What’s your spiritual life story? How would you describe your journey with Jesus?
Those are not easy questions to answer! Typically, if we share our spiritual autobiography or part of it, either we talk it out or write it down. Telling a soul friend or guide the key aspects of the story of how we’ve connected with God or drifted from him over time is important for all of us to do periodically. It helps us to integrate our lives and open ourselves further to the work of the Holy Spirit. It also enables us to be more helpful in our ministry to others, whether as a pastor, spiritual director, counselor, or parent.
It’s especially helpful if we learn how to review our life story in light of the needs, stages, and dynamics of spiritual and psychological development.
This approach to reviewing your life story favors the left-brain because it’s verbal, linear, and rational, though some brain research indicates that story-telling integrates the two hemispheres.
Telling Your Story With Your Right Brain
It’s also good to tell our stories in ways that make substantial use of our right brain that’s more emotional, relational, holistic, and creative. To do this you can share your story by plotting it on a life map or graph or by making a collage from magazine clippings. If you’ve never done this you’d be surprised at the emotional healing and spiritual enlightenment it can facilitate!
When you visually map out your spiritual journey on paper using a few key parameters then the jumbled parts become more orderly and the painful parts can open to God’s grace. It’s especially helpful if you do this with a friend or small group. In our TLC certificate training for pastors and leaders we invite everyone to map out their spiritual formation story along our model of developmental stages: “LIFE in CHRIST.” (See “LIFE in CHRIST: Questions on Developmental Stages.”)
Kristi and I also have four right brained ways that we’ve mapped our spiritual formation stories.
My Life Story Map
Kristi completed “My Life Story Map” with a friend and found it very encouraging. She made a six year timeline by year at the top. Then using different colored markers she filled in key events, people, places, vocations, and avocations graphing them as highs (successes, blessings, or positive influences), lows (losses, hurts, or negative influences), or in between. Finally at the bottom of her life story map she recorded the insights she gleaned from the process. (This resource is part of a book published by “OneLife Maps.”)
The colorful result reflects the progression of Kristi’s beautiful soul through the joys and pains in our family and the challenges of launching Soul Shepherding as a nonprofit ministry and serving in it full time during the worst economy in America since the Great Depression! We’re thankful to God and our ministry partners for supporting us!
In 1994 I was in Ray Ortlund, Sr.’s year-long Discipleship Group for pastors and leaders. We went on a weekend retreat together. We sang praise to God, meditated on Scripture, enjoyed community meals, and shared our spiritual journey stories. To guide our sharing each of us made a Life Graph like the one Kristi did recently, but much simpler. On the left axis is a satisfaction scale of 1 to 10. And the bottom lays out periods of life.
As you can see, it’s a rather quick and rough sketch, but it was still quite helpful, both for me personally and for our community.
A Spiritual Collage
A great way to prayerfully sort your feelings and thoughts at a particular life transition or stress point is to get out a stack of magazines and clip out words and pictures to form a collage. If you did a collage for each of the key periods in your life you could tell your spiritual story.
I made this “Decisions” collage late in 2008 when we were praying about starting a nonprofit ministry to pastors.
A Life Map With Sticky Notes
This life map is like “My Life Story Map” above except that you write down the events and related insights on different colored sticky notes. The great benefit of the sticky notes is that you can move them around and re-order them! This comes in very handy because you’ll remember your story in a jumbled order.
I completed this Life Map of my spiritual journey shortly after the collage as part of a “Discovery Retreat” led by Tom Ashbrook with “Imago Christi,” a spiritual formation ministry of CRM (Church Resource Ministries). Kristi also did one as did some of our friends who joined us! This exercise was particularly helpful because we analyzed our life stories as spiritual formation journey’s with consolations and desolations and moving through developmental stages. (Based on Mansion of the Heart, Tom’s book on Teresa of Avila’s paradigm.)
The key at the bottom explains the system I used to graph my spiritual journey.