What is Spiritual Direction?

“So, what is spiritual direction?”

At times, the easiest way to answer this question is to say what spiritual direction is not. A spiritual director is not a counselor or psychotherapist, not a life coach or personal trainer, not an accountability or prayer partner, not a pastor, and not the same for every person. Spiritual direction is not pushy, and not even very directive!

So, what is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is an ancient Christian practice that is very effective for spiritual growth. Generally, the director and directee meet monthly for about an hour. According to the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Association, “Fundamentally a ministry of prayer, spiritual direction is a one-with-one relationship in which directors accompany others on their journey to mature faith in Christ.” Key words here are “prayer,” “relationship,” “accompany,” and “Christ.” Spiritual direction is helping another person fulfill their desire to really know our triune God. All else is “loss” in comparison to “knowing Christ” (Phil 3:8).

According to the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association: “Spiritual direction is a safe place to explore your questions and concerns about your life with God. A Christian spiritual director is a trained listener who will accompany you as you share about your spiritual journey, helping you notice God’s presence and activity along the way, as well as your personal reactions and responses. Hospitable, confidential, and grounded in biblical truth, spiritual direction is a ministry that helps you grow in prayer and live into your calling as a follower of Christ.” Key words here are “trained listener,” “your life with God,” “notice” and “hospitable.” Good spiritual directors are not trying to instill their own theology but to create a hospitable listening space in which God patiently, lovingly, persistently forms you to be all He specifically and carefully designed you to be (Ps 139).

God is always communicating with us. The spiritual director helps the directee hear, see, feel and recognize our self-revealing God. As we see how God is already active in our lives, our relationship with Him deepens; we see all of life more clearly; and we get glimpses of how to follow Him and how to allow Him to love us. The personal relationship with Jesus of which we have heard so much and the abiding and passionate love for God we have always desired finally come to life.

For Christian spiritual directors, Jesus is central to all of life. This unchanging foundation will come out as they do spiritual direction, particularly in faith that God is self-giving, good, holy, unchanging, and untiringly communicating with the directee. However, there is much freedom in direction because there is much, much trust in God alone as the Director. This freedom shows up in multiple ways. For example, directees may be offered options of ways to pray, but directors do not “check up” to see if they did it.

Spiritual directors trust that directees will continue to move toward God (as much as they are able, often in fits and starts) as God is speaking and inviting them. It is not a director’s job to make that happen, just to accompany, support and cheer the process. However, it is a spiritual director’s job to be a careful and care-full listener and to pray often for their directees.

So, who would benefit from going to a spiritual director? Oh, that answer is much easier…Anyone who wants to grow in relationship with God! Spiritual direction is particularly helpful at times of transition, for discernment and decision-making. However, meeting with a spiritual director is also an opportunity to see God at work, reflect on life experiences, understand oneself better, explore hopes and dreams, and especially to offer time and hold open space to hear God’s voice.

Pastors, priests, and ministers often benefit from spiritual direction because they are so prone to busyness, resulting in spiritual exhaustion and neglect of their prayer life. Spiritual direction provides them a safe, confidential place to ask God questions and a pause for listening to God’s answers. However, new believers and seekers also encounter God again and again as they turn their minds and hearts to find Him. Our God desires to be found.

Starting spiritual direction can be a frightening endeavor, as can any decision to really know God. A lot of courage is required to intentionally invite God to enter and indwell us—mind, heart, spirit, and body. We experience an unsettled feeling, wondering what in the world this holy yet forgiving, unmanageable yet attentive, huge but tender, unfathomable yet fatherly God has in mind for us. However, in taking the risk to know God better, we learn new ways to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) and to join with the Apostle Paul in declaring, “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). We experience afresh God as our refuge and strength and the lover of our souls.

So, what is spiritual direction? Perhaps the best answer to this question is found by responding to the invitation Jesus so often gives us, to “come and see.”

