to a “works righteousness” approach to life. The fact of the matter is, that we just can’t do it on our own.
That is where the Field Guide comes in. It offers a set of easy to use and helpful guided reflections and worksheets. It does what a good spiritual director or counselor, manager or friend might do. It asks you questions about yourself, your purpose, and your goals. It uncovers the problems that you face and your hopes, dreams and wishes for a future that is different from the past. Sometimes just writing it down, or saying it out loud is the intentional step that you need.
I am certain that this is a book that has helped many people take that important step, to clearly and reflectively write out some of what is usually stuck inside. For me, it isn’t the resource that I would choose or go to, but I can see how these books have become best sellers. The need is great because it is part of our modern human experience.
After my conversation with my spiritual director, I set up a personalized reading plan for the 50 days after Easter, leading up to Pentecost. It included hearing the scripture in different languages and with different Bible translations. It was a great practice and led to reconnection with God in that time. But still, after a while, as tends to happen, it reverted to just relying on my hard work and dedication once again. And in that moment, I didn’t go to a best-selling business guru for advice. I returned to a trusted friend, to talk and listen together about where God was in this new season. And to try and listen for the invitation to let God begin the deep work once again.