XIII-Life Planning Questions
We are now moving out of the realm of interpretation and into the realm of application, and that is personal business. No longer is our primary question “What does God say?” We must now concentrate on the question, “What does God say to me?” As you know, we have been working on this second question all along, but it now becomes the center of our attention.
We will be dealing with the difficulty of being in the world without being of it.
We must stress the quality of life above the quantity of life. We must not define life in terms of having rather than being.
We must learn the wonderful truth that to increase the quality of life means to decrease material desire; not vice versa. Listen instead to the life-giving words of St. John of the Cross, “Let your soul turn always not to desire the more, but the less.” Richard E. Byrd recorded in his journal after months alone in the barren Artic: “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.”
turn your back on all high pressure competitive situations that make climbing the ladder the central focus. The fruit of the Spirit is not push, drive, climb, grasp, and trample. Don’t let the rat-racing world keep you on its treadmill. There is a legitimate place for blood, sweat, and tears; but it should have its roots in doing your best where God placed you. Life should be directed toward reaching your graduation.
Never put happiness as your focus of life. It is the by-product of being a Child of God, not the chief end.
“To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power” (George MacDonald).
Clement of Alexandria counseled that the servant of God should never attempt to work out his salvation alone, but rather should seek advice of a spiritual director (trainer).
Choose someone with whom you can share intimately, someone wise in the things of the Spirit – a person able to speak the word of Truth with tenderness. Seek his or her counsel and advice. Share your spiritual goals. Be open, listening, teachable. If he or she detects in you a spiritual problem and share with you, do not become defensive. Listen eagerly to these words of life. You desperately need this help.
Find new creative ways to get in touch with God. Enjoy in the infinite colors around you. Listen to the birds. Walk whenever you can. Enjoy the texture of grass and leaves.
Learn to enjoy things without owning them. If we own it we feel that we can control it, it becomes very important.
At this point you should start to establish some action points that you want to do. Following are some action questions that others have found helpful. But REMEMBER, God will only respond if it is in God’s and your program and plan.
1. God I won’t give up on (name)
who need’s my support and encouragement right now.
2. Lord, if it is part of your plan, help me to release my dreams of:
to You and entrust all of my life to Your care.
3. Lord, help trim from me these qualities that are causing me unhappiness:
4. God I choose to believe in the limitless possibilities of faith. I will use my imagination to picture Your intervention in these concerns I hold:
5. Lord, help me to change this one habit that annoys my partner (or friend):
6. Open my eyes, Gather, to unseen chances to practice kindness. Let me move beyond grand displays of generosity to the quiet business of being more like You. One way I can do this is:
7. Father, (name) needs a little extra love. Guide me to help cheer them up.
8. Lord, let me begin with this heading: Thanks.” Than you God, for:
9. Father, thank You for unexpected nudges that urge me toward my dreams. Give me courage to kick out of my rut. Today is a good day to BEGIN:
10. Lord, I offer these impossibilities to You. Help my unbelief:
11. Father, I choose to be charitable instead of challenging. And I’m going to begin by asking Your help in forgiving and forgetting – this hurt:
12. Walk with me, Lord. Here is one step I will take to continue on:
13. Dear Lord, right now I give this worry to You:
14. This month, God, i will be creative! And here’s how: I will creatively approach a problem by:
I will creatively worship You by:
I will do this never-before-tried-just-for-fun-thing:
15. Lord, help me to give of myself and to share something of You with (name):
16: Dear God, Help me to find the beauty and value in this imperfect situation:
17. Lord, let me listen for Your Leading. (Pause and listen for a few moments. Then continue.) I will do this special act for You:
18. I praise you, O Lord, for the powerful option of joy. I choose to be joyful. And here’s one way I can show it.
19. Lord, You are with me each day. Help me reach this one goal:
20. dear Jesus thank You for all the experiences that have something to teach me, especially for these things that count:
Task Ability gained
21. Dear Lord, I pray for enough humility to know when to ask for help. And today, I humbly ask for help with this situation:
22. Great God, how much I have to learn! Refresh my sense of wonder. This month, I’ll work to regain the newness and joy of childhood curiosity. And I’m going to begin by wondering/learning about this very everyday thing:
23. Lord, You know so much about finding that which is lost. Help me regain my wonder in the continuing miracle of life. Allow me to see (name) afresh today.