My Story

Born in Africa to long-term missionaries, I was raised to serve God. Back in the States at age nine, I walked the long aisle forward to forgiveness in Jesus Christ to strains of “Just As I Am.” As a teen, I remained faithful to God by staying active in youth group, witnessing to my school friends, and carefully avoiding obvious sin. Sadly, I also became judgmental of those who did not.

However, by the end of college, loneliness, failures, and the stresses of young marriage convinced me to the core that I was no better than anyone else. I deeply wanted more of God in my life, and I wanted to live more of my life for God.

My husband and I became steadfastly committed to a local church, to our four daughters, and to each other. Both physicians, we served God in the United States, Zambia, and Honduras. Through thick and thin, hardship and joy, premie nursery, broken bones, blood clots, grief, and busy middle-class American lives, we read our Bibles, attended prayer and sharing groups, and taught Sunday school and youth group.

Generally, I was joyful and grateful for family, church, and friends, for gradual growth in the Lord, for God meeting all my needs in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). But sometimes I still wondered, “Am I obeying the first and greatest commandment as God intended? Do I really love God? Do I really love others? And exactly how should I be serving Him?”

When our youngest daughter left home for college, I found myself unexpectedly lost. For twenty-five years, I had worked very part-time as a doctor and very full-time as a mom. Now I was forced to “retire” from parenting–the job I had loved and the one in which I was fully vested. In the ensuing months I quizzed God, “Who am I now? What next? What more?”

Eventually, though unsure of the end goal, I enrolled as a Biblical Studies major at nearby Evangelical Theological Seminary. Of one thing I was sure–ministry, which I thought meant being a pastor, was not my goal. The life of preaching every Sunday and tending a flock of unruly congregants was not my calling. However, gradually, from interacting with my professors and fellow students, I came to understand that ministry was much more than pastoring. My professors ministered to us students in the midst of teaching; and fellow students were already ministering— as chaplains, InterVarsity staff, social workers and counselors.

In many ways, I discovered I also had been ministering all along—to our daughters, the youth group, our church body, my husband, our houseguests, my patients, my friends, and even to God. After all, ministry is service and servanthood. Furthermore, all work done “as for the Lord and not for men…is serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24). Yet God had another, quite unexpected ministry ahead for me—spiritual direction.

I had heard of spiritual direction but felt hesitant and even leery of this unfamiliar practice. Then I met the spiritual formation professors at seminary and got a glimpse of how God was using spiritual direction to infuse new life and facilitate spiritual growth in His beloved children. Two years of spiritual direction training at Kairos School of Spiritual Formation combined with a Master’s in Spiritual Formation at Evangelical Seminary to form me into a new kind of minister–a spiritual director.

As a spiritual director, I teach people how to pray, how to hear and see God’s activity in their lives, how to interact with God’s Word with both heart and mind, and how to love God and others by intimately knowing Him and experiencing His love for them.

Through meeting regularly with my own spiritual director, I am slowly learning to live more consciously in the presence of our triune God so that my hands and my voice become more completely God’s. I am slowly learning to surrender more courageously to God’s love and to love God back more fully. God is answering some of my questions, but I am slowly learning to live in the dark, trusting God with what He does not answer. And I am slowly learning to seek and know God, not just what God gives and does.

Thanks be to God that I am learning (however slowly) through the gift of spiritual direction!

Prayer of Examen

The Method:

1.  Surrender anew to the loving presence of God here and now.

2.  Take a gentle look with God at each part of your past day—all your thoughts, feelings and actions.

• Where did you move toward God or respond to God with a “Yes”?
• Where did you move away from God or respond to God with a “No”?

3.  Ask God, with gratitude, to bless you with more opportunities to receive Him and His gifts and to move toward Him tomorrow.

Ask God to forgive you for moving away from Him and to help you respond to Him with renewed love and faithfulness tomorrow.

