This is a guest post by Mags Blackie.
There is a phrase I have used for many years in the context of both giving spiritual direction and training spiritual directors – ‘Let God be God’. I cannot say whether the phrase is mine, or whether I picked it up from someone else. For me it has its origins in giving 8-day individually guided retreats – over time I began to notice that sooner or later God would ‘show up’. Around day 4 or 5 or 6 something would shift in the dynamic of the retreat. Sometimes it would be a significant encounter with God, sometimes a shift in the central desire or issue that had been expressed earlier on, and sometimes some other change. Each time the change was notable and each time there was an element of surprise. This was the grace of the retreat.
In recent years I have noticed this dynamic of grace at work in on-going spiritual direction too. It is most evident in (although not limited to) those places of ‘stuckness’ which we sometimes encounter, those places where we have done the mental and emotional work necessary to overcome a problem, but still there is something that constrains us. In those times I have found that there is a glimmer of hope.
If I dare to own my stuckness and to hold it before God, I begin to accept my powerlessness. As intelligent and emotionally grounded as I may be there are still things that are beyond me. When I can stand before God in the nakedness of that place I can begin to pray for the grace to move through it. In my experience the grace is always given, although it may take some time, and a way forward will open up.
There is an important caveat though – the way forward rarely looks the way I expect it to. Even if I know that I need to let go of something, the lived experience of the letting go will not be quite what I anticipate. This element of surprise means that I could not have willed myself into freedom precisely because I was not able to envision what it would actually entail. I understand this transition to be grace.
This process requires discernment – sifting out the things I am able to do from those over which I am powerless. To act where I can, but to acknowledge and own my incapacity when I uncover the heart of my problem. It requires that I am able to relinquish control and to trust that God will find a way through. In essence, it is the paradox at the heart of the practice of spiritual direction – intentionally holding the process, but having no fixed outcome in mind.
Letting God be God then is being true to the fullness of my humanity. This entails using all my giftedness and being present to my own limitations. In this space the grace of God can flow unimpeded.
Mags Blackie is a spiritual director, a scientist, and an educator. She recently published Rooted In Love, a book on integrating Ignatian spirituality into daily life. Mags currently holds an academic position at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town. Visit her blog for more Ignatian spirituality.
|If you’d like to write for God In All Things please see the Submissions page.|