24. Forgive me, Father, for taking undue comfort in the familiar. Stir me from my self-sufficiency so I can explore, dare, grow. And I’m going to plan my first “adventure” right now! With Your help I will:
25. God, take my anxieties away, today, that I might take a first step in my dream of:
26. Loving Father, I now let go of (situation): Knowing that I’ll fall – right into Your arms.
27. Dear God, let my heart be ever thankful for:
28. Now that we have got you started, here is room for your own or help from your trainer:
2. A personal growth plan
This exercise hopefully grows out of the previous review of your ‘Spiritual program’ but it requires more specific thought and analysis than ‘Just participating in the program.’ Allow forty to sixty minutes. Again, you may return to it several times as promptings of the Spirit encourage you to reach for a new and still-unfolding vision of Christian life.
You may already have a personal ‘dream’ or ‘vision’ for your place in life, your vocation, or your family or community. or you may be moving towards much more personal changes in your own priorities, values or life-style. While others may be involved with you, in what follows, give major attention only to yo8urself, your own individual hopes, aspirations and definite intentions for change in your own life.
A ‘personal Growth Plan’ is a way of defining your forward thinking and hopes for the program on which you have already embarked. It is an opportunity to review the directions you might take, the tasks, opportunities and experiences you might pursue, the guides and companions you might seek out. Most important of all, it involves a radical openness to your Lord’s companionship on the journey, and a resolve to seek and receive the Spirit’s counsel, comfort, and direction. It is to be sought in prayerful humility, and celebrated with joy and confidence.
The chart below contains a minimal framework for you to start on; it may be expanded as much as you need to cover other areas or more specific aspects of your life which you are bringing under review. You may start on any area of life, but be both as realistic and as comprehensive as you can. Completing part or all of the chart is a useless exercise unless you approach it prayerfully, honestly, and intentionally – that is, you intend to pursue it to the best of your ability.
The underlying questions are:
‘Lord, what do you want of me, to what are you calling me as a result of this time of reflection and re-evaluation?’
‘Where do you want me to be in these different areas of my life, in three months, six months or a year’s time?’
Where would you have me look for insight, resources, companions, for this next stage of my training program from you?
You may like to reflect prayerfully on Ephesians 4:7, 11-13, as a lead-in to completing the chart. Note down here your preliminary thoughts:
Areas of Life – Goals, Objectives – Changes – Means, Resources – Companions – When
Friend/s with whom I will share this statement:
3. The Prayer diary or spiritual journal
You may call to mind spiritual journals such as St. Augustine’s Confessions and others. Such journals, and our own more meager experiences, make it clear that God’s guidance in our lives is seen mainly in retrospect. How important it is then, to maintain some kind of record of our more significant questions, prayers, changes of directions, joys and hurts, as we reflect on this God-given life. Both the actual writing of diary entries, and the scanning back over entries for past months or years, have the effect of clarifying feelings and the meaning of experiences. More important, they foster a meditative perspective on such every-day questions as:
Is this what God would have me do at this time?
How clear am I about my motives in wanting something?
What has been the outcome of my encouragement to individuals?
Where is God in all this conflict in my life?
Are my ‘experiments’ with spiritual actions bearing fruit? What does God seem to be saying to us in the responses to these times?
What are the pressures that have distracted my good intentions?
What was that idea that popped into my mind as I came home today?
Even brief journal entries permit a longer perspective and a thoughtful and prayerful consideration of the twists and turns of life’s path. They help to make it clear where God’s guidance or promptings have, or have not, been present. They should not drive us to quilt and ‘trying harder’ (salvation by works), but rather to a greater honesty with ourselves, and a greater openness to alternative paths the Spirit might have for us. They help us keep track of our outer and inner life and their inter-connections.
Buy a strong exercise book, memo book or one of the slimmer bound journals – large enough for ease of writing or sketching, but not too bulky to take on your holidays or to retreats. Some people prefer blank pages, others prefer lined pages.
Consider how you want to sub-divide the use of the journal. One method is to use the front of the book for your thought life – recording events and thoughts, and your prayerful reflections on these and turning the book upside down and using the back of the book for your unconscious life – recording and commenting on dreams, visions, the disturbing thoughts that bubble up now and them, and the substance of and answers to prayers.
Confidentiality: because a journal contains highly personal thoughts of the writer, and sometimes prayers for or thoughts about others, it is best not to leave it lying around where others may be tempted to pick it up and browse through it. As a matter of principle, your journal is ‘for your eyes only’; it is even worth using a private shorthand or code for names and particular events to retain confidentiality. Anything that will encourage you to write down and subsequently reflect upon your innermost thoughts.
