Choosing topics for Whosoever is a difficult task. It’s probably the hardest thing about this magazine for me. I’m not a fount of good topic ideas, so finding a topic for each issue is always a struggle, and the last thing on my mind. Given that, I should have known I was in trouble when the topic for this issue came to me so easily. “Surviving a Spiritual Crisis.” It was right there on the tip of my tongue, weeks before it was needed, weeks before I even force myself to think about such things. A bad omen indeed.
Just after I posted the last issue, I plunged hard and deep into a spiritual quagmire of my own. I avoided working on the magazine, dreaded reading e-mail, neglected responding to some important messages. For that I apologize.
I explained it away as simple burn out. With this issue, Whosoever has been in existence for two years. It seems like it’s been forever. I don’t really remember life before Whosoever. In those two years I have been riding herd over every aspect of the magazine. It’s an enormous job and only through the grace and strength of God does each issue make its way to you! So, sure, I probably needed a little break. But it was much more than that.
I’ve experienced feelings of burnout with Whosoever before. I’m always careful to take time for myself, especially after posting a new issue. A few days away from the computer usually does the trick. This time it didn’t work. I had to force myself to return to the computer, force myself to read mail, force myself to begin the process of bringing this issue together. Difficult does not even begin to describe the process I have endured.
Instead of working on the magazine I found other things much more fascinating. My main fascination was with the television show “Xena: Warrior Princess”. A nice diversion became an unrelenting obsession … a reason to stay away from the magazine, and God.
I was slow to realize I was having a spiritual crisis. Crisis? Me? Never! I must stay strong, stay faithful. I have a job to do! Ha … I should have seen it coming a mile away with that attitude!
Once I saw that indeed, me, [sarcasm begins] a paragon of faith, [sarcasm ends], was in crisis, I went into immediate .. inaction. Yes, I shut down, completely. I certainly have a healthy sense of denial. I’ve learned that right off the bat. In the midst of a spiritual crisis, it’s much easier to turn up the volume on Xena than it is to turn it off and start listening to God. Much easier.
Then it became more difficult. God will not be deterred when a lesson is in the offing. Do not be deceived, my fellow spiritual seekers, God is persistent. We may run, we may hide, we may seek the protection of the Warrior Princess, but God will find us and convict our hearts. It’s terrifying, and oddly reassuring, all at once.
One of the most valuable tools I have learned from past spiritual crises is that the first step to survival is to stop running from God. We must stand still. Listening to God is hard, often painful, and usually involves hearing things we don’t want to hear. We know in our hearts something needs to be changed, but change is exactly what we do not want. Change involves effort. Change involves dedication. Change involves action. It is so much easier to live a life of inaction, of withdrawal, of routine. God will only shake things up if we stop and listen to him. Exactly.
It was hard to stop running, even more difficult to stand still. “Be still and know that I am God” is possibly the hardest passage in the Bible for me. I detest silence. I fail utterly at meditation. I must have noise. I walk in to the house and turn on the television, the stereo, anything to end the silence. Even now, the radio is on, chattering away. I take great comfort in noise. But it is that noise that can keep God’s message from getting through. Often we must force ourselves to stop, and simply be still.
God knows my weakness in the face of unrelenting silence. I believe God uses even our attempts to escape to talk to us. In the midst of the din of my cacophonous cocoon, God found ways to talk to me, through the very things I had chosen to make my escape from God complete. He used my main diversion of Xena to teach me some deep spiritual lessons, including the various and wonderful ways that God can speak to us.
Many people expect God to speak through a great thunderclap, or a burning bush. Certainly God can speak through such grandiose events but more often than not, God is that “still small voice” we cannot escape. God can employ nearly anything to speak truth to our hearts. I’ve found most often God speaks to me through the people he has placed around me. For example, it was a man at work who showed me the path back from my spiritual crisis. I explained, in the briefest and scantiest of terms, the problem I was experiencing. I told him I thought God wanted to tell me something, but in no uncertain terms did I want to hear it. He thought for a moment and said, “Maybe God is preparing to take you to the next level, and you’re not sure you want to go.”
My heart leapt at the sound of the voice of God through this man. That sent me on a search for others to confer with. I talked with my spouse, my pastor and others who would listen. Each and every one of them spoke God’s words to my heart. The chatter of the noise I surround myself with had not stopped, but God chose people in my life to speak to me with his wisdom. I chose to finally tune out the white noise and listen to the voice of God in those around me.
When you find yourself in crisis, talk about it. Find others to explain your doubts and misgivings to. You’ll be amazed to hear the voice of God in friends and co-workers. In addition to talking, be sure to actively listen to everyone and everything around you. God may be speaking to you in a song, a television show, a friend or a stranger. Try to hear God’s voice everywhere, pointing the way to the next level he is calling you to encounter.
Now that I’m listening, God is speaking very clearly. God had one question for me, “Where is your heart?” What a simple, yet impossibly hard question to answer. Where is my heart? The question perplexed me until I read a passage from Kathleen Norris’ new book. In “Amazing Grace” she points out that the Greek root of the word belief simply means “to give one’s heart to.”
God was asking me exactly what I believed in the most, but God didn’t want a list of my dogmatic beliefs. The question goes much deeper than that. When we give our hearts to something, it means we are dedicated to it. It means we will stay with it, no matter what. Nothing will separate us from it.
Where is my heart? What endeavor in life is worth surrendering my heart, utterly and completely?
My crisis began because I lost sight of where my heart should be. The simple answer is that my heart is with God. It can be no other place. I must keep it there, and have faith that God will care for it, and hold my hand when things get tough. Giving my heart to God does not mean I can sit back and take it easy. God will take my heart to new, strange and unexpected places. My heart will race when the road takes an unexpected turn, but if it remains with God, it will survive. I still do not have all the answers. But now I have the faith that no matter what lies ahead, I will survive and grow strong in my faith, because I have freely given my heart to God.
My life is at a spiritual crossroads. In the fall, I will begin seminary. It’s where God is leading my heart. I have had second, third and fourth thoughts about the whole venture. I believe my spiritual crisis was necessary to make sure I have the dedication, the heart, I will need for such a difficult journey. A few weeks ago I wasn’t sure my heart was in it, now I am certain that it is. I have arrived at the blessed place where I can say to God, “Here am I! Send me,” and finally mean it, with all my heart.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.