Invitation and challenge

My friend, Judy Howard Peterson, has, among her many gifts, a voice that invites and challenges. For me, she brings clarity, wisdom, an expansive perspective, and vibrant curiosity. She also prompts us (particularly those who are pursuing the Holy) to see if their/our words match our actions. Her voice for justice, as well as the radical welcome the Spirit offers, can help fuel me and keep me thinking, considering, and accountable (in a good way.)

I recently joined a conversation she started around “why some people don’t ask more of their faith?” Another way I might say it is, why do those who pursue a life that reflects Jesus seem to want to stay in, what is for them, the “comfortable zone”? (eg. personal salvation but not communal growth and restoration?)

There was an interesting and vibrant conversation around this, which you can find on her Facebook page. For the sake of this post, I’m going to share some of our interaction.

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Jennifer: [paraphrased] I wonder if part of how we’ve learned to follow and reflect The Holy has primarily focused on “feeling good” or “having a sense of peace”. Then, when we feel uncomfortable/fearful/challenged, even if we aren’t conscious of it, we can believe that those feelings aren’t a part of, or with guidance from, the Holy.

It is certainly true that our intuition and/or guidance from the Spirit can alert us to discomfort, caution, and overwhelm around situations and people, which ARE a red flag of caution or danger. Absolutely. I’m just not sure that as we pursue God, we are taught well that sometimes those experiences are actually a Holy awarenesses of injustice as well as invitations for personal growth and greater refining and wholeness.

As a spiritual director, I frequently hear the words, “it’s just so hard.” And “it” is. Certainly. We can’t minimize that. AND, there are times when “it” could be the Spirit’s invitation toward (not comfortable, but) healthy change, personal growth, or an acceptance of mystery in our faith journey. I don’t want to minimize that “it’s” hard and overwhelming. There is a lot about this life that is hard.

Perhaps the clarifying question for each of us could be, “And what might the Spirit’s invitation be for you in this?”

Sometimes there’s a clear directive to not engage in the uncomfortable. Then don’t. AND, there are times of invitation for movement and action, inward or outward, that engaging with the uncomfortable can bring. The Holy One’s answer may also simply be, “I am with you in it.”

I believe that our faith journey is a lifelong one that is not linear. But, if we say we are on this journey of faith, then life being uncomfortable, hard, and challenging, is part of the terrain. And it is holy ground.

Judy: A friend mentioned something similar to me yesterday. The church that works to remove discomfort often has a difficult time convincing people that discomfort is part of the Holy Spirit’s leading.

I think we often frame the Christian walk as sacrifice and laying down one’s life and dying to self, so when life is already difficult, many feel like, “who has capacity for more of that?” But what if participating in the world, like Christ participated in it (sacrificial for sure), is actually life and life abundantly? I think we would all feel like we have enough capacity for experiencing more love joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness,…etc?

[People may say], “Oh my goodness you’re sacrificing so much for Jesus.” Meanwhile, I was feeling like I was living the fullest life I had ever lived. And it’s not that there weren’t blisters or that I didn’t get tired or that I wasn’t sometimes lonely. But that seemed like such a small price to pay for getting to be part of life abundant.”

Jennifer: During one of the darkest seasons of my life, God invited me into, and intimately accompanied me throughout, a painful and life-giving transformation. It wasn’t because I asked for it, or in fact anyone who knew me well felt I “needed it,” but because the brokenness in my life and relationships were nearly requiring it.

God was so gracious and present as I said “yes” to very hard things that only God could do with and within me. I now have a completely different understanding of John 10:10 – “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real life, and have it to the full.”

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As our conversation came to a close, I sat at my computer and took some deep breaths. Life can be so hard. Life can also be so beautiful.

How about you? What does this conversation stir in you? What might the Spirit’s invitation be for you in this?

In her original post, Judy offers us this prayer: Oh God create in me an interest for the things that interest you. Oh Christ, may what bothers you always bother me. Oh Spirit, give me the capacity to not only bear witness to both the beauty and pain of the world, but to do my part to create more beauty and to repair what I can. Amen.

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