4. Yield yourself again to the loving, ongoing, transforming presence of God in your life.


Examining Examen More Closely

1. Intent:

The prayer of examen allows us to become more aware of God’s presence and action in us and in the world around us.

God is always present and active in us as believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And God is always active in the world—in love, pursuing and inviting the world to be reconciled to Himself through Jesus Christ. Practiced over weeks to months, the prayer of examen allows us to see more clearly God’s presence and action and to participate with God more fully and freely.

Our part in any prayer practice is to provide a structure and place in our hearts, minds, wills, spirits and bodies for God to be and to act. God alone transforms. Prayer is our cooperation with the amazing, powerful work of God in the world.

2. Explanation:

What does it mean to “move toward God” or “say ‘Yes’ to God”? God is the source of all life; all love (as described in 1 Cor 13:4-8 and Rom 12:9-21); all truth; all gifts of the Spirit (as listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10 and Rom 12:6-8) and all the fruit of the Spirit (as listed in Gal 5:22-23). Where did you cooperate with God to express or increase what He gave you (life, love, truth, gifts or fruit of the Spirit)? Be grateful for what God has done through you and in you.

What does it mean to “move away from God” or “say ‘No’ to God”? We all sin daily, whether by refusing, disobeying, or ignoring God in what we do or do not do. Examining our motives and attitudes, not just our actions, is important here. The goal is not condemnation but a gentle return to God to accept His forgiveness through Christ and to cooperate anew with God’s transforming touch. Be grateful for God’s forgiveness and your own spiritual growth, no matter how stuttering and seemingly slow.

3. Mechanics:

Examen is generally practiced twice daily for about 20 minutes at noon and bedtime. However, just a 5-10 minute prayer of examen every evening can result in increased awareness of God in everyday life.

As with physical exercise, new spiritual practices are best begun in small but consistent ways. We do not start by running marathons every week but by walking around the block every night.


Determine a specified length of time to pray the examen. If you want to develop a habit of examen, practice this prayer for at least 10 weeks. Just to start seeing God somewhat more clearly in daily life, try 4 weeks. The longer you practice examen, the more clearly you will see your own patterns of response or refusal to God and the trends of God’s actions in the world.

For some, journaling or recording a few words during the prayer of examen may be helpful for focus and recall. Setting your Bible or journal in a prominent place each morning may help you remember to practice examen that evening.

4. Failure:

You will fail. Accept it. You are a human, and God knows that. In fact, God made you human—imperfect, not a god. And Scripture tells us (Jn 3:16) God loves us as we  are—imperfect humans. You will not practice the prayer of examen perfectly, even after a lifetime of doing it.

When you fail at examen, just start again. God delights every time we turn and return to him. The Bible records God’s mercy triumphing over God’s judgment. Remember the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Remember God’s curses extending to 3-4 generations and his blessings to 1000 generations (Deut 5:9-10). Remember the free gift of salvation and new life through Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). Mercy triumphs over judgment.

The two most unfortunate approaches to examen are 1) not to start at all out of fear of failure; or 2) to practice the examen with perfect form but without an open, surrendered heart towards God.

5. Families

This prayer form is easily adaptable to use with children and in families. Every evening at supper, go around the table and hear from each person the answer to one of the following questions:

  • “For what were you most grateful today?”

  • “Where did you see the most beauty [joy, love, hope, faith, truth, or compassion] today?”
  • “Where did you feel most connected to God today?”
  • “Where did you feel most loved or loving today?”Next, consider hearing from each person around the table the answer to one of the following questions:
  • “For what were you least grateful today?”
  • “Where did you see the least beauty [joy, love, hope, faith, truth, or compassion]today?”
  • “Where did you feel least connected to God today?”
  • “Where did you feel the least loved or loving today?”

6. Final words:

This prayer form may not be for you—now or ever. If it is, start today…and start again tomorrow…and the next day. If it is not, pray in another way today…and tomorrow…and the next day. If you are not sure if examen is for you, either pray about it or experiment with it. Either way, you are interacting with God. And you will always be transformed by interacting with the living God!

