Spiritual Receptivity in Times of Challenge
Several years ago, life was externally wonderful. I had a beautiful family, was living in beautiful Bath and a new headship had just been offered to my husband resulting in a great education package (including a home) for our family. Then out of nowhere my husband was diagnosed with a large brain tumour which required hours of surgery, hospital time and radiotherapy. To cut a long, complicated story short: 12 months later he was rendered virtually blind, with no job, no salary and no home. Life wasn’t quite so beautiful. It was a huge challenge for him in many obvious ways and in a more hidden way, it was a huge challenge for me.
Having been a Christian for twenty years I actually found my model of Christianity wasn’t able to serve me very well at that time. The familiar posture of ‘spiritual agency’ didn’t work, but created an added burden, another thing to do. I was looking after an ill husband, 4 young children and trying to find a way to make our lives work in huge uncertainty – I had very little energy for rising up in prayer and pressing in to God. I had to find another way of knowing God.
Going through a tough time
When we really go through a tough time and face real challenges we might also struggle faith wise. The problem isn’t so much that faith doesn’t work, or God isn’t there, but more that our posture might not be the right one at that time. In the West, Christianity has been influenced by popular secular values of busyness, activity and achievement. This can lead to a spiritual posture of agency, where we are taught to be agent in our belief, so that we read our bibles, pray, worship, have fellowship (spiritual activities) and if we go through a difficult time, we just imagine that we need to do more of the same. This can result in discouragement as it is yet another thing we have to do when energy is low and capacity is nil. Discouragement can then result in disillusionment – that faith doesn’t work, or my faith isn’t working, or that God-Christianity-church isn’t working.
But perhaps it is our spiritual ‘posture’ that isn’t working and needs to change.
What I discovered intuitively in my time of challenge was that I could adopt a posture of ‘spiritual receptivity’. When I had nothing left to give, no words to say, no space for bible study and little energy for petitionary prayer I simply gave space for God, but did nothing. No words, no reading, no singing, no studying – just being. I’d call this a posture of ‘receptivity’. It was a posture of the heart, one where I could be anywhere (the car, the bath, the kitchen sink) and I would simply ‘be’ and say (wordlessly) ‘Here I am God.’ I experienced some very powerful moments of simple awareness of God’s presence with me. It wasn’t about getting a prophetic word, or biblical insight or even an answered prayer necessarily, it was simply about ‘being with’ God.
It was immensely reassuring to simply know God’s presence with me in all things, even in the midst of trials. I found this posture worked for me in some intensely difficult years and I still practice this receptive posture today. I also still practice the posture of spiritual agency and wholeheartedly affirm this way of ‘doing’ Christianity, but I believe the receptive posture is also needed in the life of faith, especially when facing challenges.
Adopting a receptive posture means to cease from overthinking, overdoing and even over praying (prayer as petition I mean). Rather, a receptive posture actually acknowledges the challenge exists and sits with it. This can sound hard and doesn’t mean we don’t also ‘fight’ the difficulty with petition, prayer, worship, study etc., but in the Psalmist’s words, ‘Be still and know that I am God’.
It’s far from a passive and hopeless posture as it requires courage as we allow the God of all hope to come and be with us. In the silence and stillness we can open our hearts to simply receive God’s presence, as He is, in the place that we are in and that is enough. It works.
Olivia integrates her Theology (MA Oxon) and Christian Spirituality MA with the meditation classes that she teaches.
She has four children and a husband with severe sight disability and loves getting to the heart of things.
Social Handle: @meaningfulmeditation