Sometimes we get so involved in serving the needs of others we forget our own need for the life-giving relationships that sustain us. That's what happened to my friend Mark Buchanan. Mark told me about his experience, using an illustration from the movie The Lion King:
In the Lion King, Simba – a self-obsessed, self-pitying young lion – loses his way after a tragic mistake. He wills a deep forgetfulness, rejecting who he is, spurning what he's called to. The pain of his past and the burden of his future are crashing. He avoids it all by throwing himself into a life of idleness and indulgence.
It's so much fun, until it's not. One day Simba meets Rafiki, a mandrill, a blue-faced baboon. Rafiki sits atop a branch and sings a nonsense song, half taunt, half ditty. Then he says to Simba, "I know who you are."
The chase is on. Rafiki swings from tree to tree, scrambles through thickets, darts and weaves, vanishes and appears. Simba gallops to catch him. At a turn in the chase, Rafiki says to Simba, "You are more than who you have become."
At last, Simba comes open Rafiki by a pool in the forest. "I know who you are," Rafiki says again. "You are Mufasa's son." Mufasa was Simba's father. Mufasa was the Lion King. "Look," Rafiki says, and invites Simba to gaze at his own reflection in the pool. But all Simba sees is his own face. "It's only me," he says, dejected. "No," Rafiki says. "Look again." He drops a stone in the water. The surface ripples, then stills. And Simba sees, reflected in his own face, the face of his father. The face of the Lion King. He rises, and runs straights into his destiny.
In Swahili, Mufasa means king. Simba means lion. Rafiki? That means friend.
A rafiki helps us see the Father's face reflected in our own. He helps us discover that we are more than who we have become. He helps us, despite our failures, despite our inadequacies, despite our fears, rise to our true self, take hold of our true calling.
I woke up one day, over a decade ago now, and realized I didn't have one, a rafiki. I had just turned forty. I was enjoying life immensely. But I was friendless. There was not one person in my growing list of acquaintances and colleagues whom I would trust with the deep stuff. Not one I could call at 3:00 in the morning if my life was derailing. Not one I could call at 3:00 in the afternoon just to hang out.
So I went in search of a rafiki, and found a few. I had to take risks. I had to be vulnerable. I had to become curious. I had to drop my guard. I had to invite my rafikis to hold a mirror up to me, so I could see who I really was. So I could see who I might become.
And they held it, and I saw. I still have miles to go, but I see more clearly than ever the Father's face reflected in my own.
Such good rafikis.
Sometimes the ideas and experiences presented in a classroom environment can catapult someone to a new awareness of their dependence on God and lead to a willingness to take next steps. Troy is a friend and fellow minister who participated in some classes I taught recently. He shares some thoughts about the experience.
"When the pace of your life outstrips the health of your soul, eventually, predictability, you are headed for a crash."
I heard the words at my church as if I was watching a movie in slow motion. Simultaneously I heard another voice in my head saying simply, "Buckle up – because that's you."
I didn't know why I felt so tired and sick all the time. I didn't know why I was so anxious and sad. I didn't know what was missing, but I knew something was terribly wrong on the inside. I had plenty of knowledge about God and even ministry, but it was as if my soul was withering. I refused to listen to it; the whole experience made no sense. So my body took over and got my attention, and finally I began to listen. I later came to see the fatigue and physical symptoms as a "blessed mutiny" – my body refused to go any farther under my leadership.
I had been a believer since a young age, gone to a Christian college, and worked in a successful role at a successful church. I was aware of my core wounds, my brokenness, and the masks I wore so people wouldn't see those parts of me. I was also becoming aware that self-knowledge and self-protection were not bringing healing. Some confusion and hopelessness began to settle in as I realized I was meandering in a very dry and thirsty land.
It was at this point that God led the ideas of soul care into my life through Mindy. She became my desert guide during her classes and over an occasional cup of coffee at Starbucks, as she pointed me toward this inner journey. I had gone through Christian counseling, and while that was very helpful, this was different. She challenged the presence of functional atheism in my life, even demonstrating it with a version of the classic bridge illustration that showed my tendency to assume that, while I was saved by God's grace, the rest of my life (beyond salvation) depended on me.
I began to learn that the Holy Spirit is available to walk with me through each moment if I will quiet the din of my life enough to hear him. My journey inward became a journey into spiritual practices, which led me toward a deepening level of daily dependence. I got back into therapy and found a spiritual director, and I experienced some of the healing I had always believed was possible. God used Mindy – both the things she said and the way she said them – to change my life from the inside out, and it's only just begun.
