Carrying Stillness :: The Sweetness of Surrender

I heart Winter Park.

Rooted despite the winds.

It has hardly seemed possible, but it’s true: Since I wrote my last post about surrender and powerlessness, I have found myself carrying a deep well of serenity, calmness, and peace — carrying stillness — around inside me. 

My external circumstances haven’t changed. I don’t have crystal-clear answers to the questions I have asked. 

And yet that certainty and understanding I’ve sought seem the less important thing. 

In their place, I’ve received a deep companionship with God that requires no words and, surprisingly, is transportable. 

Three nights ago, when I wrote that post, I spent a good chunk of time beforehand in tears. I was sitting on the cliff’s edge with God, our legs hanging over the side and the ocean stretched out before us, and I literally cried on his shoulder. I bawled at the prospect of and experience of surrender. 

Surrender of my need to understand. Surrender of my power over circumstances. Surrender of my pride and control and knowing. 

What remains is peace. 

I’m still sitting on that cliff’s edge with God. Our legs still hang over the edge. We’re still looking out at that wide expanse of ocean. We still see the shoreline where we walked together almost a year

And we just sit. Together. Shoulder to shoulder. 

That sense of being with God in this way is, amazingly, inside me. I feel it there as I answer emails, edit projects for clients, work on the Look at Jesus course, plan meals, shop for groceries, meet with friends and counselors, exercise, make the bed, make meals, do the laundry, enjoy time with Kirk, and just generally juggle the needs of work, home, heart, vocation, and relationship. 

Life is moving, always moving. Yet inside, I am still. 

Carrying Stillness :: Perhaps an Invitation to Powerlessness

Deep crevice.

A type of brokenness. 

If we’re friends on Facebook or you subscribe to the Cup of Sunday Quiet, then you know I’ve lately taken up a study of the Enneagram — a personality type indicator with roots dating back to the Desert Fathers and other wisdom traditions that is often applied in formation settings to help us understand our core needs, our besetting sins, and our growing edges for redemption. 

I’m fascinated and encouraged and inspired by all I’ve been learning about it. 

Pretty early in my process of study, I discovered I’m a 5. In Enneagram language, that means I’m an investigator and a perceiver. I prefer to experiene the world through the medium of my mind, gathering information and observing the world around me and seeking to understand things before choosing to act upon what I know. Us 5s like to understand how something works and seek to systematize that knowledge. We also have giftings for discernment and are prone to being mystics. 

At first, I didn’t want to be a 5. The idea of experiencing the world primarily through my head didn’t sit well with me. I thought, “That’s who I used to be. Jesus has redeemed me from my head living. He introduced me to my heart 15 years ago. I’m pretty sure I’m a heart person now.” 

And yet the more I read and reflected on my life experiences, from a young age to a young adult age to where I am today in mid-adulthood, I could see it was more and more true. Even the quirks used to describe 5s — like how they need their own private spaces and lots of time alone — began to make me laugh. It so much describes who I am and have always been. 

But then I got confused.

Over the weekend, I began talking to Kirk about writing a series on the Enneagram. Though I’ve just begun learning about this formation tool, I thought a series could be a helpful way of saying, “Look at this. It’s important. Here’s how it can help us all.” 

So Kirk and I sat on the couch yesterday morning and talked about this series idea. We talked about including some thoughts on its helpfulness in formation and the possibility of even including interviews with people who live out each of the 9 different numbers on the spectrum. And then off I went to Barnes & Noble, eagerly anticipating the help a few more resources could offer me in this process. I was a happy little learner bee (living out the true nature of my 5-ness!). 

And that’s when the confusion began. 

As I sat reading my new Enneagram book, I started to second-guess all I thought I’d come to understand about myself through the lens of the Enneagram. I read the description of the 1, who is concerned with perfection and things being right, and thought, “Well, maybe … ” I’ve always said my redemption story has been about Jesus’ rescue of me from the prison of my perfectionism. Then I read the description of the 2, known as “the helper,” and thought, “Hmmm. Maybe that too … ” The helper puts other people’s needs above their own and has a hard time caring for herself, and that, too, feels so much like the story of my life. 

I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t a 5 after all. But then I read that 2s and 5s, in particular, almost never confuse themselves for each other. Misidentification with an Enneagram number can happen, for sure, but some misidentifications are more common than others. But 2s and 5s? That almost never happens. So why was I suddenly unsure? 

Like I said: confusion. 

All my enthusiam for the Enneagram series fell away. I started to fall into a deep funk, not unlike the funk that’s become all too familiar to me of late as I’ve grappled with God’s invitation for me to learn to carry stillness and as I’ve wrestled with a recent prayer experience I really didn’t understand

I told Kirk today that I feel like I’ve lost my footing. After several years of purposeful intent, of knowing what I’m about and what I’m moving toward and being faithful toward that end, nothing seems clear anymore. 

