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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual direction’

Jo 17It is some months since I have been able to visit my friend in the nursing home where she now lives. As I make my way to her room, I hope and pray she will recognise me. At the door, I see the nurses have just settled Joy in her special, comfortable wheelchair. She turns towards me—and her whole face lights up.

‘Oh! What a … what a … sur … oh!’

I reach out and grasp her hand, while Joy continues to look at my face in wonderment.

‘I’ll take her to the sunroom,’ a lovely nurse tells me—and soon we are settled there.

Joy continues to search my face with loving eyes. I resist the urge to tell her my name. I suspect it has slipped her mind, but it doesn’t matter—I know she knows who I am. I remind her of our book Soul Friend that I wrote about our journey together during my time at theological college, then on into ministry and writing.

‘Yes, Soul Friend,’ she says softly—and I know she remembers.

I talk to her about her family and mine. I share some little Turkish cookies I used to make often and take to her whenever we met and she remembers those too. It is a little hard for her to hold them now, as they tend to break easily. I see that the crumbs they leave on her clothes concern her a little, so I try to help her brush them off. We look at each other and laugh—a laugh that is beautiful music to my ears because it reminds me so vividly of other shared moments of joy. She has not changed—she is still the same precious person deep inside. Yes, she may now have trouble completing sentences. Yes, she may grope for the words she is trying to say. Yes, she may not remember names so easily. But she is still my lovely ‘soul friend’ Joy, out of whose face the love of God shines.

Eventually, I see she is getting tired. A nurse comes to wheel her to a lounge area and I prepare to say goodbye. I hold her hand and give her a kiss.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you—there’s nothing like a kiss!’ she says, closing her eyes in ecstasy.

‘Then I’ll give you another one!’ I tell her, dropping a light kiss on her forehead.  Her face is suffused with pure joy.

And as I hold her hand one last time, then turn to leave, I hear her familiar, beautiful words that have always felt like a blessing to me—‘Dear friend!’

As I drive away, the thought comes clearly to me that these two beautiful, little words are what God desires to speak into our hearts each day. I am not in my friend’s situation, but so often, I too become confused. So often, I let life overwhelm me. So often, I forget God. Yet each day, God reaches out to me and talks to me as with a dear friend. Each day, God is there to help me on my journey—and I am so blessed.

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:11 New Living Translation

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I must admit I was a little tired as I made my way along the tunnel that stretches for what seems like forever from Broadway in Sydney, under busy George Street and into the very heart of Central Station. And I was a little preoccupied. I had just attended a meeting where I could feel the pain of some of those present as they asked questions of the speaker at the end. My heart went out to these women and men, caught in the dilemma of disagreeing with decisions made by their church hierarchy, yet wanting to maintain unity in the Body of Christ. How was it these things happened, I wondered. And how much were we grieving God in the process?

On top of that, my mind was in a whirl as I remembered all the tasks waiting for me at home, especially in relation to the upcoming release of my new book Soul Friend. I needed to check with some places where I planned to sell my books. I had email lists to sort out before I could share the news of my book release. But above all, I needed to help my daughter set up a new website for me, dedicated to my new book and related topics. We had struck some trouble, firstly in purchasing the domain name we wanted and then in trying to get the site up and running. It was frustrating, to say the least.

It was amazing then that I noticed the busker in the tunnel at all. But soon I realised that, above the noise of a heavy suitcase being wheeled along in front of me and people chattering loudly as they rushed along, I could hear a plaintive melody. I looked across the tunnel and noticed an old, Chinese gentleman, playing a traditional, stringed instrument—possibly an erhu or similar ancient fiddle, with a box-like compartment at one end. I slowed my pace—and then it dawned on me that he was playing the old hymn, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’.

My first thoughts were to wonder what this gentleman’s story was and where he had learnt this hymn. I looked across at him and smiled—and he smiled back. I hesitated, but then decided to continue on. There were so many people rushing by—and I needed to catch my train.

As I walked on, I could still hear that plaintive melody, the words that accompany it echoing in my mind:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear!

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit! Oh what needless pain we bear!

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

How much the people at the meeting I attended needed to remember that, I reflected. How much I myself needed to take that message to heart, in the midst of my frustration about websites and launches and the like! Then I remembered some words I had read in Scripture that very morning:

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results. James 5:16b

So I prayed as I walked and as I sat in that train on my way home. I prayed for my friends’ situation and I prayed for my own. And I thought about Jesus, the Friend who died for us and who truly cares.

