Listening to Desire

Yesterday, I met with a new spiritual director.

Before joining her, I’d had a rich and blessed day — time in prayer (though not enough it seemed), a road trip which led to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Montrose, Neb., (which is truly a little church on the prairie), and an inner sense of peace. Still, I paused before the tabernacle to pray before meeting with her.

For those who don’t know, spiritual direction is like counseling in that you share with another what is happening in your life. However, a spiritual director helps you to discern the movement of the Spirit in your life. The goal is not to “get well” or to “become more productive,” though healing and a more fruitful life may result. Rather, the goal is to respond with love and openness to God at work in your life.

It’s been my experience that spending a few minutes with God, asking him to open my heart and mind, best prepares me for these meetings. Yesterday, I was shaken when some powerful feelings welled up within me. I DON’T WANT TO WORK. I WANT TO GET CENTERED. I WANT TO WRITE A BOOK!

Writing a book has been on my bucket list for a long time. I started a murder mystery when Katie was a baby. I started a young adult novel 20 years ago. I started a modern allegory/romance novel when I lived in Pierre. Just last year, I began a book of reflections in the spirit of Kathleen Norris (author of “Cloister Walk,” “Amazing Grace” and several other awesome books) and Elizabeth Gilbert (author of “eat, pray, love”). I don’t think I’ve written more than three chapters in any of these. I could never seem to block out and protect the time needed to write.

That being said, I was still shocked by the intensity of the desire I experienced yesterday. Granted, I’ve been reading about the role of desire in Ignatian spirituality. First, I read “Becoming Who You Are” by James Martin, SJ, in which he wrote about finding God by allowing God to reveal our true selves to us. Now I am reading another of Martin’s books, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” in which he writes, “Recognizing our desires means recognizing God’s desires for us,” and elaborates later in Chapter 3, writing, “When we tell God our desires, our relationship with God deepens. Desire is a primary way that God leads people to discover who they are and what they are meant to do.”

Still, to feel that whoosh of desire was disconcerting. I much prefer to keep things abstract with God. For example, since finding myself unemployed, in praying about my future, I’ve been asking for time (since I’ve had some burnout jobs that required long hours), financial resources to meet my obligations and support the church, and companions for the journey (because the single life is not easy for me). God has done an awesome job of answering those prayers every day. I’ve had time to be involved in more church activities so I’ve had companionship with people of faith, and I haven’t needed to pay any bills since using my final paycheck to take care of things. Go God! Great job!

In feeling this longing for something which seemed so impossible — if I was capable of writing a book, why haven’t I done it? — I was filled with compassion for Zechariah. When the angel of the Lord appeared to him (Luke 1:5-20) and announced the birth of his son, he asked, “How shall I know this?” (By contrast, Mary accepted the angel’s message, but wanted to know the logistics. “How can this be?”) Had I been the angel, in response to Zechariah’s question, I probably would have snapped, “The obvious way! Haven’t you ever seen a pregnant woman?” The angel decided not to make Zechariah wait for this, though. He gave him an immediate sign — speechlessness.

My response to yesterday’s surprising moment of clarity and specificity was not inspiration, but — like Zechariah –disbelief. I’m a single woman with no savings. How am I going to find money to live on while I write a book? And who am I, anyhow, that God would give me the desire of my heart? Too, how would I get the book published if I wrote it, so why invest that time?

I didn’t even mention this experience to my spiritual director. Why? What could she say? That I was engaging in wishful thinking? I already knew that.

This morning, though, in writing about yesterday in my journal, I found myself laughing because a couple questions popped into my head. “Why not use this time?” As far as I know, I will be able to collect unemployment, and job hunting is not going to take all day every day. I would have time to write, if I made that choice. Before, I could even begin to make excuses, the second question followed.

“Why not get your office organized and go to work?” I hadn’t had time to finish unpacking after moving to accept my most recent position, and wasn’t sure I should since I didn’t know if I was staying. But, I could. I can put stuff back in boxes as easily as I can take it out. Why not just settle in and go to work? The answer is obvious. There is absolutely no reason why I should not go to work.

In a way, it’s apropos. While there is Scriptural precedent for God doing wondrous things in the lives of the young — Mary immediately pops into mind — he also does wondrous things in the lives of the aging, Elizabeth and Zechariah as well as Abraham and Sarah, to name a couple. So, why not me?

In this moment, I do believe. Lord, help me in my unbelief.


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