Then this afternoon, I had the chance to share the same thoughts with a close friend, who very perceptively pointed out, “Christianne, you’ve had several situations of late that have caused you to second-guess yourself.” She referenced the prayer experience that really threw me for a loop, then the way my life’s rhythm hasn’t looked anything like what I’m used to and really want and thought God wanted too, and then the Enneagram confusion that cropped up yesterday. 

“It makes sense that you’d feel like you’ve lost your footing,” she said. 

I don’t understand what God is doing right now with me, but these successive events all have a similar quality. And where it’s landing me is here: I just don’t know. 

I’m used to knowing. To having a sense of inner authority or inner knowing. To hearing God’s voice and then acting swiftly and surely in response. 

Right now, none of that is there. Everything I thought I knew has gone suspect. 

And I’ve realized all I can do in this place is depend on God. He’s the only sure thing. Not my knowing. Not my life situation. Not my future or even Kirk.

I keep revisiting that cliff’s edge where I’m sitting with God, just breathing, and let myself just continue to breathe with him. Sometimes as I’m sitting there, I tell God what I want and ask if he could possibly give it to me. Other times, like about an hour ago, I just sit there on the cliff’s edge with him and cry. 

All this feels very much like coming to the end of myself. 

And then tonight, I came across this video of Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, talking about this very thing. And I found it immensely comforting. 

Carrying Stillness :: When It Might Have to Do With Opening a Clenched Fist


Let go and … open?

It’s no secret I’m struggling with this turn in my journey. Every day, I’m thinking of what used to be and running scenarios in my mind for how to possibly create a return to it, then wondering if that response is not what God wants from me at all. 

And then last Thursday night happened. 

As I shared with my Sunday Quiet subscribers this past Sunday:

I shared a moment with God in prayer where I believed to have heard him say he’s going to take from me one of the most precious aspects of my life. A piece I cannot imagine ever living without.

Now, I may have heard God wrong. It’s happened before. But the impression was so clear, and it was so very much like what I’ve learned God’s voice sounds like in my life.

And it shook me. Really, really bad.

I’m still shaken by it.

I don’t know how to talk to God about what happened that night. I feel resistant to even a conversation with him about it. The times I’ve tried to pray, it’s felt like staring at a blank wall. All I’ve been able to muster so far is, “Why would you say that to me?” — without being able to wait and hear the answer. 

Kirk’s been encouraging me to ask God to confirm — or deny — if I heard him right. But I don’t feel able to even do that. The truth is, I don’t feel ready to hear the answer. If he says yes, then my world begins to shatter. If he says no, then my sense of surety in knowing his voice in my life goes suspect. 

I don’t know quite what to do with all this yet. I’m in a bit of a holding pattern with him, I guess.

It’s Tuesday now, and I still haven’t been able to go directly into a listening posture of prayer with God concerning this thing that happened last Thursday night. All I’ve been able to muster — still — is telling him how flabbergasted I am at what I heard and that I really don’t know why he’d tell me what he did, if, indeed, he told me what I think he did.

But there have been a few moments of silence. 

Like the silent spaces in the contemplative service at my church this past Sunday evening. And the 20 minutes of silence I entered into at the centering prayer group offered at my church on Monday morning. And the invitation to sit with God’s presence for a few quiet moments at the end of the weekly lectio recording included with this week’s Sunday Quiet letter. 

In those quiet moments, I began to see the potential synchronicity.

In a place where God is asking me to let go of an existence of quiet spaciousness and in a moment where I may have heard him say he’s planning to take away the most precious component of my life, my response is the same: to hold both with clenched fists.

I tell him no. Move to protect them both. Pull both of them closer and tell God he can’t have either one. Tell him they’re both mine. That he needs to fall in line and leave them be.

Maybe what he wants is for me to extend my hand and open my clenched fist.

The question is: Will I?

Into This Dark Night: The Night of the Spirit Is Darker

A little delicacy.

I mentioned yesterday that the night of the spirit is a difficult reality to write about. Whereas we spent about four weeks exploring the night of the senses (you can find the archive of those posts here), I suspect we’ll spend just a few days on the night of the spirit.

It’s just that profound.

Additionally, John of the Cross tells us that the night of the spirit is much less common than the night of the senses. Most individuals in the life of faith, he says, experience the night of the senses to some degree or another, and often several different times.

The night of the spirit is rare.

And it is incredibly potent and pain-filled for the one enduring it. 

St. John of the Cross uses the word “misery” quite a lot to describe this experience. 

