Self-help is all the rage these days. One can assume that the voracious appetite for this kind of material serves to illustrate the perceived need of folks who are working very hard to be better, to improve with a goal to be more successful, and more fulfilled and happy. I can certainly understand this desire. Our ideas of success and the promises that make for our happiness and contentment are everywhere. At best, these well- intentioned strategies can help us achieve some healthy goals. These might include getting healthier, to grow as a person or gain a new skill. At very least, good self-help can mute the inner anxiety even if only for the hope that this next thing will deliver in a way that we want, and quickly. And in light of the potential benefits, many of those who achieve these goals still experience a deep sense of longing. I think the source of this persistent and nagging longing is for the truly transcendent. Many are awakening to the realization that much of what our culture holds up as meaningful and successful do not deliver the contentment, peace, and happiness they promised and that many are searching for. Many have reached the top of the game only to discover that they did not find what they were seeking. So what is one to think about this longing?
The poet Rumi wrote:
Within people there is a longing and a desire such that, even if a hundred thousand worlds were theirs to own, still they would find no rest or comfort. They try every trade and craft, studying astronomy, medicine and every other subject, but they reach no completion, for they have not found their true desire. Poets call the Beloved “heart’s ease,” because there the heart finds ease. How can we find peace and rest in anything but the Beloved?
All these pleasures and pursuits are like a ladder. The rungs of a ladder are not a place to make one`s home; they are for passing by. Fortunate are those who learn this. The long road becomes short for them, and they do not waste their lives upon the steps. ~ from Like a Ladder
But what if it is not just another new and improved way to play the game that’s needed? What if the game itself is the problem? I am reminded of a saying by the Christian mystic Thomas Merton as he describes how many of us are climbing the ladder (of success) only to discover when we reach the top, the ladder was against the wrong wall!
In a world where self-help, quick fixes are a dime a dozen, over promising and under delivering, Christian spiritual direction is truly a “game changer.” While techniques are really popular today, a technique is not a magic wand. Sadly even in the church, there seems to be a tendency to reduce the Bible to a book of spells and incantations to get God to do what they want him to. That if we work a prescribed, Jesus-veneered pattern, God is obligated to give us our hearts desires.
However, Christian spiritual direction is profoundly different as it doesn’t give you a blueprint or a formula rather it helps you connect with THE WAY itself in a life-giving, transformative way. Spiritual direction is like helping you to learn how to garden your soul. How to prepare it for growth understanding that it is the Spirit of God that brings the authentic life which includes the vitality and peace we are searching for. Christian Spiritual direction helps us discover life in a deeper sustaining way which is not susceptible to the challenges of life; economy, marketing, others opinions of us, the cars we drive, how much money we make, the clothes we wear, or even our health.
Christian spiritual direction helps you cultivate your own relationship with the true director - the Holy Spirit. Instead of a celestial sugar daddy, who gives or withholds his goodies based upon your ability to perform and conform, you will discover in a deeply profound way the lover of your soul - and in doing so you will discover peace, rest and joy overflowing.
In Genesis 28, Jacob has a dream of a ladder or stairway that reached from the ground all the way to the heavens. He saw the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Interestingly enough in John 1:51 Jesus seems to refer to Jacobs dream when he says speaking to Nathanael that he will see Heaven open up and God's angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Perhaps the ladder when placed against the right wall, and the ladder to which Rumi refers is a picture of Jesus as the way to Heaven, the conduit whereby Heaven and Earth become one, the conduit by which we become truly satisfied.
One last thought: It occurs to me that the picture of the ladder we see in Jesus, is not one that we must climb to get to Heaven or to reach God. This ladder, Jesus Himself, is Heavens way of reaching us.