Prayer Journaling

Why journal?

Isn’t journaling just for those who are good with words and writing? Actually, journaling is for anyone who can write anything, even a couple words.

Journaling slows us down. Like building a dam across a rapidly flowing stream, journaling stops the cascade of our experiences long enough for us to see and examine them.

Journaling helps us be honest with ourselves–to truthfully and carefully observe and question ourselves.

Journaling helps us recognize our emotions. In order to describe our emotions, we need to first identify them.

Expressing our helpful emotions (compassion, awe, gratitude) to God can augment and expand them. Expressing our unhelpful emotions (resentment, jealousy, hurt) to God may dampen or drain their energy and expose them to the Spirit’s healing.

Emotions are very, very valuable. First, emotions are indicators (barometers) of what is happening inside us. Second, passions and emotions are the powerhouse of our actions. Without passion and emotion, we are depressed, apathetic, dull, unmoving and unmotivated. God is the source of all our godly desires and passions, such as our desire to know God and our passion to serve the poor or defend the oppressed.

Awareness of emotions, desires and passions helps us harness and channel them for God.If we are unaware of our emotions, they are likely to rule us in hidden, undesirable ways. Why not look at our emotions with God and allow Him both to shape them and to tap into that power within us?

Journaling helps us problem-solve and live more intentionally. We want to live examined lives, to act instead of reacting. Journaling gives us an opportunity to live thoughtfully instead of accidentally.

Journaling helps us to better see, hear, and understand God. God speaks through Scripture; through others; through art, music and poetry; through Creation; and through all that is happening in our lives. No part of our lives is irrelevant for journaling. Journaling about God’s activities in our lives develops a clearer picture of God.

 Journaling records history. By noticing and recalling God’s actions in our lives, gratefulness may increase. By reviewing our journals periodically, we can see trends or patterns and we can better remember what we have learned from God and about God. Scripture is a journal of God’s actions in history and an interpretation of those actions.

Journaling savors God’s work. Remembering and savoring can be an act of worship, which is one reason God established annual festivals for His people.

How do I journal? There is no “right” way!

Freely express yourself. Forget correct grammar. Try to consciously notice and record both your feelings and thoughts.

Use words, phrases or sentences; poetry or prose; photos, doodles, drawings or magazine cut-outs. Copy down Scripture verses, quotes, or stories. Record your prayers and conversations with God.

Review your entries periodically. Mine them for spiritual gold. Look for trends and patterns. Be grateful for what God has done in your life.

If you’re not sure what to “talk about” in your journal, you may want to consider  one or more of the following questions:

  • What is your image of God? Has it changed over time? If so, how?
  • To Whom do you pray (which Person of the Trinity)? Has that changed?
  • How are you aware of God during the day? Where did you notice God today?Yesterday?
  • Have you had any dreams lately that seem to have spiritual significance? If so, record them and pray with them. What does God seem to be saying to you?
  • How do you make decisions? What have been the results of past decisions? How did/do you sense God’s leading?
  • What is your calling in life? Has your understanding of your calling changed over time? If so, how?
  • What is your prayer life like? What do you want for your prayer life?
  • How might you be stuck or holding back from God?
  • What scripture passages or quotes have been particularly meaningful to you and why?
  • What questions do you have for God?
  • What do you want from God?
  • What does God want to heal in you and your life? 
  • What has God been showing you? Teaching you? 
  • How is God inviting you to grow?

Journaling daily will help you both process and remember. We have an enemy who will attempt to snatch away what God is trying to do for our sake. Jotting down what was noticed or heard from God, especially right after spiritual direction sessions, helps safeguard and “keep” what God is doing in our hearts, minds, and lives.

