Wrestling with Tough Spiritual Issues

Spiritual exploration is not for the fainthearted. If all you want from your spiritual journey is success and ease, then forget spiritual direction. In most all spiritual traditions—and especially Christianity—it can be a painful process to “see the light.” One Quaker notion is that even while we desire the light of Christ in our heart, that same light shines into all the dirty corners of our life causing us to see parts of ourselves that we spend a lot of time trying to run from. Still there is the promise of peace and deep inner joy when we accept all of who we are and the love that God is showing us in that light.

I’m not one of those Christians that says “you must suffer in order to grow.”  In fact I’m tired of hearing some Christians talk about a kind of God that tests us with suffering or even causes suffering so we will grow. Suffering simply is. It’s a part of life. We don’t need to seek it out in order to become more worthy in God’s eyes, nor do we need to blame God when we face it. Sometimes our suffering is redemptive. Other times it wears us down. Spiritual direction and spiritual exploration can help us figure out how we choose to make sense of our suffering.

Our historical friend St. Ignatius speaks of a kind of spiritual wrestling that is valuable to our growth—desolation. Desolation is that experience of feeling far away from God. And while the spiritual path is devoted to becoming deeper in relationship with God, it is extremely important that we know what gets in the way of that relationship. Desolation is our spiritual teacher.

Are there places in your life where you consistently experience anxiety, chaos, despair or deadness? If so, do these places seem to draw you closer to God? (Sometimes people do experience God deeply in the midst of a desolation experience—so it’s good to ask that question). What were you doing at those moments? What led up to the anxiety, chaos, despair or deadening? What are some of the contributing factors? Take a look at where you were, who you were with and what you were doing. These could be indications of a direction that it is best you not take in life. Or there could be an invitation from God for reconciliation, regret, a return to God’s love and light. There is always an opportunity to learn from our desolation. What is God inviting you to wrestle with on your spiritual path?

For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website. If you have questions or comments about the content of Spiritual Direction 101, please let me hear from you in the reply section below.

About Teresa Blythe

Teresa Blythe is a full-time spiritual director and ordained UCC minister living and working in Phoenix, AZ. She serves as the Director of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson. Contact her at teresa@teresablythe.net.

  • Sarah

    These last few years I’ve learned that chronic illness creates its own kind of desolation; emotional, physical, social, as well as spiritual. While this illness is super-imposed rather than self-imposed, it’s been difficult not to get lost in self-blame, and to keep frantically striving for a way out, a struggle that in the end, only increases stress which in turn adds to my symptoms. In my case, I think the invitation is to *let go* of wrestling with this new reality, which keeps me from resting in God’s presence.

    • http://www.teresablythe.net Teresa Blythe

      Sarah – sounds like you do excellent discernment. We need to know when to wrestle and when to let go. Thank you for sharing this with us.


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