Sample Reflection Paper for TLC

TLC1: Spiritual Formation in the Kingdom of God

By a Pastor’s Wife ~ May 9, 2013

Pastors, ministry spouses, leaders, spiritual directors and others who participate in Soul Shepherding’s two-year retreat-based training in “To Love Christ” can earn a certificate in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Ministry.” For each of the four training retreats (five days long!) participants journal a Reflection Paper. Here’s an example of from a TLC graduate:

What Am I Learning?

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7) Jesus preached that to his first disciples and TLC is teaching me the rhythm of this.

It’s really tough for me to ask for what I need and to receive from others. Being a devoted pastor’s wife has made this feel pretty risky. Even more so, I am held back from trusting others by my childhood wound of feeling my existence is burdensome to others. So I search on the internet, where anonymity protects me from being misunderstood and criticized.

One day I’m online and find Soul Shepherding. I’m hooked in by the offer of “intimacy with Jesus” and “overcoming ministry stress.” I comb through the readings on the website. So I ask the extraverted husband who never met a stranger to make voice connection.  It’s much easier for me to stay in the confines of my lonely place.

But, O the hunger! It drove me to reach out to God, weak as I am, and look for Him somewhere beyond my frustration. I’ve wanted to give up on the megachurch, withdraw, and isolate somewhere. But I have a new appreciation that my Father is so tender with me. Jesus shows me that my Father won’t snuff out a dimly burning wick or break a bruised a reed. He remembers my frailty and leads me to the still waters of Soul Shepherding.

At TLC I’ve experienced the truth of God’s deep love for me! I found a safe community with other pastors and leaders to share my spiritual formation story and to open my heart. God really does give grace to the humble! Grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort. It’s up to me to ask, to seek, and to knock.

Bill and Kristi opened the door for us. God is showing me, “The kingdom of the heavens is open to you now…” This is new for me. I’m so denominationalized and thus unschooled about God’s kingdom, except where it fits nicely in Baptist Systematic Theology, and is subservient to the doctrine of justification.

I love learning about “apprenticeship to Jesus” and how practicing “Jesus’ rhythm of life with the Father” can help me to grow in my spiritual formation. And I’m so thankful to be walking with my spouse on this journey of transformation!

What Was Difficult For Me?

It’s difficult for me to find mental rest, deep soul rest. I really needed the five days away from daily stress to stretch into this. The quiet encounters with God at TLC and receiving tenderness in my group brought me much needed peace. I found strength to look at my own spiritual formation story. This was important for me but it brought up lots of pain.

I come from a family of racist, neurotic, aristocratic Southerners (depicted accurately in the 2012 movie, The Help).  As long as I remember, I’ve been plagued with feelings that no matter where I am, I don’t belong. My fears and insecurity were made worse by the Episcopalian Rector who taught me in confirmation as a child was a spiritually abusive and openly hostile man.

When I came to a real and personal relationship with Jesus as a senior in college, I was set free from so many bad habits that my change could be considered radical. It felt easy because God gave me grace to repent from gross outward sin. But again my trust was broken, this time by the Presbyterian pastor who led our new church plant. As a 22 year old young woman I watched him have an affair with the church secretary, resulting in two broken families.

That’s when I became Baptist. A few months later I married an ordained Baptist pastor. In three of the churches that my husband has served in he followed a pastor who was forced to leave because of immoral behavior. In a fourth church the pastor left the congregation quite polarized amidst a worship war (he had tried to change a traditional church to become contemporary).

All of these church situations have taken their toll on my capacity to believe that the church is a safe place for the journey of my spiritual formation. This is especially hard for pastors. How are we to authentically mature in Christlikeness in the midst of extreme ministry demands, demonic temptations, and church conflict?

At TLC I’ve discovered that the real issue is that I need Jesus to heal my wounds and meet my core longings to feel I’m wanted, I belong, and I have value. I’m experiencing abiding in Christ and encountering His affirmation and affection for me — this is what I most need!

But I now see how distracted I am! This is not the distractedness of having little gnats fly around your face. It’s like my inner child is tired, grumpy, and hungry, but she’d rather just keep sleeping than get up and eat breakfast. She’s cynical about breakfast; it may not be worth the effort so she wants to avoid the very intimacy she longs for!

So I’m challenged to bring my trust issues to God. Kristi and the TLC spiritual formation community have shown me how to do this. I have a new sense of how to really trust my Heavenly Father.

How I Experienced God’s Presence (or Not)

The natural beauty of God’s creation in the mountains of Southern California is therapeutic for me. I experienced God’s presence in the bright sunshine that warmed and relaxed my body, and lifted my mood. The lake, mountains, trees, sky and animals blessed me also.

There was a moment of random humor as well. I was at the lakeside enjoying my free afternoon of quiet with Jesus when a woman in a swimsuit approached me and asked if I’d seen a goose. I told her I’d only seen a few ducks. (It seemed polite to break my silence!) Then she walked along the lake began yelling for him: “HAROLD!” A few moments later she muttered that Harold must’ve gone to the island.

I also experienced God in the holy delight the group seemed to find in one another. I enjoyed the hunger and depth and like-mindedness of the participants. It was refreshing for my husband and I to be away from the superficiality of the comparisons and measurements so common when pastors and leaders are together. This group simply learned from Christ together!

I experienced God’s presence through Kristi in our private Soul Shepherding meeting and as she served us all. She is an authentic, honest, intelligent, deep, skilled, kind and beautiful woman of God. Also she’s quick to affirm, bless and encourage with words that say, “I’ve been there. I know it’s painful. And I know the Lord is with you.”

TLC is taken to a higher level of impact for pastors and wives because it’s led by a married couple who both adore the Lord Jesus and are in-sync with each other spiritually and psychologically.

Summary

The Soul Shepherding readings and retreat experiences have brought clarity and renewed definition to me. My heart’s desire is to abide in intimacy with Jesus and learn “the unforced rhythms of grace.” (I loved the Lectio Divina we did on Matthew 11!)

The Kingdom of the Heavenlies is open to me, right now. I am willing to venture on the kingdom as an apprentice of Jesus. I will not be bound to the distractions of the crowd of religious rat-racers around me!

“But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  (Phil 3.12-14, The Message)

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