Prayer of Imagination

Humans are made in God’s image in so many ways, not the least of which is our imagination. Imagination is essential for child development but is also necessary for anyone who creates or innovates. We all use our imaginations anytime we think of a scene or an object not currently present to our five senses. Jesus used his imagination quite effectively in teaching by parables.

“The Lord’s Prayer” by James Tissot

Every builder, cook, author, or artist imagines a final product before beginning his work. And imagination makes empathy possible as we imagine how another person may be feeling.

How then can we use this valuable tool of imagination in prayer?

Read through a story of Jesus, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart and mind through this recounting. Next, imagine yourself to be present in the narrative, either as a person named in the story or as an unidentified observer. Deliberately engage all five of your senses to interact with the scene and the action: Smell, Sight, Sound, Taste and Touch. Look around you. Pay particular attention to Jesus. What is he like? How are you relating to him? How are others relating to him? Allow the story to unfold gradually and notice your thoughts and feelings as it happens. Stay with the experience, perhaps even longer than you think is needed.

After the prayer of imagination story has “concluded,” try experiencing it from another vantage point. Do not evaluate the story while you are “in” it, but only after the imaginary part of the prayer has concluded. When the action has finished, consider questions such as the following: How were you drawn into the story? Were you experiencing any pushback from the story? Was your experience in the story in keeping with the truth Scripture teaches? What was Jesus like in the story? How were you relating to him? What moved you? What surprised you? What do you want now? What is God’s message or invitation for you in this story?

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Johannes Vermeer

The objective for this prayer is not exact historical and scientific accuracy in imagining the story and its setting. The goal here is to watch and wait for a revelation from God. Our God is self-revealing and truth-telling. Our desire in this prayer is knowing and experiencing God and His truth. Similar to the way Jesus used parables to teach truths, God can use prayer of imagination to teach our hearts and minds about Him, about ourselves, and about the world. God can use prayer of imagination in the same way He uses art, music and poetry.

The Spirit of Jesus who dwells within us as Jesus followers is the same Spirit who was present as Christ walked this earth and lived these historic accounts in Scripture. God knows what happened there and why. Let God use your imagination to show you what He wants you to know and understand about the events recorded in Scripture.

Jesus at “Emmaus” by Rembrandt

Lectio Divina

Lectio divina  is a way of praying with Scripture to allow God’s Word to penetrate and change your heart, not just your head. An ancient method of prayer, lectio divina has been used by Christians for almost two millennia. Many Christians today use a similar prayer practice called “savoring the Word.” Lectio divina is not meant to replace Bible study, which God also uses to transform us.

The method of lectio in brief:

1) Surrender to God. Set aside about 15-20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time and start by asking God’s Spirit to teach you about Himself and yourself. Setting a timer may help you “ignore” the time constraints.

2) Read the Scripture aloud. Next, read aloud the Scripture passage you have chosen at least twice. Read no more than 5-10 verses each day. As you read, watch for a word or short phrase to stand out to you in some way. This word or phrase will almost “shimmer” (not visibly, but in your heart or your attention). It’s likely you will have no idea why that particular word or phrase stands out. Trust that God is bringing this “morsel” to your attention.

3) Meditate on the Word. Then, take that word or phrase and meditate on it. Meditation is like “chewing your cud” mentally, and involves repetitively attending to a thought. Anyone who can worry can meditate. Turn the word or phrase over in your mind and look at it from many different angles. Be free and open in this. If you get distracted, just turn back to it. If distracted easily, consider journaling your thoughts or jotting down short notes.

4) Pray about your meditation. If God has brought to mind something to do or know from your meditation on Scripture, ask Him to help you act on this change or insight. Talk to God directly and take time to listen, giving God space to reply.

5) Surrender again to God. Finally, just sit quietly with God for a while in an attitude of surrender to His loving presence and will. The goal here is not a mystical experience nor an “emptiness” of thought or feeling. The intention is just to enjoy and rest with God, similar to the way friends or spouses sometimes sit silently together, loving one another with gratitude.