What began in a classroom as a series of casual conversation eventually moved to a coffee shop, where Troy shared several desert experiences and took steps to engage in his inner journey of growth.
*Due to limited space we will not be able to add every story.
Whether you meet in person or via Skype, you will find that a spiritual director can be a tremendous help at any stage in the spiritual journey and particularly in the Journeying Together and Following Together stages. Many of the resources listed below also provide training for becoming a spiritual director. For more information on finding a spiritual director, check out the following:
For more information on becoming a spiritual director, check out the following:
The ministry also offers an excellent process for leadership teams to develop their discernment in decision making. Since many in the Following Together stage serve as leaders, these resources are particularly helpful in cultivating spiritual discernment within teams. Downloadable guides and consulting services are available; for more information, visit www.leadershiptransformations.org/sdt.htm.
In 2007 the Willow Creek Association published the findings from research conducted on an unprecedented scale. The study has now extended to 1,600 churches, representing some 480,000 individual surveys taken in five countries. The groundbreaking REVEAL data focused on patterns that emerged when congregants were asked about their spiritual lives in the context of their church.
Here are some key findings:
For more information on REVEAL and the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey, visit www.revealnow.com.
Those who journey through the deserts are often "met" by guides in the pages of books. It's no wonder that Augustine's Confessions, Brother Lawrence's The practice of the Presence of God, and, more recently, Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion have stood the test of time. Thomas à Kempis wrote The Imitation of Christ in Latin during the years 1418 - 1427. Next to the Bible itself, it is the most widely published devotional book ever.
Confessions was written sometime during AD 397 or 398 and is filled with deep meaning for us today.
This is the fruit of my confessions of what I am, not of what I have been, to confess this, not before Thee only, in a secret exultation with trebling, and a secret sorrow with hope; but in the ears also of the believing sons of men, sharers of my joy, and partners in my mortality, my fellow citizens, and fellow pilgrims, who are gone before, or are to follow on, companions of my way.
Brother Lawrence entered a monastery in France and lived the last thirty years of his life working in the kitchen, cooking meals and washing pots and pans. In his beloved classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, he writes these words:
There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it...
I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God's presence, and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment.
Amid the monotony of cooking and cleaning chores, Brother Lawrence's work was his ministry, rooted in his deep love for God.
We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that is done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.
Thomas Kelly was a Quaker missionary, educator, speaker, author, and scholar. In A Testament of Devotion, he wrote this about inward prayer:
Live this present moment, this present hour as you now sit in your seats, in utter submission and openness toward him. Listen outwardly to these words, but within, behind the scenes, in the deeper levels of your lives where you are all alone with God the Loving Eternal One, keep up a silent prayer. "Open Thou my life. Guide my thoughts where I dare not let them go. But Thou darest. Thy will be done." Walk on the streets and chat with your friends.
But every moment behind the scenes be in prayer, offering yourselves in continuous obedience.
I find this internal continuous prayer life absolutely essential. It can be carried on day and night, in the thick of business, in home and school. Such prayer of submission can be so simple. It is well to use a single sentence, repeated over and over and over again, such as this: "Be thou my will," or "I open all before Thee. I open all before Thee," or "See earth through heaven. See earth through heaven." This hidden prayer life can pass, in time, beyond words and phrases into mere ejaculations, "My God, my God, my Holy One, my Love," or into the adoration of the Upanishad, "O Wonderful, O Wonderful, O Wonderful." Words may cease and one stands and walks and sits and lies in wordless attitudes of adoration and submission and rejoicing and exultation and glory.
Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ was first published in 1441. It has been called the "perfect expression of a spiritual movement known as devotio moderna (modern devotion), which swept Roman Catholicism through the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. It stressed meditation and the inner life and cautioned against the outer life of much busyness and occupation.
Many people try to escape temptations, only to fall more deeply. We cannot conquer simply by fleeing, but by patience and true humility we become stronger than all our enemies. The man who only shuns temptations outwardly and does not uproot them will make little progress; indeed they will quickly return, more violent than before.
Little by little, in patience and long suffering you will overcome them, by the help of God rather than by severity and your own rash ways. Often take counsel when tempted; and do not be harsh with other who are tempted, but console them as you yourself would wish to be consoled.
Whether in print or in person, fellow travelers help us intercept the unfamiliar landscape of our interior world and the activity of the Holy Spirit. They model a deep devotion to God that should inspire us to folloe a similar path.