The Trajectory of Our Lives
When we think of the spiritual journey, I think we are so now-focused that we don’t think of the whole trajectory of our lives and how what’s happening today fits into it. I have thought a lot along these lines because I grew up in a hell-fire-and-damnation church in Louisville KY from ages 1 ½ to 13, when my family moved north to Wilmington DE and joined another Presbyterian church of a different and more positive message. However, for me, steeped in the punitive, capricious god of the earlier years, there was no relief for me.
By my early twenties my image of God was of a raven sitting on my shoulder ready to zap me for anything I did wrong. By my late 20’s I was out of the church. It took twenty years for me to return to the church even as I had given my life to Christ several years earlier. When I look back on these forty + years of my life, I can see God’s footprints everywhere even when I was totally unaware of Him at the time, in placing me in that church, in leaving it, in helping me resolve the difficult teachings that were so engrained in me.
And as I went back to the church, with my life now in God’s hands, I was led to read through several other religion’s sacred texts, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Everywhere I read I thought, “Oh, that’s what Jesus meant!” And my interpretation of the Bible began to expand from that hell-fire-and damnation start into something broader and deeper. Then I read books by a number of the saints of the church, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, and I was deeply comforted by what I read there. Ten years later I was led to train as a spiritual director which made sense given what I had been through myself: I was already encouraging others in their spiritual journeys and now I could be thoroughly trained to do it.
My journey had started as a very negative one and was transformed, by God I believe, into a positive one. It was during my spiritual direction training that my supervisor really helped me shed that very negative view of God which was my default position, much like a computer always returns to the way it was originally programmed. When push came to shove, I went right back to that punitive God. I don’t have any idea what she picked up on in my verbatim that day, but she asked me, “When are you going to get mad at God?” I just stared at her. You don’t get mad at a punitive god. She asked me again, “When are you going to get mad at God?”
She gave me permission that day to express my anger at the god I grew up with. I stood then, in the middle of our session, and said, “I guess now.” And walked out. I drove to the beach and there on the cold, foggy and deserted Northern California beach, I danced and yelled and expressed my anger at that god.
Now I’ve been a spiritual director for sixteen years and a blogger about how we live the spiritual life for ten years. I’ve written two books from this same perspective, Thy Kingdom Come! and Exodus is Our Story, Too! A third book is in process; its working title is Beyond Beliefs to Discipleship.
Now I look back on my life and see that a major trajectory of that life was resolving my relationship with God to a positive one. I see how that process, which I believe that God was responsible for, led me to this vocation as a spiritual director and a writer who focuses on how we live a life centered in God.
And just recently I have come to the second great issue of my life, the lack of support for who I am from my mother. She had been an operating room supervisor, a registered nurse, when she married my father in 1936. No wife of his was going to work, so she gave up her work to marry him and birthed my older brother and me. And I think drifted for most of her life doing a little bit of volunteer work in the American Cancer Society and playing bridge and serving meals at church. I always thought that she would have been so much happier if she could have worked a shift or two at a hospital like many nurses do today.
For me I never felt loved by her or understood or supported by her. So I was an unappreciative daughter. Just as an example from my adulthood, I once shared with her how I reacted to the hell-fire-and-damnation church of my childhood. And her response was, “I can’t believe that you took it that way!” Or when I talked of spending three days at a hermitage at a local convent, she replied angrily, “Why would you do that?” Not as I had hoped, “Why would you do that?” in an inquiring way.
So the major influence in my life, my mother, couldn’t see who I was at all. I grew up with fear and doubt about myself. In my early 50’s I clearly heard God saying this to me: “How can you say you love God, if you can’t love your mother?” Convicted! So I tried for two years to be an adult in our relationship, but most of the time I just felt like a bitch for talking back to my mother. At least that’s how she thought of it. Finally, after my husband and I spent a weekend in Delaware with her, she had seen us to a railroad platform so that we could catch a train to Connecticut. There God surrounded us with a cloud of love. That’s what I experienced. And it changed our relationship totally. She became grateful for every single thing I did for her, and I could love her as she was.
Well, you know how all these issues have layers. Three weeks ago I had a horrible back ache and could barely change position because of it. Reminded by a healer that back problems mean a lack of support, I saw this early difficulty with my mom as the root of the back problems. It’s now taken three weeks of processing, writing, praying, around this issue to a kind of release this morning when a dizzy spell seemed to attack me in bed. I grabbed the mattress on one side and held on. It only lasted for a minute or two. And that seemed to be the end of that issue. At least that was my understanding. We’ll see if it plays out that way.
The confirmation that I received later in the morning was this: I was reading the June issue of Presence Magazine, the article by Katie Fosselius on doing spiritual direction with the homeless, and I felt called to work with them in Charlotte. I don’t think that the call would have come before the issue with my mom was settled and healed.
How has the trajectory of your life led you to where you are today? How has God used your challenges and even your pain to lead you to where you have the most to give as He heals all those difficulties? Can you see the arc of your life and even the smaller ones, too, as they are healed in you?
We can look at our lives differently in this way, in peace and gratitude. We both can see the context, the pattern, the shape into which any current issue fits.