Number the pages and date all entries in the journal, fore ease of cross-reference and the better understanding of changes over time. if away from home, also indicate your location, so that it is possible to relate your outer journeys to your inner ones.
Frequency of entries; some ‘religiously’ make daily entries, others weekly, and others only when particular events or experiences (a dream, illness, conflict, decisions, etc.) seem to require a special focus on movements in your relationships with God. It should be used as frequently as seems necessary to stimulate and encourage growth in your inner life – and most of us need that very frequently rather than occasionally. Discipline is necessary, as in all areas of significance in our lives.
Opening entry: when first starting a journal, it is helpful to write down why you are doing this, what prompted you to start, what you hope for in the exercise, your hesitations about the exercise, and some kind of commitment such as ‘daily entries for one month’ or ‘at least weekly entries for six months”. Hopefully such trial periods will demonstrate the ongoing value of journal keeping.
Decide on or experiment with the best time of the day or night for writing and reflection. Early morning, a midday break, or late evening before going to bed, all have their advantages, depending on the rhythms of our lives. Find a time and place that suits you best.
Commence by becoming still and quiet in a comfortable but not to relaxing position. Be still, and listen to outer sounds for several minutes; then seek to still your inner thoughts and the busyness of your mind. Praying the Lord’s Prayer, or other prayers, help focus attention on the Lord to whom we wish to attend in journal writing. Breathing steadily but quietly, consciously letting go of muscular tensions, or changing posture to lessen pressures on the body – these are all conducive to the stillness and inner attentiveness that are necessary.
Pray quite specifically along lines such as the following: ‘Lord, I want this time to be profitable in my relationship with you. Help me to put aside my fears and hesitations; help me to deal with distracting thoughts as they bubble up; help me to attend to the movements of my spiritual program, and to your plan, signposts, redirections and warning along the way. I come to find out more about your love for me and for those I love and serve in your name’.
Consider including in your journal:
significant joys and hurts of the day
quotations from people, or readings that have struck you – stimulating thoughts, challenging ideas, sayings that demand further reflections
a list of those people or situations you pray for and the answers you seek with the eye of faith
experiences or thoughts that disturb you, as you grapple with their meaning
a list of people you need to reach out to, keep in touch with, or have some special responsibility for
your own ‘poetry of the spirit’, the ways you seek to verbalize the peaks and valleys, of your journey with God.
What about starting a journal now?
“When you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you” (Matthew 26:40-41).
“Come to me, all you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Prayer is the most neglected resource of Christians, and yet we so often blame our very busyness ‘about the Lord’s work’ for not having the time to be still in his presence. We live and talk about justification by grace, and live as though we were justified by work(s). We run our lives under the supposed imperatives of the ‘work ethic’, and fail to realize that even moon rockets require refueling if they are to avoid burnout. We can be thankful that we are witnessing, in recent years, a recovery of Christian prayer and meditation alongside, but clearly distinguishable from,. the increased interest in Easter meditation. There are some similarities in approaches to or preparation for Christian and ‘Eastern’ prayer, but Christian prayer is fundamentally Christ-mediated and Trinitarian in expression, however helpful we may find preparatory physical relaxation, the quieting of our minds, the centering of our attention, and techniques for blocking out distractions from the external environment. (Christianity was, of course ‘Eastern’ in cultural setting, and hence in many of its religious forms and practices; and was only later ‘domesticated’ by ‘Western’ civilization.)
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is, of course, the model prayer for modern as well as first century Christians. But it is a prayer to be breathed slowly and reflectively, its nuances and depths meditated upon and allowed to ‘simmer’ at the back of the mind, rather than ‘rattled off’ like a formula. Especially as a mode of corporate prayer in the community of faith, we need to recapture something of its ‘simple profundity’ by surrounding its congregational recitation by times of silence. As a personal approach to God, it is a rich resource for meditation and contemplation, a means for praying rather than an end in itself.
5. Shared paths out of darkness
There are many ways in which the challenges and pressures of Christian living should be shared, and opportunities made for mutual support encouragement, reconciliation and healing in community. There is much scope for re-discovering a collegial or team approach to shared ministry within the priesthood of all believers. The healing power of community and shared living is a resource sorely needed by many in today’s world, the busy or spiritually fatigued individual not least of all. Life in community, the presence of conflict and the need for peace, are, of course, the source of many of the stresses of living, but they can also be the key to their displacement and transformation. The whole body is called to be upbuilt in love (Ephesians 4:12, 16).
