This uncomfortable space, once perceived as a void and a terrible emptiness of sorts – one that I nervously, desperately and anxiously needed to fill with whatever means possible – ensures that I respond readily and naturally when He finally calls my name and prompts me to act. Yet this very space of the heart requires time to nourish and requires patience to inculcate – it is a liminal space that requires one to wait and be still before acting.
This act of waiting might seem like meaningless idleness and navel-gazing to many, but I’m learning to see that it is essentially a call to deeper contemplation and an invitation to a deeper prayer life. It is a desire to move only when I’m called to move, an inner stirring to speak only when I’m prompted to speak. Through such a freeing disposition (that in retrospect, can only be attributed as God’s grace), I’m learning to recognise that slowly but surely, “it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). In stillness and inner freedom, my actions then stem from prayer and trust rather than neediness and insecurities; the eventual response to God almost always seems effortless and natural.
Akin to Mary, the sister of Martha, in Luke 10:30-42, this invitation to make space for God in my life compels me to intentionally sit with Jesus and to listen to Him – to be centered in His presence. After all, anchoring myself in Jesus’ presence prevents me from lapsing into a frenzied manner of working for Jesus. Indeed, the exasperation of Mary: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” (Luke 10:40) and that of the elder brother in the prodigal son parable: “all these years I’ve been slaving for you” (Luke 15: 29) are both reflective of the warped mindset that I have had in the past i.e. God’s love is conditional and that grace had to be earned.
Reflecting upon these poignant biblical verses have been liberating for me because it illustrates just how warped my relationship was with the Heavenly Father. In hindsight, my years of ministry and participation in church-related activities truly stemmed from insecurities and a yearning to earn God’s love. I acted out of slavish obligation and my work was hardly a free and loving response to God’s lavish and unconditional love. The failure to sit with Jesus and actively avail myself to Him prevents me from realizing that that he same Jesus who was at Martha and Mary’s home, is the same Jesus who dwells in the depths of my heart.
However, a larger question surfaces: how do I know when God is actually calling me to act? How do I properly discern His voice amidst the multitude of voices both in my head and in the world that are vying for my attention and reaction? These questions are undoubtedly valid and calls for further discussion – one that I do not intend to venture into today. There exists, however, copious amount of literature that deals with this topic: “Prayer: Our Deepest Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser, “Armchair Mystic: Easing into Contemplative Prayer” by Mark Thibodeaux S.J., “Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God” by Daniel Burke and “Interior Freedom” by Jacques Philippe, just to name a few.
That being said, I must say that the recognition of God’s call and the movements of the Holy Spirit in our lives demand intentionality, desire and a concerted awareness. This recognition stems from the many conversations that I have had with my Spiritual Director over the past few years as well as the books that I’ve read above). And I’m learning to see that the discernment of God’s voice is truly synonymous with prayer. Prayer helps facilitate a freeing disposition towards God’s gentle promptings and His gentle invitations. After all, how can we possibly discern His call if we are still inordinately attached (and hence, imprisoned) to relationships, worldly desires and the many superfluous, noisy and competing voices in our heads and in society.
Through the silence of meditation and stillness of prayer, I am then led to a fuller awareness of His divine presence in my life and the lives of those around me. This grace-filled awareness – this intentional creation and de-cluttering of space for God – prompts me to hope, reminds me to have faith and propels me to love. The act of hope, faith and love, then, becomes an outward manifestation of an interior life that is cultivated by prayer and lubricated by God’s grace. Sitting at the foot of Jesus and making myself available to Him allows me to recognize the call to a contemplative in action and to be an active contemplative, ensuring that all that I do stems from prayer and that my prayer is enriched by all that I do for the Lord. And through it all and especially in this season of my life right now, I am called to trust: to trust in His providence, His infinite wisdom and His divine plans.