I am reading the book called Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook. This is an intensive book on Spiritual Growth (and when I say intensive, I don’t mean it lightly) and should be handled and read very carefully. This book is exactly what God has been preparing my heart to read, and I know that He will transform my life through reading this. At the end of these chapters, there are several reflection questions. I don’t know what kinds of questions will be asked in the future, but for now, I am going to be posting my responses, because as I journey deeper into the heart of God, I wish to be transparent and to encourage others to journey along with me. So, deep breath, here we go.
1. What has God used, most powerfully, to increase your hunger and thirst for spiritual growth?
I am not quite sure how to answer this question, but the first thing that comes to mind is my illness. If I had not been sick these few years, it is very possible I would have continued with my busy and world-conquering lifestyle. Because of the nature of my illness, I have had to slow down my life and face some serious questions, like: What if I die today? I could write a book of questions. It has also led me to evaluate what things are most important in life. As I have searched, I have discovered the answer in Jesus’ commands to: Love God with all that I am and love others with the same intensity. This has caused me to put some things on hold in my life (and I think most people think I’m crazy) and truly focus on knowing God. I don’t know how long this intensive season will last; maybe it will be for the rest of my life. However, the greatest and deepest desire of my heart is to know God more.
I think my physical battle has been a real object lesson to me of my spiritual battle. Both are very painful and plagued with questions. Both involve other people, though I long to not be a burden on someone else. Both go much deeper than I have dared to tread, though I am getting the feeling I will be led deeper into these mysteries very soon.
I have always felt that my illness had a deep spiritual purpose in my life, but I did not know how to go down the road of figuring out exactly what it is. Hopefully through this book I’ll be able to understand the Refiner’s fire even more.
2. When you think of the “ultimate” in a relationship with Jesus, what things come to mind?
I think about a “closeness” and a “oneness” with Him. I think about being responsive to each other and knowing each other’s heart so deeply that we are aware of it every moment. I want to be His trustworthy confidant, a keeper of His secrets, a lover of His soul. I imagine basking in His love, confident of His presence regardless of the emotion of the moment or the present circumstances. I long for the deep joy and peace that permeates my very being in every way, creating in me a light that shines so bright that no one around me could possibly miss the presence of Jesus in my life.
3. What might backsliding look and feel like in your spiritual journey?
I feel like the subject of backsliding has been big in my life recently. I remember telling my friend years ago that sometimes we need to backslide in order to draw closer to God. That wisdom, at 19 years of age, could only have come from God Himself. I have discovered lately, through my own “backsliding” of sorts, that this is so very true.
I grew up in a family that went to church every time the doors were open, and we even had keys to the church, so we would go other times as well. The idea of ever missing church except for the occasional out of town vacation (very, very, very occasional, like twice) or road trip was a no-no. Real, growing Christians go to church. Lately, as I have been reevaluating my life, I have been led by God to do some things that have seriously concerned those around me, especially my boss. There have been a couple times when I simply did not go to church (for reasons other than illness). I think he believes I’m turning heathen or something. I have not been participating in the denomination-wide Ashes to Fire devotional for Lent, and trying to explain that to my pastor was no easy task. My heart is searching to grab hold of what is real in the midst of so many fakes all around me. I need to know that I am listening to and serving God, not my church, or my pastor, or my boss. Previously as well, I was on track for ordination in my denomination and planning on going to seminary. I recently backed out of both of these, and this has led many people (including myself) to believe I am backsliding. I have not made much sense at all recently, but I know God is smiling, because in all this I am seeking to know His heart more.
4. What frustrates you most about your own spiritual growth?
Right now, I am frustrated with a lot of things. First, I am frustrated it took me so long to wake up and smell the roses. I was so disillusioned in a lot of ways to the meaningless things that I was remaining faithful to. I have been so selfish in my desire to be holy. I wanted to look good to those around me (which is ironic that everyone thinks I’m crazy right now, as I am closer to God than ever before). I am frustrated by the lack of time I have to spend with God, though I fully believe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week could never satisfy that hunger. Sometimes I don’t want to go to work, because I really want to pray, which is downright insane but I think that’s ok. I am frustrated that I don’t have a love and passion for those around me like I think I should, and I don’t have a strong desire to read the Bible right now. That takes guts to admit publicly, believe me. I am frustrated with my exhaustion (which has a lot to do with being sick). I have had to basically focus on just my job and spiritual growth, and I am completely wiped out. I am frustrated that I disagree now theologically and philosophically with some important people in my life. Some people that I look up to don’t hold the same values I have anymore, and that kind of scares me, but at the same time I am coming across others who share my convictions and desperation for the heart and presence of God. Life is turning out a lot differently than I ever imagined or expected it. God is so different than I thought He was in my very limited understanding of Him. It’s kind of rocking my world. I am frustrated by the lack of a spiritual community around me. Except for the scattered souls I regularly talk to, I feel like I’m basically on my own. I guess that is starting to scratch the surface of the mansions of my heart.