In what follows, you are invited first of all to review the sources and relative effectiveness of the support available to you in living. To what extent are you finding mutual support and encouragement at present? What needs to happen next to enhance your experience of support, and of the pushing back of the walls of isolation, or conversely, of inappropriate interference in your work?
Understanding sources of support in living
Instructions: men and women in Christianity have found sources of support and encouragement form many different avenues. In the list below, circle the number opposite each item to indicate the relative level of support you currently receive from that source.
After completing all items add up the total for the numbers circled.
Source of Support Very Helpful No help Does not apply
Lay leaders of church 4 3 2 1 0
Friends within your church 4 3 2 1 0
Friends outside church 4 3 2 1 0
Your spouse/fiance(e) 4 3 2 1 0
Other ‘helping professions (doctors) 4 3 2 1 0
Family members other than spouse 4 3 2 1 0
Small groups 4 3 2 1 0
Prayer group 4 3 2 1 0
Spiritual director/guide/counselor 4 3 2 1 0
Personal devotions (e.g. Bible reading) 4 3 2 1 0
Prayer partner 4 3 2 1 0
Church and its Ministers 4 3 2 1 0
Special Groups (Encounter/Marriage) 4 3 2 1 0
Retreats/Rallies/Revivals 4 3 2 1 0
Date: Your total score (items 1-14):
If another source of support is especially important for you, write in in at (15) and indicate the level of help:
15. 4 3 2 1 0
* Which of the above 14 or 15 sources of support is currently most important for you? #
Interpretation of scores:
0 – 30 Relatively low support experienced
31 – 46 Moderate level of support
47 – 66 Relatively high support experienced
Having completed the above exercise, look back over the list, especially your top three sources of support and encouragement.
Give each of the top three a ‘mark out of 10’, according to how you would rate their effectiveness for you at present. For example, a small group may in fact be your Number One source of support, but you would rate the group as falling far short of what you need from the group as a source of support in your leadership, and personal encouragement (perhaps a ‘mark’ of 5 out of 10).
Reflect on what would have to happen for your top three sources of support to become more effective in this role they have for you.
Reflect on what your dependence on these major sources of support does to them; does their support of you have a significant impact on their time, their emotional energy, their availability to help others?
Do you support the people you’ve listed? Is it one-way or two-way?
In what ways can you grasp new opportunities to support others; in what ways do you need to improve your capacity to care for others – whether they are your ‘friends and supporters’ or not?
List some individuals whom you can commit yourself to start encouraging in some practical ways; pray for them and yourself in this coming new relationship.
Do you need to seek a greater range, or deeper level of support for yourself? Why? In what areas of your life do you feel this need most? How open are you, really, to receiving ‘feedback’ on your ‘strengths’ and your ‘work areas’? Jot down your thoughts on these issues.
One way of discussing the type of support evaluated in the section above is to speak of the roles that other people have for us as comforter, clarifier, and confronter. Marian Coger cites these in ‘Women in Parish Ministry: Stress and Support’, following the work of Carol Pierce. A comforter holds us, affirms us, and lets us know that our being is loved and accepted, even if our doing is unacceptable; a clarifier puts information together, helps us sort out what is relevant and what is not, and brings new light to situations we find ourselves in – they help us sort out how we are ‘coming over’ and what we seem to be ‘on about’ in our public roles of leadership; a confronter gives us constructive criticism in a way which we are able to hear and work on. Because they care about the outcome of your life, confronters can challenge us, without forcing us to become defensive. We need all three, sometimes separately, sometimes in relation to the same complex issue in leadership. And we have the potential of fulfilling at least on of the three roles for others around us – they also need all three.
The three concepts also help us understand why someone who wants to be supportive is not always perceived as giving that support. One person returned home upset about an incident, and wanting comfort from her husband. The husband, wanting to be helpful, began trying to clarify just what had happened; not until the three dimensions of support were clarified could they understand why the ‘clarification’ task of the well-intentioned husband was not received as supportive.
You may like to reconsider the results of the previous exercise in relation to the three concepts of comforter, clarifier, and challenger. Call to mind specific people who give you support in living; note down their names; seek to identify which of the three roles they have for you at this time. Then consider which roles you fulfill for specific other individuals:
A. Names of specific people who support me: