Hunger for God
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they
will be filled. Matthew 5:6 (RSV)
In the words of the contemporary paraphrase THE MESSAGE:
That mysterious appetite began like an itch, but it was a spiritual itch,
a feeling of restlessness, like a tiny pebble in my shoe that I couldn't
get rid of. My early morning devotional times were unsatisfying, filled
with mind-wandering thoughts. Sometimes the meditations I was using seemed
boring, unconnected with what I was feeling. Then the guilt set in. What
was wrong with me? Why did I feel separated from God? (I recalled that
guilt-producing aphorism that a Christian friend had once placed on my
refrigerator, "If you don't feel close to God, then guess who moved?")
Why weren't my regular worship and devotional practices more nurturing?
Yes, there must be something drastically lacking in my spiritual life.
My once-satisfying spiritual journey had collapsed in the ditch. Maybe
I wasn't as committed as I thought. Maybe I had embraced all these church
projects through the years for the wrong reasons. In any case, that resident
question in my heart pounded like a judgmental accusation: What was WRONG
Finally I spilled it all out to my pastor at the Methodist Church I attended
in Dallas. A good friend, a wonderful pastor whose deep spirituality was
fueled and nurtured by action, by the championing of the homeless and
marginal, an extroverted dynamo greatly used by God, he listened patiently
to my description of spiritual malaise, smiled, and said reassuringly,
"Linda, you'll be just fine. You just need to pour yourself into some
of this church work that you've loved all these years--things that you're
really good at. By the way, the stewardship campaign is coming up soon,
and I could use your help. You and I could meet with the consultant next
I didn't hear the rest of his pitch because I could feel the tears stinging
behind my eyelids, an involuntary response to the feeling of not being
heard. His response, though well-intended, confirmed my assumption that
there really WAS something wrong with me after all. What started as a
minor irritation, which I described as a spiritual pebble in my shoe,
began to feel more like a gnawing in the pit of my stomach, as if I had
inadvertently skipped lunch. Though I didn't know its name at the time,
I was experiencing an intense hunger for God.
But hadn't I been in the church all my life? Hadn't I sung the hymns,
recited the creeds, chaired the committees, tried to be a worthy disciple?
What was missing? To fill in the missing piece, of course I signed up
for more courses, bought some more books written by the experts, who would
surely provide a cure for my discontentment. But nothing seemed to satisfy
the longing. Psalm 42 resonated in my mind, "As the deer longs for flowing
streams, so longs my soul for you O God."
As the hunger became more insistent, louder, more disruptive of my peace
and contentment, I tried to explore the feelings, figure it out. Somehow
in my frantic work in trying to get it right for God, I felt as if I had
been working for someone, striving to complete the tasks, prove myself
worthy of employment, if you will. Yet, working for someone I had never
actually met. I had read the rules, agreed to company policy and carried
out my assignments, but didn't really KNOW the object of my allegiance..
I had never experienced friendship with my employer.
Blessed are those who hunger, for they shall be filled.
At that point, a monumental grace entered my life in the form of a spiritual director named Katherine DeGrow, a United Methodist clergywoman living in the Dallas area. She heard my hunger. She helped me to name my longing. She validated my discomfort, not as a spiritual malady--something that was WRONG with me--but as a call from God, something that was right on schedule. I will never forget her comforting statement to me, "If the Spirit of God never nudged us or made us uncomfortable, why would we ever change or grow? God is simply calling you to a new kind of relationship."
In the book Soulmaking by Alan Jones, he writes: "God has placed
time bombs within us set to go off and blow a gaping hole in us to keep
us searching." I've found that to be true, haven't you? This process of
soulmaking reminds me of one of the Hebrew words for soul, nephesh,
which gives us a vivid clue to our condition. The word nephesh
is translated as ..."A little bird in the nest with its mouth wide openů"
that is, HUNGRY, very hungry.
"So what now?"--Katherine heard me say. She had explained my hungry condition
to me; I understood it now, but I was still in an "effort" mode. I was
waiting for my next assignment--a list of disciplines and books and behaviors
that could satisfy the hunger; fix the problem. But what she gently and
lovingly led me into was a major shift in my spiritual life--from active
to passive, from controlling to allowing, from directing to participating,
from trying harder to letting go, from working so hard to be worthy and
to get it right to being available for God's work in me. At first it seemed
too simple. Okay, I get it; I can quit striving, quit trying so hard and
allow God to work with me. Easy. I found, however, that control of my
own spiritual process was deeply ingrained. And horror of horrors, I was
going to have to stop talking and analyzing and start listening. How does
one DO that? What would I do without my ladder list to spiritual health?
How could I trust God to really direct my life? What if I had to do things
that I didn't want to do; contemporary equivalents of Old Testament sacrifices?
Was I really being asked to let my agenda for my life evaporate? Disappear?
After all, I lived in my skin; I could just read the Bible and figure
out what would be best. NOT SO. I had to let go of control.
The creation of a truly empty but willing container, hungry like a helpless
little bird, was the toughest discipline this extrovert ever tried. True
silence didn't come easily for me. It still doesn't, but God provided
many teachers and companions along the way who helped me as a struggling
novice to begin to experience, not just "know about," availability and
emptiness. Nonethless, there were no spiritual companions at first.. I
guess God knew that given the warmth of another seeker, I would draw all
my energy and inspiration from people around me and go galloping down
some pathway to being a "better Christian."
That first year, I could find no one to share my longings. Seeing my spiritual
director once a month was it. Someone introduced me to the practice of
Centering Prayer by thrusting the instructions into my hand, and I was
alone with God. My mind wandered; my extraverted ego was resisting for
all it was worth; I wondered why in the world I was sitting there doing
nothing when I could have been helping someone in need, or at least emptying
the dishwasher! I was a failure for sure. I had listened and hadn't heard
one single thing. Each period of silence was ended with my scathing evaluation.
And then I remembered the advice of a wise mentor, "The silence of God
is not the silence of a graveyard, but the silence of a garden growing."
Both of those silences are quiet, but in a quiet winter garden, there
is incredible activity under the surface. Cells are moving, unseen, out
of our control. Iinvisibly, preparation is being made. The way is being
forged for the bearing of fruit in months to come. When we are finally
able to believe and trust this process, we can begin to befriend the silence,
rather than see it as an enemy. We can trust the not-knowing and embrace
So, these days I don't know nearly as much theology as I used to think I did, and I don't have nearly as many answers. But I know to whom I belong... And I know the affirmation of the beatitude is true. If we come to Christ hungry, starving for the friendship of the Divine, we shall be filled.
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