For instance, here’s one way he describes what it’s like:

“In the face of her own misery, the soul feels herself coming undone and melting away in a cruel spiritual death.

   It is as if the soul were being swallowed by a beast and disintegrating in the darkness of its belly, like Jonah when he was trapped inside the whale. She must abide in this tomb of dark death until the spiritual resurrection she is hoping for.”

An interior death is taking place in the night of the spirit. 

In the night of the senses, a kind of death happened, too, but it was more a death of externals. The soulwas learning to depend less on action and feeling. Its interior life was strengthening and growing in love for God. 

Here, rather than dying to externals and what the soul can perceive, the soul is dying to what is left to be purified inside of her. It is, as John of the Cross puts it, “descending into the underworld alive.” 


Tomorrow we’ll look at the why and the how of this happening.

Dying Means Adoring Him Utterly

In late August, Kirk and I joined a contemplative prayer group through a local Catholic church that is walking through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius over a nine-month period. Each day, we are given a passage of scripture to read and then asked to engage in a prayer exercise concerning the passage. Then on Monday nights, we meet in small groups to discuss our experiences with each exercise.

Toward the end of this past week, one of the prayer exercises concerned a passage in Ezekiel. It was a rather lengthy passage in Ezekiel 16 that describes God’s relationship with Israel from her infancy as a nation through her growing-up years and on into adulthood in a covenant relationship with him.

Truthfully, it is a rather graphic passage, full of visceral and sensual images. For instance, Ezekiel describes the way God found Israel as an infant, abandoned on the side of the road naked and covered in blood. Passing by, God looks at Israel lying there and says to her, “Live and grow!” So she does. 

Years later, God comes upon Israel a second time. She has reached “the ripe age for love” and is yet still naked and alone. So God throws his cloak around her, choosing her for himself. He cleans her up and dresses her in his finest linens. He puts rings on her fingers and jewels around her neck. He feeds her with his choicest foods and then places a crown on her head. He has fitted her to be his queen. 

And then the story turns.

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Of Stars and Wildernesses

As an intern spiritual director, I have a supervisor I visit once a month. She is there to provide support for me in my work with individuals on their spiritual journeys, and she is truly a gift from God. 

Usually during our sessions together, we talk about my growing edges as a director, the places where I stumble or falter when working with others and the places I’m finding my stride. But this particular time, we ended up just talking about me. Not me in the role of director, but me as Christianne.

I found myself telling her about my struggles through the dying process, and specifically my struggle to feel surrounded and loved by God and others. I told her I feel alone and that I wished there were more people I could look to for guidance on how to do this. I told her that I feel the need to be strong in all my respective spheres of life, and I shared examples of how that shows up in my life right now. I told her that this need to be strong and have something to offer feels particularly pronounced for me right now.

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How Does the Beloved Learn to Die?

When I look out over the landscape of my spiritual journey for the past ten years, I can see that it has been one long journey into the depths of my belovedness in God.

As I share on my About page, this process began with one simple, honest prayer: “God, I don’t understand my need for grace or my need for Jesus Christ. Please, help me understand.” God heard that prayer and began to teach me. He helped me get to know the heart of Jesus I’d never seen before in the Gospels. He led me to the practice of contemplative prayer that brought incredibly healing mercies into my heart and life through the presence and words of Christ spoken directly to me. He brought communities of quirky, idiosyncratic people into my life that taught me about God’s delight in the variety of humanity and the grace and love that can be found in imperfection. He brought individuals into my life that would change me forever, simply by sharing the journey in love with me and letting me share the journey in love with them.

It has not been an easy road by any means — one’s deep-seated propensity for perfectionism and performance is not something unlearned overnight or even over a period of years — but I would not trade this long and determined road to learning the truth of God’s grace and love for anything at all. Through it, I have found freedom and joy. Through it, God claimed my heart for himself.

I thought for the longest time that this was the fullness of life God has for us: the learning of our belovedness. Through my own process of growth, I have seen that this learning brings about the fruits of unabashed love for God and great, compassionate love for others — the two prongs of faith Jesus said we are meant to be about (Matthew 22:36-38).

And to some extent, I still think this is the cornerstone of our faith that must undergird everything else. If we don’t experience the truth of our belovedness, then all that we say we believe will be mere words we recite because it is knowledge in our heads, not in our hearts, and we will find ourselves moving toward God and others because it is what we know we’re supposed to do, not because we can’t help ourselves from doing it. If we don’t experience our belovedness, we won’t have a well from which to draw out love and offer it back to God or extend it to others. The experience of our belovedness in the deepest places of our entire being is where the faith journey must take its root.

But I’ve recently been learning there is more.

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