Stop! Look! Listen!

I lead a retreat three years ago, in June 2016, about remembrance, and its place in our spiritual life. I opened the retreat by telling a story.

Storytelling lies at the heart of my approach to leading retreats. I learn about God through my life. I pray. I reflect on Scripture. And, as much as possible, I knead to Word of God into my life — to borrow an idea from French mystic Madeleine Delbrel. As a result, my life becomes the tool God uses to teach me and to draw me into a deeper relationship with himself.

That particular story began seven years earlier, and wound through life experiences and dreams — the nighttime kind, not the wanting-in-life kind. It ended with me reviewing an old prayer journal one Saturday morning and finding an entry that made me laugh out loud. I realized when I read the journal entry that I had entirely misinterpreted an experience in prayer, and that God had fulfilled his promise even though I hadn’t noticed until that Saturday morning.

I concluded my opening remarks by saying, “I have really come to believe that remembrance is an important dimension of the spiritual life. … Remembrance helps us to give credit where credit is due, and when we begin to see God at work in our lives, we become more sensitive to his hand turning us to the left and to the right. For me, journal writing is a way of becoming more open to that guiding hand.”

This morning, I find myself thinking I should probably make a habit of practicing what I preach. I should review my journals on a regular basis to see how God is at work. This practice would enable me to be a more intentional co-creator, collaborating with God’s hand rather than running around willy-nilly chased by emotions, ego and pride.

Not surprisingly, since God has not seen fit to send angels my way, but occasionally speaks to me through dreams when I am being especially recalcitrant, a dream provided the necessary nudge. I dreamed I had to solve a problem. As my alarm relentlessly drew me out of sleep, I was scrambling to solve the problem, knowing that if I failed, the repercussions would be irreversible and devastating. As I was pulled from the dream by the fast current of awakening, I realized I couldn’t solve the problem because I didn’t understand it.

I woke feeling distressed with a question on my lips. What if I got it wrong?

A dream through which God hopes to work (plans to work? works?) usually lingers rather than fading. And so it was on that occasion. The question lingered. The dream image of being pulled away from a conference table and out of the meeting room lingered. The growing awareness that I hadn’t understood the problem we were attempting to solve lingered.

As I wrote in my journal that evening, I realized I was wearing blinders. I realized I was spending less time in prayer, meditation and reflection than is necessary for me to live attuned to God’s voice. I realized I had allowed myself to become so busy — an unfortunate pattern in my life that always proves to be counterproductive — I could only see the immediate present and ways it deviated from what I wanted.

I realized it was time to stop, look and listen. I needed to stop doing so much I sacrificed my prayer time. I needed to look back, to review journals and to identify how God has been at work. If I can’t see him at work, I can’t remember what he has done, and if I can’t remember, I am not open to the guidance he provides.

Finally, I needed to listen. I needed to listen to the way he was speaking through the circumstances of my life and the desires of my heart. The listening has been greatly facilitated by the decision to work less and pray more. I’ve needed to adjust some routines, but already I am more at peace.

Reviewing my journals and reflecting upon what I find on those pages helps, too. As I remember times over the past year when I have experienced peace, joy, love, and the other fruits of the Spirit, I am filled with a quiet certainty that God has been at work. I may not understand his ineffable ways, but I can trust the evidence he scatters through all my days. And so, like the psalmist, I will remember.

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