“What are you feeling?” I ask people when they come for spiritual direction.
If they’re experiencing a “negative” emotion, like anger, sadness or disgust, they often want to manage or get rid of it. They don’t like feeling that way. But the wise poet Rumi wants us to welcome these unexpected visitors as guides sent from beyond.
Together with God, I help the directee name and welcome an uncomfortable emotion. I encourage them to give it space, without judging, analyzing or fixing it. “Notice how it feels in your body.”
Staying attentive to a particular emotion allows the directee to encounter the reality of God’s love and presence. I never know what that’s going to look like.
One directee felt as if she’d been thrown into a pit. Suddenly Jesus tipped it on its side, and they were in a safe catacomb together. Another was transported from screaming, unheard behind thick glass to tending a bountiful garden. One minute a directee felt storm-tossed in a sea, grasping for the railing of a boat that was always out of reach. The next minute Jesus was with her like a lifeguard, keeping her head above water. She was enveloped in peace as she pictured her body relaxing against his.
These encounters enabled my directees* to see their situation and themselves in a new light.
The experience I described in last week’s post is another example of what can happen when we welcome our feelings with God.
I told my spiritual director that I felt angry about the way I was being treated by someone and frustrated with myself that I couldn’t get past my anger and be more compassionate. I talked more about it and noticed I was afraid of what this person might do to me if I spoke up. I felt powerless.
I named my fear and powerlessness and something else emerged: I felt trapped. Every layer I allowed myself to feel was more distressing.
But my director and I continued to entertain my guests and invited Jesus to listen to them too. I noticed that he was not distressed. He was full of compassion.
“What’s the focus of Jesus’ compassion?” my director asked.
I held her question, convinced of what the answer would be. But I was surprised.
“Me,” I said.
When I received Jesus’ tender empathy for me, something shifted. I felt compassion for this person. Jesus didn’t blame them for their faults; he didn’t blame me for mine. He just loved and accepted us as we were. I’d felt trapped because I couldn’t change them or myself. Now I knew I didn’t need to do either.
My feelings guided me through what I feared was true into the reality that Jesus held.
Now that their work was done, they departed. I felt calm, hopeful and empowered.
Whether we welcome difficult emotions or not, these rude guests arrive on our doorstep and barge into our lives. Our first instinct is to get them out, and we use whatever means necessary to do it. But when we invite God to help us entertain these unwanted emotions, they generously repay us for our hospitality.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Jelaluddin Rumi, “The Guest House”
*Special thanks to my directees for giving me permission to share their stories.
Such a gift to us!
Questions for your Lenten pilgrimage:
- What feelings emerged in you as you read today’s post?
- Can you welcome them and give them space, without judging, analyzing or fixing the uncomfortable ones?
- Imagine Jesus welcoming these guests, welcoming you. What happens next?
* * *
Today is my husband, Fred’s birthday. This behind-the-scenes guy goes out of his way to make life easier or more fun for others. Fred does Costco runs and picks up Cobs Bread donations to be distributed to those in need. He plays Hide-and-Seek in the dark with our grandkids and me and knows how to die very ungracefully when he loses at Exploding Kittens (to the great delight of Hannah and Hadrian). This man’s love mischief knows no bounds. My Handsome Fellow makes great curry, fixes the car, maintains my bike and reads every post I write before it’s published. He also gives sweet kisses.