The gifts I have received from my spiritual directors include their sensitivity, alertness to my story (both my successes and my struggles), and their support as I continue my spiritual journey. These soul friends have helped me identify the particular path on which God is leading me without telling me the way.
I learned from my spiritual guides that the process of spiritual transformation is a gradual dismissal of the unreal images of God while becoming increasingly open to the true and living God. They have helped me confront what Thomas Merton said is the one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: “…to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.”
In a nutshell, the most consequential thing my spiritual friends and guides have provided is their assistance in the healing of my image of God and me.
What’s true about God: My spiritual directors helped me discover and experience the God that Jesus came to reveal. Jesus portrayed God as a prodigal who consistently goes overboard with His forgiveness and grace; as a father shamelessly running to welcome home a wayward son; as an insanely generous farmer, giving equal pay to his workers while foolishly ignoring the quality and quantity of their work; and as a lender selflessly cancelling a debt. My guides have led me into the awareness that the essence of God’s nature is compassion and the words “tender” and “sensitive” most accurately portray His disposition toward us.
In a nutshell what they have taught me is that the love of God is like no other love in the world. The love that resides in the heart of God is a divine choice that cannot be comprehended or explained in human terms. It knows no limits, has no boundaries, and is without a breaking point.
Also, they have helped me dismiss the notion of an angry god disgusted with my immaturity, the cranky god whose moods change with my behavior, the prejudiced god whose mean-spirited values match mine, the weak and needy god who relies on me for assistance, the doctrinaire god whose theology strictly adheres to mine, the hawkish god who sanctions my “right” to kick the butt of anyone who threatens or endangers me, the fickle god who loves me conditionally, and the plethora of other gods who have held me captive in the house of fear.
What’s true about me: My spiritual guides have helped me understand that my default nature was originally set to believe that God’s acceptance, love and care for me is directly proportional to my level of activity for God. This belief system—the more I do for God the more God will love me—once dictated most of my waking activity. And it threatened to starve my soul.
Thus my spiritual friends assisted in the healing of my image of God and me, by introducing me ascandalous reality: “God loves me as I am and not as I should be since I’ll never be the person I should be.” They’ve led me to understand that until the unlimited, unbridled and unrelenting love of God takes root in my life, until God’s reckless pursuit of me captures my imagination, until my head knowledge of God settles into my heart through pure grace, nothing really changes.
Whatever comes into our mind when we think of God is the most important thing about us. Our image of God has more power to twist and deform our soul than any other thing in the world. The flip is also true. When we think rightly about the God who loves us beyond our wildest dreams we then think rightly about everything. Simply stated, only the one who has experienced it can know what the love of God is. And once you have experienced it, nothing else in the world will ever appear more beautiful or desirable.
What is true about God in spiritual formation?
How has spiritual formation helped you realize who you truly are?
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.