What a Friend we have in Jesus! May you too experience his peace today as you walk and talk with him.

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I’m on the home run – I think – with my first non-fiction book Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey, due for release in October by Even Before Publishing. A few days ago, the first layout version of the book arrived for me to check through and to get someone else to proofread as well. Now I know from past experience with my previous books how essential this meticulous proofreading is. But each time, I find such experiences somewhat disconcerting. As I discover this little mistake and that little oversight, I ask myself how these could ever have escaped my attention – as well as the attention of my two manuscript readers/editors – during our numerous checks prior to this. They seem so obvious now. Admittedly, some always tend to creep in during the editing process – as one thing is changed, so another is affected without noticing. And sometimes things happen as the manuscript is imported into a different program. But I know they will be there – I don’t assume anything with my work these days.

This time around, however, my experience has been even more interesting in that each day this week we have minded our five-month-old grandson. Can you picture him sitting on my lap, a little unhappy for some reason or another, reaching out his cute little hands towards my keyboard? Can you imagine my attempts to type sensible comments with one hand, while holding him firmly with the other?

Nevertheless, I have now succeeded in finishing it. Yet I am left with this weird feeling inside. Are there other mistakes I should have noticed? Are there more clumsy sentences I should have changed, even at this late stage? Have I acknowledged everything I should have acknowledged? Does the book do my lovely spiritual mentor justice? After all, this book is about the spiritual journey I have enjoyed with her over the past fifteen years – it reflects on her as well as on me.

And then as I reach for my Bible in order to sit in the sun and let God’s Word minister to me, even before I open it, I am reminded again of God’s amazing grace. God has been right beside me, through all the challenges of this week. And right now, God is saying a wonderful ‘Well done’ to me at another task completed to the best of my ability.

Yet as I let my mind relax and focus fully on God, I am reminded of another even deeper truth. Every day of my life, God sees my mistakes – my impatient words to a family member, my self-focus, my complaining about this or that, my self-doubt, my forgetting others who need my support. Yet God never gives up on me but continues to reach out in love, to forgive, to urge me on to do better. From God’s perspective, all my mistakes are gone. As Psalm 103:11-13 says:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him …

There are no hidden mistakes with God. God sees. God knows. God loves. God forgives. I still find that so amazing and freeing – and I pray with all my heart you do too.

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I wonder how long it is since you have signed an important document or agreement of some description. Perhaps it was in the process of purchasing something big – like a house or a car. Perhaps it was that agreement to pay back to the bank the money they were kindly lending you. Did you feel as if you were signing your life away? Perhaps it was those certificates you signed on your wedding day. Or perhaps it was an agreement at a hospital, consenting to a particular procedure you were about to have. How did you feel when you were putting your signature on those important documents?

Last week, I found myself signing two important documents once again – two more book contracts, this time with a different publisher. One was for my first non-fiction book, Two are better than one: the story of a spiritual friendship, which describes my own journey over the past fifteen years or so with my very faithful spiritual mentor and friend Joy.  The other was for my sixth novel, The Inheritance, which focuses on the theme of forgiveness and highlights the truth of Hebrews 12:15: See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Now I was very happy to sign both these contracts. I love my sixth novel – I feel I have been a little more adventurous in the way I have gone about writing it and I love the characters as well. As for my non-fiction book, while I feel quite nervous about having many of my inner struggles of the past few years made public, I believe in this book and hope and pray it inspires others. Yet in both cases, I found myself hesitating for a few seconds before signing on the dotted line.

You see, signing these contracts means I commit myself to see these books through to publication and beyond. For starters, it means I am declaring these books are all my own work – and that I will deliver these completed works by the dates specified. But more than that, it means I agree to cooperate to the best of my ability with my publisher throughout the whole process and to do my utmost after publication to promote my books well. Now in return, my publisher also has to sign and agree to certain terms, such as delivering the finished product within a particular time frame and paying any royalties due. So we both commit ourselves to keep our end of the bargain and to work well together in the process.

All of which has made me reflect on the biggest commitment of my life – my commitment to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and to follow him forever. While these other documents we might sign or contracts we might agree to are important, nothing could ever be as important as our commitment to God. God’s commitment to us was made abundantly clear through the death of Jesus Christ, an act of love above all other. While we were still sinners, far away from God, Romans 5:8 tells us, in love, Christ died for us.

I chose to sign my life away to God many years ago and am so thankful for that. But right now, how am I doing as far as being true to this greatest commitment of all is concerned?

Could this be a question you might ask yourself too?

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