Uninvited he sat down next to me on the park bench where I was eating my lunch. I was a bit unnerved by his unexpected company. What does he want In our college class he was the one who always sat in the back, disengaged from the lecture almost defiant towards learning. I was a rule follower, front row seater, hungry to learn, always profusely taking notes not to miss anything. We had nothing in common - or so I thought. His first remark was a sneering one, as he pointed to my Bible that was open on my lap.
“Do you believe any of that stuff?” He asked.
I nodded, trying to indicate a definite yes while trying to finish chewing the bite of sandwich I took just before he sat down. I was a young Christian, hungry for knowledge about God and I made no secret of my faith. If I was not reading my Bible, I was reading Christian literature - eager to learn from those who were further along in their faith journey. I mustered up courage to him and politely asked: “What about you, do you believe the Bible?”
He shook his head and spew out a blunt “no”, It was a definite “no”. “I used to but I do not anymore," he added.
He then continued to tell me that he is the son of a pastor and that he grew up in the church and knew alot about the Bible. "But now that I am not under my parent’s roof anymore I have walked away from all of that. I have come to my own conclusion that the Bible is made up, I no longer believe there is a God.”
Then almost in an interrogating way he gave this challenging question: “If you did not use or quote the Bible or any Christian author, what evidence do you have that God is real?”
I felt his question pierce into my heart like a dagger, mocking me for seemingly being so gullible to believe that the God of the Bible is real. I wish I could say that the answer to his question came easy, that I had a strong comeback line to refute his point of view, but the opposite was true. As I tried to put words to my belief in God, I realized that so much of my faith was based on what others have said about God. That piercing question lingered with me and became a gift in my spiritual life. It left me unsatisfied with living by other people’s knowledge of God and it stirred up in me a resolve to know God for myself through personal experience and I have been pursuing God in this way ever since.
Jesus once asked his disciples: "Who do people say I am?" [Mark 8:27] and the disciples had quick answers that varied. And then Jesus asked them the piercing question: "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" [Mark 8:28] I wonder how each disciple received that question? I imagined it penetrated their hearts, I think it held weight. I imagine there being a long pause of silence before Peter spoke up and declared: “I believed you are the Messiah, the son of the living God [Matt 16:16]. I marvel at the words Jesus spoke back to Peter: “...this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” [Matt 16:17]. In this response we hear Jesus acknowledged that Peter received this revelation directly from God the Father, this was not something Peter learned from the hearsay of other people. There was a personal experience between Peter and God the Father that brought about this conviction. I desire this kind of personal connection or experience with God.
I am grateful for the ongoing biblical knowledge I receive from sermons and Christian literature, because it anchors me and provides a solid basis for interpreting my experience of God. However, nowadays my hunger is not so much for more knowledge, but for a greater awareness of God’s presence and activity in my life. As a devoted believer I long to respond to God’s work in me in ways that bring good to this world. The most fulfilling moments of my journey is when I am able to recognise and respond to God’s leading and see the impact of my personal surrender and obedience. I love that my God is personal and relational, it remains the pursuit of my life to know Him in such a personal way.
The practice of spiritual direction has become immensely valuable in my pursuit of knowing God because it gives me a place where I can talk about my personal experience of God with someone who has no other agenda but to be present with me and with God. My spiritual director has become a helpful companion on my spiritual journey, asking me questions that help me explore and putt words to my experience of God. Through regular spiritual direction I have developed confidence in my ability to discern God’s voice and presence in my life and it has been a safe place to explore my doubts and resistance to God in times of hardship. It has increased my discipline of lingering in silence with a single minded desire to commune with God. Through spiritual direction I have learned to pay attention to how God shows up in my everyday life, I have become more sensitive to the movements of the Spirit inside of me and I have discovered and cultivated ways to draw close to God and experience Him drawing close to me. [James 4:8]
If I could have a “do-over conversation” with this college friend of mine I would now have much to say to him about how I am experiencing God and how I have come to recognise God’s activity in my everyday life. I would thank him for his piercing question, and tell him how much it has contributed to my pursuit of knowing God personally and explain how it has fueled my passion to others help others recognise, name and process their personal experience of God.
Early 2016 I completed two years of training in spiritual direction through Sustainable Faith School of Spiritual Direction, www.sustainablefaith.com
It is with much joy that I now offer spiritual direction in a private practice setting.
Deirdré Jansen van Rensburg - Spiritual Director at Awakenings Counseling Center firstname.lastname@example.org