My Story of Spiritual Friendship
In many ways, I entered the ministry of spiritual friendship “kicking and screaming.” In fact, I entered the “people-helping” field in that resistive fashion.
Three decades ago, I entered seminary on the typical pastoral track of preaching the Word. Unfortunately, that track often meant, and meant in my case at the time, that I would preach the Word from the pulpit, but then stay comfortably far enough away from using the Word personally with individuals.
Christ had other plans. And He does work, as they say, work in mysterious ways. My older brother, an agnostic at the time, learned that I needed money to pay for seminary (what a novel need). He said, “Bob, you’re going to be a pastor-person. Pastor-persons work with people. Why not work at the local psychiatric inpatient unit?”
The rest, as they say, is history. But quite a jagged, ragged, criss-crossing history.
Four years of work on a “psych unit” altered the course of my life ministry. However, it took another trail of tears to move me from “psychological people helping” to spiritual friendship.
During the last of my four years in seminary, “counsel wars” erupted between rival factions at the seminary. They debated the proper way to offer Christian counseling (though their debates were far less “Christian” than one might have hoped).
I kept thinking during these debates, battles, skirmishes, and wars, “But no one is talking about what happened for 2,000 years before the advent of the modern Christian counseling movement!” That question, once again, altered the course of my life’s ministry.
Spiritual Trek and Sovereign Stumbling
Starting then, and continuing for over a quarter-century (and still continuing), I began examining the history of spiritual friendship. I sovereignly stumbled upon the twin concepts of soul care and spiritual direction and the four core spiritual care concepts identified as “sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding.” Once alerted to their existence, I found them everywhere in every “model” of people helping. Together, they offer a “balanced,” comprehensive, and comprehendible approach to helping people spiritually.
Working with these historic spiritual friendship motifs, I developed a thread or theme for each. Sustaining: “It’s normal to hurt.” It highlights biblical care through empathic connection, soul-to-soul, with another image bearer. I picture it as “climbing in the casket,” the macabre image reminding me to enter the death-like separation and despairing soul situations of my directees.
The thread of healing calls out: “It’s possible to hope.” If sustaining climbs in the casket, then healing “celebrates the empty tomb.” Healing is scriptural care through encouraging communion, soul-to-soul, with another human being. It works with the Spirit of God to shepherd people to move beyond the suffering to a place of healing hope.
The theme of reconciling expresses the human cry for redemption: “It’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven.” It “speaks the truth in love.” Reconciling is spiritual friendship through exposing the awfulness of sin and the separation that it brings, while always remembering that where “sin abounds, grace superabounds.”
The motif of guiding, perhaps most often associated in people’s minds with spiritual direction, says “It’s supernatural to mature.” Every directee is ultimately motivated by the desire, the passion, for spiritual growth. What promotes such growth? Not what, but Who?
He supernaturally works within the human soul. The work of the director is summarized by the image of “fanning into flame the gift of God.” The directee, already in the process of sustaining, healing, and reconciling, has all that he or she needs to live the spiritual life. Those gifts simply need to be fanned into flame.
The ministry of spiritual friendship has changed my life. This “model” is what God “uses” in my own spiritual walk. Thus, through Him, I am being transformed bit-by-bit, day-by-day as He sustains, heals, reconciles, and guides my faith.
The ministry of spiritual friendship has changed my ministry. This “model” allows me to restfully engage directees confident that there is a God-ordained path to follow. Not a GPS that tells me when and where to turn at every intersection. Rather, a map with compass points. These directional markers of SHRG (sustaining, healing, reconciling, guiding) provide directions for this spiritual director to confidently, calmly head, under the direction of the ultimate Spiritual Director.
What’s Your Story?
What’s you story of spiritual friendship? Feel free to e-mail me your story (firstname.lastname@example.org), or to post your story in the comment section below this Blog entry.