Tag Archives: Spiritual direction

My soul resource in suffering

Now that I have begun my residency for hospital chaplaincy, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on my view and process of suffering. In a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked my view on suffering as it pertains to helping others work through their own suffering and being able to internally deal with my own suffering and that suffering I hear on a daily basis. How do I not become overwhelmed? How do I translate my views in such a way that helps the other despite differences in theology or spiritual paths? What is even appropriate to share with others about why suffering happens?

Why does suffering happen anyway? My immediate response is one of, “I really don’t know.” There is some suffering that simply cannot be explained. I have heard from many different places that we live in a sinful world, that humanity is inherently sinful because of what Adam and Eve did in the garden when they disobeyed God. So because humanity is sinful, we do sinful things, and of course that is why we need to repent and believe the right things about Jesus so that we have access to his transformational power to change our nature and at least not have to suffer for all of eternity. In my thinking, this doesn’t cut it in so many ways. It still doesn’t answer why I and so many others still have to face suffering in this life. It also seems like a minimization of someone’s current troubles in order to fit them into a system of beliefs that moves them from focusing on the pain here and now to hope in something that they or we haven’t experienced yet. It doesn’t fit with my belief in a God who suffers with us and doesn’t want his children to suffer. I have also heard people say that suffering happens to teach us something. While God doesn’t want us to suffer, he allows it to happen to us so we can become stronger. I could never give this to someone as a reason for why they are suffering. “God wants to teach you something.” What kind of help does that give when someone has lost their child or their loved one, or they are faced with the loss of a limb or cancer? Continue reading My soul resource in suffering

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Another year and grateful, grateful, great-full!

One the eve of my 33rd birthday, I can really only think of gratitude and humor at the year I am moving beyond. While it hasn’t been an easy year, it has been better than some, and though full of insane life transitions, I would say I have been gifted with some good Bettger resilience, some extremely wonderful community, and just a little (or a lot) of grace and gifts from a good God.

So let me “name the ways”:

  • 20130827_151225I am so thankful for my angels… my wife, Kat, and my absolutely perfect son, Brendan, Also, that little guy who is on the way for January. Thank you for not making Mommy’s asthma flare up. (notice I didn’t mention the dog… though, Coco, you aren’t all that bad)
  • So thankful for the friends and community, not just in Bend, but around the country. There are countless ways that we have been supported this last year, even just in meals, potlucks, a place to hang out, moving couches, cutting hair, watching Brendan. And then there are the men from Illuman. Supporting my own calling, my leadership, my giftedness, and my journey. And those in my spiritual direction community who have done more of the same. And for friends in MN… so good to reunite after all this time.
  • I am thankful for our old house, while even though we couldn’t wait to get out, gave us good shelter, room to grow, and allowed us to live on less income.
  • 20130904_153041Thankful for our tax return, because without it, we wouldn’t have been able to make this trip to WI and MN for 5 weeks.
  • And for this trip… a time to rest, to be away, to transition and to spend more time with my family than I have in 6 years.
  • So thankful for my family, especially my parents who are the best grandparents I have ever seen.
  • Thankful for the chance to offer spiritual direction. It truly is a calling, truly is a gift, and to be able to join others on their journey of discovery and challenge, well… it doesn’t get much better than that. Finally certified this last year, and I’m so glad it took as long as it did.
  • Thankful for the books, so many I can’t even remember them all, but most definitely for the whole series of Game of Thrones (all 7000 plus pages of you) that got me through the winter and through school bus driving.
  • I am thankful for Kat’s family. The inlaws… for always challenging me to be better than I am and to live into my potential.
  • 20130901_084638Thank you, to Mother Earth, for holding us, feeding us, hurting us, and carrying us.
  • Thankful to my chicken that gave her life, even though violently, so we could eat. I will never forget that experience.
  • And yes even thankful for the school bus job. After all, it has to be the last job before moving to a new city.
  • So grateful for the upcoming chaplain residency, and for the opportunity to experience the next stage in my “delivery system”
  • Thankful for the Lord’s timing. It is just too ironic, synchronistic, or whatever you want to call it, to be anything else.

There are so many more, I could write for pages. Nevertheless, I can’t wait for what is to come. And just as with any given day, I look to the future with a mix of anxiety over the details and anticipation for the surprises, this next year will surely contain its fair share.

Scraping at the clay of your heart

John O’Donohue writes in Anam Cara, “It is destructive to interfere with the rhythm and wisdom of [the soil’s] darkness.” He writes of the importance of letting things that rise up in your soul sit for a while. If you were planting potatoes and someone told you that you needed to plant them deeper, it wouldn’t be so good to dig them up and replant them. Even worse if the next day someone else told you that you planted them too deep, so you dug them up again and planted them more shallowly. Nothing will grow if you keep scraping at your garden.

“People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts. They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why they are the way they are.” O’Donohue mentions that trees grow both up into the light and down into the darkness. “Negative introspection damages the soul… You cannot dredge the depths of the of the soul with the meager light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply. Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.”

