I struggled with the idea of questioning authority and who exactly is in authority over my life. Ultimately, the only authority is God and I felt His clear calling to keep researching these topics and to keep questioning and learning and growing. Although there was an initial struggle, it was eventually made clear that the person who was questioning my faith was not someone who had any power to make me feel guilty or shamed by my journey.
“Only listen to people who are in the center of your bull’s eye [inner circle of your life people]. Those outer-circle people hadn’t earned the right to tell her what to do. Not that God couldn’t use their insights to direct or motivate…but rather those people weren’t empowered to boss her around or instill in her a sense of guilt or failure based on their opinions of who she was or what she should be doing.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn
Definitely this person directed me onto the journey that I have been on and I am grateful for that push, no matter how painful it has been. But they didn't have the right or authority to know my heart or what I should be doing or not doing. And even though there were other people in my life - those "center of my bull's eye" people - I began to understand that they didn't determine my beliefs either. God used that person to direct me toward Him - and it was God who was directing my journey and the many changes that were to come. It was only He who had authority over my life.
“Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let Him tell you what to do.” ~ Matthew 23:9
One of the topics that came up in my Biblical studies over the past year was the idea of spiritual direction and spiritual mentors. This was a phrase I'd never heard before, but it resonated with me the more I read about it. I've always loved Mister Rogers and have collected several books of his quotes and a few years ago I was reading a book about him called I'm Proud of You by Tim Madigan. This memoir details a relationship developed through correspondence between the author and Fred Rogers and the title of the book refers to the way Mister Rogers would end each letter. The book is incredibly heartwarming and I highly recommend it. In the book, it mentioned that Fred Rogers wrote letters to the Catholic writer Henri Nouwen and that inspired me to look up some of Nouwen's writings.
“…meeting of souls can happen…through ‘the discovery of a saint, a book, an icon from some other part of the Christian world which suddenly we find to be intimately linked with us; the meeting with someone far away in space and time who yet becomes our friend and contemporary.” ~ Edward C. Sellner in Mentoring
I absolutely fell in love with Nouwen and quickly read my way through much of his writings. I felt such a connection to his struggles with insecurity, with being overwhelmed, with feeling broken. The more I read, the more I felt connected to this writer who was no longer living and who I would not get a chance to meet in this world...yet, the connection existed nonetheless. Reading his writings helped me to feel like I wasn't alone - that someone else had experienced similar things and that helped me to continue on this journey.
"...healing begins with our taking our pain out if its diabolical isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity, and yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something larger." ~ Henri Nouwen
Along the way, I discovered deeper relationships with certain friends as I began to share my journey and the struggles and hurt that I was feeling as well as the lessons I was learning. God brought deeper intimacy to these friendships where we were able to share hurts and losses and the ability to feel less alone and the ability to grow together in a more real relationship with God.
“What happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart.” ~ Aelred of Rievaulx
God used these friendships to provide insights and understanding and we discovered together that we weren't alone. That we shared similar struggles and that only by trusting in God and allowing Him to direct our path would we be able to make our way through this difficult time. The encouragement to read our Bibles, to pray together, to study and know His will - all these things were such a blessing. It was a little scary to be so vulnerable and real with others but I began to see the importance of sharing life with others. I mean, I knew it before, but it began to feel truly real and vital as these relationships deepened.
During this time, we had to leave a place where we had felt settled - a place where we had friends and family. But the disagreements would not allow us to stay. We had to make a choice. It wasn't an easy choice and we struggled for many months trying to decide if it was better to stay or go. It felt like either way there were many positives and negatives but ultimately the lack of peace felt like a call to stay. We prayed a lot about it and asked God for a clear sign. And one day, it was provided - we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we could no longer stay. It doesn't mean that it was easy to leave - we hated to cause any conflict, we hated to say goodbye to people we loved, we wished there was some way to make it all go away and pretend that everything was fine. But it wasn't and we had to make that leap of faith.
“Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” ~ Psalm 143:8
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” ~ Psalm 27:14
It was truly difficult at first. I had to share the reasons why we felt called to leave, I had to experience confrontation that was hurtful and untrue, I had to see people I love be hurt in the process of defending me and I had to decide who had more authority over my life - this person or God. But God provided so much in this time. He provided His peace in the midst of a terribly uncomfortable experience. He provided emotional support and encouragement from the people who were in my "inner bull's eye". He provided confidence and reassurance that we had made the right choice and that He had plans for our lives. He provided evidence in His Word that this was part of His plan for my life.
“The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” ~ Psalm 32:8
“God is writing my life story, and it’s different for me than it is for anyone else…It shouldn’t matter if other people understand. You’re the one who knows in your heart of hearts when you’re obeying His direction. He’s the One who will lift you up and send you soaring.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn
While I don't know what the future holds for me, I do know that God holds my future. I know that He is in control and I know that even when I have to go through difficult and uncomfortable circumstances that He will never leave me and He always has my best interests at heart. I won't say that it's always easy to believe that, but I have to choose to trust even when I struggle. And I do struggle. I struggle especially when things start to go wrong or difficult - I worry too much and I stress and I forget to have faith. It's easier to look back and see where I had faith, but to be honest it was much harder and messier than these blog posts reveal.
“Point out the road I must travel; I’m all ears, all eyes before You. Teach me how to live to please You because You’re my God.” ~ Psalm 143:8,10
But, what I want is to trust God. What I desire is to put my faith and trust in Him and rest secure in the knowledge that He's got this. I will struggle and I will fail...but I will try again and again and again. Each new day is a new opportunity to trust once again. And thankfully God doesn't give up on me and He keeps loving me and directing me in spite of my failures and lack of faith. How grateful am I that He does!
Dear heavenly Father, thank You for loving me in spite of my insecurities and my lack of faith. Thank You for directing me on the path You have for me and for leading me to the people and the places that You put in my life. I am so grateful for the experiences that You've allowed me to go through - even the difficult ones because I know that my faith was deepened and I have become much closer to You because of those times. Help me to remember that when new and challenging things occur - help me to trust You, to have faith, to believe that there is a reason for these things and that it is an opportunity to grow closer to You. I know that many of my friends and family are going through really difficult times and I pray that You will make Yourself truly real to them. Help them to feel Your presence and Your love in a way that surpasses expectations. I pray for healing of those who are sick, I pray for peace for those who are hurting, and I pray for Your will to be revealed to those who are searching. Thank You for Your love and Your peace and Your direction. I love you. Amen.