6) End with the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus Prayer (Breath Prayer)

A form of “breath prayer,” the Jesus Prayer is usually said, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” while inhaling on the first half of the sentence and exhaling on the second half. According to Eastern Orthodox Church theology, the whole message of the Bible is encapsulated in the Jesus Prayer.  However, the words may also be shortened to “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or even “Christ, have mercy.”

For millennia, Eastern Orthodox Christians have used the Jesus Prayer to obey the biblical instruction to “pray continually” (1 Thess 5:17). For some, by continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer,  inner peace and Christ’s presence are experienced in the heart. The Jesus Prayer is also a way for God’s people to “hide” or “treasure” the Word in their hearts (Ps 119:11). Though this psalm refers to the word(s) of God’s Law, Jesus is also the Word and is the fulfillment of the Law.

In Scripture, both the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma can be translated spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.” Use breath prayer to receive (inhale) from God and to express (exhale) your requests to and for God. While praying and inhaling, remember God breathing life into man’s nostrils (Gen 2:7). Breathe in the abundant Life of God. Remember Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into his disciples (Jn 20:22). Receive the full and generous gift of God’s Spirit. While praying and exhaling, deliberately surrender your breath of life and your will to God. 


Other words may be substituted in breath prayer, such as “Holy Spirit, fill me;” “Abba Father, I love you;” or “Christ Jesus, show me your truth.” Use whatever words God gives you. After discerning the prayer for you, stay with the same words for at least a month. Do not switch often. Instead, watch and wait for God’s response. The Jesus Prayer is a Prayer of the Heart, meant to express deep, ongoing declarations and requests to God. In contrast, prayers of petition and intercession address more rapidly changing needs and thoughts.

With God’s help, examine your heart before beginning. What do you want? Be truthful in requesting what you want. Prayer is not a technique nor a transaction but an interaction with God. If you want Christ to have mercy on you, pray these words. If you want to love God more, pray this request.

The goal here is not mere repetition of words in order to empty your mind. Instead of emptying your mind in breath prayer, let your mind, heart, and body be filled with the Holy Spirit of Christ. The goal here is not just to feel peaceful or less anxious. Instead of seeking more peacefulness, seek the Prince of Peace.

Start with praying the Jesus Prayer for ten continuous minutes a day. Focus on the words while turning your heart towards God. Then schedule one- to two- minute breaks in the midst of your day to pray the Jesus Prayer. Next begin to pray as you go—as you drive, walk or ride bike. Gradually, take this prayer into everyday activities as a constant reminder of God’s presence, sovereignty and provision and of your desire for Him.

Colossians 4:2: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Ephesians 6:18: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (NIV)

The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb

P: Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in the relationship.  Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify.

A: Attend to how you’re thinking of God. Again, no pretending.  Ask yourself, “How am I experiencing God right now?”  Is He a vending machine, a frowning father, a distant, cold force?  Or is He your gloriously strong but intimate Papa?

P: Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God. Put into words whatever makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed when you’re real in your relationship with Him.  How are you thinking more about yourself and your satisfaction than about anyone else, including God and His pleasure?

A: Approach God as the “first thing” in your life, as your most valuable treasure, the Person you most want to know.  Admit that other people and things really do matter more to you right now, but you long to want God so much that every other good thing in your life becomes a “second thing” desire.

That’s what I call relational prayer. And I’m coming to see that it belongs in the exact center of my prayer life–for that mater, in the center of my entire spiritual journey. Nothing has relieved my confusion over unanswered prayer requests more than the realization that relational prayer must always come before petitionary prayer.  Relate and then request.  Enjoy God and then enjoy His provisions, whatever they are…

The PAPA prayer is the best way I’ve discovered to develop and nourish the relationship with God given to me by Jesus through His life, death, and resurrection.  Relational prayer provides the Spirit with a wide open opportunity to do what He loves most to do, to draw me into the heart and life of the Father and to make me more like the Son.