We must be kind to ourselves. We must live the questions we have, as Reiner Maria Rilke writes, without seeking the answers too soon. (See the quote HERE) O’Donohue… “Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”

I have had to learn this through so many years, thanks to good mentors, spiritual directors, and teachers and many humbling experiences. As I look back on my writing from even five or six years ago, I see how much I tried to think my way through things. Questions, problems, faults, woundings… I was always looking for some answer that would make it all ok so that I didn’t have to struggle with it anymore. The hardest thing to hear was, “Ok, I will sit with this for a while” and then not hear anything for days or weeks. Or, “Well, Nate, I want you to stop thinking about what you should or shouldn’t do and sit with what your heart wants to do…”

I appreciate hearing people remind me to be kind to myself, but how did I do that? Even now, when I know I need to be kind to myself, it isn’t easy. Hearing it over and over, though, helps it to stick. And so sometimes, in the midst of the questions and the struggles, the best thing is some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or a morning with some really good coffee and bacon… or sometimes it is just going for a walk. If I can go to bed and remind myself, Nate, the problem will look different in the morning. Maybe better, maybe worse… but different. Let it sit and see what happens. This is how we keep from scratching too much at the surface of our souls. We live. We let up. We do something kind for ourselves. And we let  our hearts and our lives grow deep into the darkness and grow up into the light.

Have I really only come this far?!?

In times of transition, it’s only natural for me to think about where I have gone and how far I have come. I left Minnesota in 2007 with a Masters Degree and a school bus driving job. After living in Bend, what have I done? A temporary intern at a church, a ranch hand, an assistant to ginger brew and chocolate making companies, a sweets baker at Great Harvest, a substitute teacher, community director and co-owner of a yoga studio, a personal assistant to an acupuncturist, and now a school bus driver again.  Hmmm… so the career path doesn’t look that glamorous.

And what else? I’ve met my soul mate and best friend, Kat, gotten married, have the most perfect son named after two great Celtic heroes, Brendan Arthur, made some wonderful friends, did my Men’s Rites of Passage, served on the founding board of a global men’s organization, got an amazing new car (much better than the minivan), am less in debt that 6 years ago, got more education and certified as a Spiritual Director, and am starting my career in hospital chaplaincy.

It is all about what we choose to look at. I use the following model for development in my personal life and with almost all my directees:

plotkin's wheel In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, Plotkin writes about our survival dance and our sacred dance. All of us have both. The survival dance is the work and tasks that pay the bills. We have to start here. Most of the time we go to college and come out with a survival dance. Our sacred dance is the work that is written on our souls to do. We have to discover this through a lot of trial and error and a lot of self discovery. We usually don’t quite get it till stage 5 (above) and we don’t have it mastered till stage 7. This takes a long time.

Often, even after we have a sense of what our sacred dance is in life, we have to dance our survival dance as we put our soul’s calling to work. We don’t often get paid for our sacred dance in the beginning. As we keep moving down this path, however, our sacred dance and survival dance become one. See, God/the universe/the divine has written it on our souls that this is what we are to do in this life. The world is not right until we dance our sacred dance and it will support us as we live it in its fullness.

So to make a lot of words much less, as I look at the last few years (and as I sit with others on their journeys). it becomes so important to look at the bigger picture. What dance am I here to dance? and am I dancing it… even a little? Supplementary income and work is usually just fine, when we can answer that second question in the affirmative.

Helping others without knowing how to help myself

The biggest questions that have plagued me lately cut deep in my soul:

  • How can I help people, when I can barely help myself?
  • How do I provide hope for others, when I myself feel very little hope ?
  • How do I heal, when I am so broken?
  • How do I offer spiritual direction, in the dark night of the soul?

It’s a painful query and I don’t really know the answer. The best I can do is remind myself that when things get basic, I have to get basic as well. How can I take care of myself in this time? I know, in part, how connected our minds and our bodies are to our soul’s… how to even disconnect them? So when I don’t have answers to the existential questions, at least I may find some clarity in my body.

What am I eating, what am I drinking, am I moving (exercising is good, but at least I should be moving), how much sleep am I getting… there is a need to get clean.

Because we are still called to be present with those around us… to hold space in their suffering… and so often we really don’t have a choice, we come with our broken selves and we listen. How difficult it really is to be brutally honest about how I’m doing and not take all the attention on to myself. We learn as we go, and we remember especially in these times how equal we all are as human beings.

I am also reminded by the ancient mystic, John of the Cross, the one who first wrote so extensively on the dark night of the soul:

“When we begin our spiritual journey we often want God to desire what we want, and become dejected if we have instead to learn to desire what God wants. We measure God by ourselves and not ourselves by God, which is quite contrary to the gospel. For our Lord says that those who lose their lives for his sake will gain it, but that they who desire to gain their life will lose it.”

What does “losing your life” mean to you? How do you help others when you are at the end yourself?