Two months of mission work in Piura, Peru? Really God? I don’t even know Spanish!
It all started with a desert experience in prayer. As painful as that can be, I believe God does some of His best pruning in the dry and deserted places and spaces of our lives.
Last August, I told my Spiritual Director I was struggling with my morning prayer. He responded with, “what’s going on?” I said, “I sit and then get up, but really it’s more like want to run!” I told him I don’t feel God’s presence as tears rolled down my cheeks. I continued on with I feel very disturbed. I’m so just disturbed and I don’t know why. I’m disturbed, I said again and again.
He takes a long pause. Then goes on to say, “it’s interesting you use the word disturbed, St. Ignatius speaks of that in the Spiritual Exercises” and then proceeds to read from the exercises. Yup, that’s exactly how I feel I tell him. And the word disturbed was right in the midst of the text he read.
Ok, he says, “since we are not sure what’s going on, this is what we are going to do.” You see I was still grieving my father’s death who had passed a year and a half earlier on my birthday. So he wanted to make sure I was not struggling with depression due to grief.
He goes on to say. “We are going to combat this disturbance three ways. We are going to address the spiritual, physical, and mental.”
First Spiritual: Prayer – “Do not get up!” And then he repeats again do not get up. Even if you feel as though you want to claw the leather off the sofa you are sitting on, stay and claw. In fact, for every minute you want to get up add five more minutes to your prayer time that’s what St. Ignatius advised. Yikes, I thought my prayer time was already long enough at 20-30 min when I stay. How will I ever mange this? I can’t seem to last five minutes now!
Second Physical: Activity – Do twenty minutes of physical activity three times a week. Go for a walk, bike, what ever just get moving. This will help get the endorphins going in your brain. That’s the good chemical we want and need more of.
Third Mental: Emotions – Go see a therapist and check in. Make sure this is not some kind of depression we are dealing with.
So I bet you wondering how it went. Well, some things were easier than others. Prayer, I stayed and it was tough as nails to sit. It lasted for months. It was painful, disturbing, uncomfortable and any other word that fits I want to flee this space & time of prayer. Yes, I wanted to claw off the leather on that sofa and I told God just that, but God can handle it. Then there were times I cried. More often than I like to admit I was adding five minutes. Most days I was adding 10-15 minutes and once or twice I sat close to an hour. That’s really hard when your soul feels so disturbed!
My physical activity was a little better, although looking back I certainly could of done more, but we are our own worst critics.
And last mental, well that one was easy. I’m always yearning for personal growth and a good therapist helps. I found one. A good solid Christian.
Turns out. I wasn’t depressed, just disturbed, not so sure one is better than the other. Since I found a good therapist I continued to see him and dig into all aspects of my life. I certainly worked through many things over the course of the last ten months in the spiritual, physical, mental space of my life.
Mostly over those early months, I just wanted to run from God. It was God who was disturbing my soul. I actually felt as my soul was being pricked and I didn’t like it. My spiritual director told me that’s because it is!
How long will this last I asked. I knew he didn’t know the answer, but hoping for some consolation I boldly asked anyway. He said, well you know how long Mother Theresa was in her dark night right? Oh man, can’t this be easier I selfishly thought and desired. Knowing the spiritual life is never a walk in the park, but I wanted the stroll!
So back to the pain of my soul being pricked. It was like the Lord took sheers to my soul. He did some serious pruning. There were a few things that in my book were not open to pruning. Control of my future being just one. Yet, He knew I wasn’t in a place of freedom or trust.
So how does one do that? Just give God a blank check of trust? It’s only with grace. So often we forget about grace and yet all is gift and all is grace. Yet, we forget to ask. So simple. Lesson learned.
The disturbance was fear. I was afraid. I knew what God was asking and I thought If I could run or better yet I was attempting to negotiate with God? Really, I was treating Him like He was the customer and I was selling Him my plan in an attempt to not follow His. Silly, silly woman I am! But we wrestled anyway. Jacob from the book of Genesis and I have a lot in common. Maybe you too can relate?
Letting God win the match is a process. And that’s ok, God can handle it. In fact he already knows it’s coming.
It took me four months to speak out loud to a friend over pancakes at breakfast. “I think I’m going to stay awhile in Peru?” She responds with, “that doesn’t surprise me at all Lisa.” Sheesh, why was that so hard to speak out loud I thought. That friend was the first of many confirmations to go.
So I continued with my three tasks of tackling the spiritual, physical, and mental aspects of my life for ten months. During this time I also gave away, donated or burned every, I mean every single item from my past life. A key of hearing Kyle Clement at a conference on soul ties was pivotal to letting go of stuff. There were people who thought I lost my mind, when in reality I was more grounded and solidly minded than I’d ever been.
Talk about being set free! The physical things of our lives, especially broken relationships really do hold weight in our spiritual life. Again, lesson learned.
About half way through after that conference, I went on a silent retreat. Other than sleeping I spent all my time in silence sitting in front of the tabernacle or blessed sacrament and begged for grace. That too was hard at first, but I didn’t run. I did feel a very strong resistance at first. I read the first few pages of The Introduction of the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales and it was all starting to make sense.
I was afraid and needed a nudge. You see we never have to beg, as God is a good Father and generously gives, but I begged anyway. I thought Lord, if you want me to go and stay in Piura, Peru then I’m asking for an extraordinary abundance of grace. Ask and you shall receive scripture tells us. I wasn’t asking to win the lottery or a new car, just grace. But grace is truly all we need. And He loves to pour it on, and on this daughter He certainly did!
In that silent little chapel I told God what was on my mind and in my heart. I shared my desires and my fears. Then slowly a shift happened. Literally a shift in my soul, a movement of grace. I was not afraid. In fact, I understand I must go. For He’s been so good to me. How do I not return all that comes from the heart of the Father.
And there you have it. I prayed Lord, help me to go and help me to stay. After that it was easy as pie as perfect love cast out all fear. I’m not afraid. In fact I’d call myself fearless at this point. My boldness even surprises me.
Never be afraid to be honest with God, yourself or those trusted friends God puts in your path. The Spiritual life will take you to the tool shed of everything you need if just you look up. I wonder how often we intentionally pass the shed because once you pick up the shovel, the rake or hoe it requires you dig deep inside and a whole lot gets churned up. It’s the turning up that scares us. And yet, fresh soil is fertile ground for new growth and more fruit.
So I wonder why are we afraid? Why was I afraid? For if God is a good Father which of course He is – then what is there to fear?
A special thank you to the people I mentioned who will remain nameless, but none the less made the journey here with me! May God continue to bless your ministry. God speed.