Usually when I pray the PAPA prayer, nothing happens–at least nothing I can see or feel right away…Praying the PAPA prayer [is] simply a way to come to God and learn to wait, to listen with a little less wax in our spiritual ears, and, most of all, to be relentlessly real.

—Quoted from the book The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb, pp. 10-11.


Buoyed by hope,
Suspended in peace,
Falling free in faith,
Time and space somehow immaterial,
I am unhooked and unhinged
by the God outside (and inside)
who takes me in and out too.

“Fear not. I AM with you.”
God’s non-anxious Presence within,
a clear beginning
or end.
At the mention of Your name
Precious Jesus,
Prince of Peace,
Savior King,
my waiting heart turns, tuned
to Your Voice,
my tongue moves to confess, repeat, shout, whisper
Your Name
that covers us,
holds us,
bowls us over,
with covenant love
til gratitude wells in,
and out.
How IS it that
I could know You—goodness, gracious?!
How IS it that
I could ever doubt Your love?

A Gift to all who will hear,
to all whose ears burn
to resonate with the One and Only Heart Song.
A Gift to all who will see,
to all whose eyes long
to feast on the Wellspring of Beauty.
A Gift to all who will feel,
to all whose souls ache
to return to the Tender Touch
and persistent pressure
of their Lover, their Maker, their Source.
A never-ending Gift to all
who seek truly,
know deeply,
and mine the courage to receive

Don’t Erase

Three years ago, I took up a new spiritual practice — drawing my prayers. A recovering perfectionist, I quickly noticed the need for one fixed rule in using the colored pencils: Don’t erase! Somehow, banishing the eraser switched my attention from the product to the process of prayer.

Before long, poems spilled out to accompany my drawings. I had discovered so much freedom in not “fixing” my drawings that I declared once again: Don’t erase! Somehow, writing in pen instead of pencil allowed the words to flow unimpeded, without the usual fits and starts of self-analysis and self-criticism.

Quite unexpectedly, in providing spiritual direction, the power of this principle grew even clearer. Sometimes, directees would hesitate to remember and recount their sad tales of illness, abuse, suffering, addiction, or sin. At first, I would also hesitate to proceed down the painful paths of desolation with them but would opt instead for the cheerful encouragement of their consolations. Yet, in “erasing” or avoiding the darkness, we were missing the treasures hidden there.

Our entire life stories have shaped us, both the darkness and the light. God is always present with us, weaving together the dark and light threads of our experiences to form the tapestry of our lives and our selves. In an important sense, we are our memories—all of them. Erasing, suppressing or ignoring the ugly or painful memories diminishes us.

The Bible does not erase the misfortunes, weaknesses, and sins of God’s people. How could we possibly know God and ourselves as well without recalling the disobedience of Adam and Eve, the four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, David’s adultery, or the Babylonian exile? Jesus did not ignore or gloss over the Samaritan woman’s sad situation nor the sin of the woman caught in adultery. He met them as they were. The mistakes of Peter, the other disciples, and the early church are openly recounted in Scripture, not wiped squeaky clean.

Does this mean we must disclose all our sins and sadnesses to each other? We need not go to the opposite extreme of erasing by dwelling on our misfortunes. We need not recount all the details of our abuse. We need not endlessly spiral in self-pity and regret. Instead of erasing, we can accept and act. Instead of erasing, we can remember and forgive. Instead of erasing painful memories, we can look for the presence of God with us always.

God does all the erasing we need. In Christ, God erases our guilt and our punishment. In the generous love of God, we find the safety and freedom to let go of perfectionism. In the unchanging love of the Creator, we remember God intentionally made us human and fallible. In the power of the Spirit, every inborn personality trait, every past event, and every present situation is “worked” for our good.

So, don’t erase. Don’t re-write your past or your present. Let God love you as you are and watch what happens.