I suspect all those who attempt to follow the spiritual path -- whichever form that takes -- struggle with certain aspects of that work.
I was thinking this morning that for me the struggles center around the concept of obedience: I remember, when I first began thinking I wanted to serve God in some way, someone suggested I consider getting ordained in the Episcopal Church as a Deacon.
So I read up on it, and realized the centrality (in the life of a Deacon) of Service, and... well, I just cringed. It seemed my whole life had been spent serving, and I was tired of it. I wanted to lead, not serve. And, being me, I felt guilty about that.
I've thought for years that my struggles with that were around the idea of obedience. But actually, I am an almost embarrassingly obedient person. Having been raised as an only child by a difficult mother, my particular pattern has always been to assign some person authority and then bend over backwards trying to please them.
No, I think the real problem is trust. I just don't trust anyone -- even God -- to take care of me, to love me, to look after my needs... and so I never fully let down my guard, even for God. So Henri Nouwen's words in Making All Things New this morning are both words I need to hear and words that trigger a lot of resistance in me.
If we live the spiritual life, putting God at the center of our existence, he writes, "we are set free from the compulsions of our world and set our hearts on the only necessary thing... we no longer experience the many things, people, and events as endless causes for worry, but begin to experience them as the rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us.
...We realize that we are in the center, and that from there all that is and all that takes place can be seen and understood as part of the mystery of God's life with us. Our conflicts and pains, our tasks and promises, our families and friends, our activities and projects, our hopes and aspirations, no longer appear to us a a fatiguing variety of things which we can barely keep together, but rather as affirmations and revelations of the new life of the Spirit in us.
All these other things, which so occupied and preoccupied us, now come as gifts or challenges that strengthen and deepen the new life which we have discovered. This does no mean that the spiritual life makes things easier or takes our struggles and pains away... What matters is to listen attentively to the Spirit and to go obediently where we are being led, whether to a joyful or a painful place.
Poverty, pain, struggle, anguish, agony, and even inner darkness may continue to be part of our experience. They may even be God's way of purifying us. But life is no longer boring, resentful, depressing, or lonely because we have come to know that everything that happens is part of our way to the house of the Father."
It all sounds really good. And I believe it, intellectually. But when push comes to shove, or the going gets tough -- whether for me or for those whom I love -- this is not where I go. I long to trust "that everything that happens is part of our way to the house of the Father." I even strongly suspect that's true. But that knowledge is not deeply rooted in me; I can't sink into it and trust. When things get challenging, all my body cells get preoccupied with the challenge, whatever it is. What's going to happen? How can I fix it? What can I do?
It's very hard to stop, to breathe, to know the Spirit is there, supporting and empowering me; to trust.