sidewalk crowd - photo by PIXNIO

One day as I was walking down a busy sidewalk, I noticed that the crowd could be divided into two camps. There were those with their gazes fixed upon a distant point, indifferent to what was right in front of them, and others walking with their heads down, fixated on the devices they held in their hands. It seemed that everyone was disconnected from the here and now.

I sensed that what I was seeing was just another iteration of myself in my relationship to God. Often my problems captured my attention, running in an endless loop through my mind. Many times, I’d look up and wonder where I was. I felt lost.

As this awareness began to awaken in me, I realized that I’d been living as if God were out there somewhere, and I was down here on earth. We weren’t really connected in any substantive way. Occasionally, I’d give God a grocery list of items that I wanted filled. I did little listening. I was living my life hoping that God would somehow fit in around it.

It is little wonder, then, that when the crisis of drug and alcohol addiction presented itself to our family, and the professionals were asking me to “let go and let God,” that I couldn’t do it. I had to face the ugly truth that I didn’t trust God with my loved ones.

Growing my trust in God would require work. I needed to feel safe and nurtured to be able to let go. As with any relationship, time together would help build trust. But how does one do that with God?

Ignatian spirituality and my 12-step program were the first systems I’d found designed with specific steps to teach me how to grow in relationship with God. Both begin with what felt like a slap in the face that brought me back to reality.

My 12-step program tells me that there is a God, and it isn’t me. Ignatian spirituality speaks more softly by noting that the foundation of my relationship to God rests on the notion that I was made to praise, reverence, and serve God. Everything I have and all that I am is offered to nurture that end.

The work of keeping God first is ongoing. In Ignatian spirituality, we are asked to look for God in all things. This approach has been life-changing for me. Actively looking for God during my day keeps my focus away from self and keeps God at the center. Keeping God at the center of my life gives me hope.

Building upon these lessons, I began to explore imaginative contemplation. This became one of my favorite prayer practices. In imaginative contemplation, I read a story from the Gospel, and as I read, I place myself in the scene. Sometimes I imagine myself standing right next to Jesus. I notice how he treats others. I read a second time and imagine that I am standing next to the person encountering Christ. Watching people in these encounters helps me tap into my own feelings as a person who has fallen short but is still loved.

As I’ve continued to grow, I’ve started studying the rules for the discernment of spirits. I look at my feelings and desires, trying to distinguish what comes from God and what comes from the enemy. Each of these spiritual practices builds on the other, fleshing out a fuller image of God.

Ignatian spirituality has helped reorient my life around God. I can’t think of a more comprehensive system to learn about God enough to trust him even when life takes us to the most difficult places.

Photo by PIXNIO.