Dear Father John, it has always been my nature to do, do do. I volunteer and serve whenever, wherever I can and have always found I felt closer to the Lord when doing this. As I grow older, there is a lack of connection in my spiritual life and simply serving. While I do not want to give up all the volunteer time, I do want to try and slow down in order to find that spiritual connection again. Where do I start? How do I slow down?
The Holy Spirit is, without a doubt, behind this question.
God Is Calling
You are feeling his nudge, his invitation, to deeper intimacy with God. You describe as a disconnection – or maybe a loose connection that you want to become tighter – between the many good things you do for God and your intimate friendship with God, your relationship with him. You have not lost a spiritual connection you used to have – as your question seems to put it. Rather, you have come to a point in your spiritual life where God is inviting you to another level, a deeper level of integration. The ideal you find yourself yearning after consists in having all your many good actions and activities flow more directly from your intimate experience of God’s love and goodness. Instead of having two parallel buckets in your life (intimacy with God, activities for God), you are feeling drawn towards a more integrated reality. You sense that your active life should be more of an overflow of your contemplative life, like a fountain that has two levels, with the top level filling up and overflowing into the bottom level, which in turn fills up and overflows. Right now, you are doing your activities and offering them to God. But your heart is telling you that God is interested in something besides what you do – he wants more of your heart, more of who you are: “Give me the gift of your heart…” (Proverbs 23:26).
Something to Look Forward To
As you deepen the contemplative dimension of your life, and connect more and more integrally to the active dimension of your life, you will be surprised with the results. Instead of finding yourself tired out (whether physically, psychologically, or both) by all your activity, your energy level will stay strong. Instead of being less “productive,” you will actually bear much more supernatural fruit than you could ever have imagined. This is logical. As God’s grace – God himself present and at work in our souls – becomes the primary agent of all we do, he is more readily able to compensate for all our natural limitations. This is why the lives of the saints show such a disproportionate ratio of activity to fruitfulness. Giving more space to God’s grace allows our contribution to his Kingdom to increase exponentially, though not always visible. So you have that to look forward to, if you are docile to the Holy Spirit’s nudging.
What can you do, then, to respond with docility to this inspiration? At least five things.
Escape with the Lord
First, retreats. You need to create space in your life where you can unplug and hear God’s voice. Taking half a day every month, and a full weekend or four days every year or every six months, to be alone with the Lord will help immensely. Our lives are noisy. They are busy. That’s the way things are. That’s the world we live in. We have to intentionally slow them down, on a regular basis. You can do some of these retreats on your own, but as a rule, it’s better to go on a directed retreat. You can look around for retreat centers, or ask around to find people who know of monthly mornings or evenings of reflection. The key is that the retreats should have plenty of silence built in to them. My own Order, for example, offers annual spiritual exercises (weekend silent retreats) for men and for women, along with couples’ retreats. You can look at dates here (www.loveyourmission.org) and here (www.bethesdacfd.org). I invite our readers to share other retreat resources that they may know of. Even if it involves traveling, you need to start going on retreats on a regular basis.
Second, daily mental prayer (Christian meditation). If you are already doing this, you need to go deeper. And if at all possible, increase the amount of time you dedicate to it. Mental prayer is a privileged spiritual exercise. It gives the Holy Spirit room to personalize all the truths of our faith, to apply them to your particular life and circumstances. There is no substitute for it. Growing in our mental prayer enhances in turn our vocal prayer and our liturgical prayer. It’s the secret weapon for consistent spiritual growth. If you want to freshen up your understanding on the do’s and don’t’s of mental prayer, you may want to pick up a copy of A Guide to Christian Meditation, or re-read some of our posts on mental prayer, like this one (Sitting in Silence) and this one (How Do I Know God Is Talking?).
In our next post on this topic, we will discuss the last three examples of how to deepen our intimacy with God; through spiritual direction, daily spiritual reading, and Living the Lord’s Day as the Lord’s Day.