In the spring of 2009, I attended the School of Spiritual Direction for the first time and I left feeling like I had learned a new song. The song had a haunting melody and I loved the lyrics – it was the kind of song that just gets stuck in your head. The leader taught the song to everyone there and we all left with desire that the song would be with us always.
In the months and years that followed I never forgot about the song. Some days I could remember the melody and most of the words. Other days it was all I could do to remember a little bit of the tune. I read books by the song leader and the song would come back alive in my mind and heart. I talked with others who had learned the song before I did and found that they loved the song too. Together we would try to remember all the lyrics and we’d practice singing it. I read books by other people who seemed like they knew the song too even though they had added their own verses and it sounded a little different.
Somewhere in all of this I realized something profound. The song was already in everyone who knew The Composer but yet not everyone loved the song to the same degree. In fact, some people didn’t like the song at all. They ran away when it was being sung and they tried to get it out of their head. But it was there anyway.
Just a few weeks ago, I attended the SSD again with a group from my church. I noticed, when back with the song leader, that the song hadn’t changed. I loved being reminded of the song. The leader sang it loudly and he knew all the verses. He helped me remember the lyrics that were lost to me and added a few more verses that were new to me. It was beautiful. I soaked it in and realized how much I loved the song and how much it meant to me. I smiled with joy as I saw others learning the song for what seemed to them to be the first time.
But something was different to me this time. The song seemed richer – there was more to it than before. I realized… yes!… it was the harmony I was hearing! I never knew there was a harmony line to the melody I had come to love. I must have missed it the first time and yet I think it had been there all along! When two or three of us came together to sing the song the harmony just came out. I don’t know which of us sang the melody and which of us sang harmony – no one seemed to know or care – it just happened and it was beautiful. Now I loved the song even more. I returned home singing the song to as many people as I could but I realized that without others singing with me I could only generate the melody. I needed others before any of us could hear the harmony.
Now I’ve begun to see just how intricate the song really is. It contains some chords that by themselves seem dissonant and I wonder why The Composer included them. But then I see like the warp and woof in a piece of fabric or like a pinch of salt added to make a sweet thing sweeter, these chords contribute to the dimensional backdrop The Composer added by design to make the song richer and fuller.
But I don’t always hear the sophisticated chords. There are augmented 9th’s and diminished 7th’s that I have trouble distinguishing. I want to hear them but I think my ears need to be trained. I’ve been too busy running around trying to sing the song by myself that I haven’t learned how to recognize it when others sing it in a different key, or very softly, or in a different tempo, or accompanied by a different instrument than the one I’m used to.
So, I think I need a music appreciation class to help me learn how to sit quietly and listen for the song wherever The Composer is playing it. Then I want to learn how to dance to it because I have a feeling I’ll be hearing more of it the closer I get to the party… I think it’s the music of heaven.
I was moved to go to the School of Spiritual Direction (SSD) because the last 7 years of health issues I had survived had sent me into a spiritual drought of sorts. I studied with Larry Crabb and Dan Allender over 25 years ago at Grace Seminary and completed my MA in counseling. My time there had a profound effect on my walk with God and understanding of grace and mercy. I’d known about SSD for some time and had wanted to apply, and finally my health improved enough so that I was physically able to go.
The talks/sessions were very unlike the Larry Crabb I’d heard years ago – his thoughtful, deeply insightful approach was still the same, but he got up and the first session, opened with, “I have no idea what I’m going to talk about this week, I’ve been praying, and listening to the Spirit, and I have a few thoughts …” and what followed were words of life, and hope – about losing your life in order to find it and living life on the narrow path – and we were all changed.
Every morning of the week long seminar was a 3 hour session, starting with a time of worship followed by devotional that was definitely Spirit-led. There was teaching interspersed with scripture, sprinkled with stories of God on the move – including a wide variety of theologians from Mother Theresa to C.S. Lewis. Afternoons, we spent time in small groups/triads talking about our lives in light of God’s larger story and how the Holy Spirit has moved and changed us. There were tears of repentance as the Spirit revealed to us that we demand that “second” things fill us and bring us the true joy that is only possible if we seek First the Kingdom of God.
My time away at SSD was like streams of living water for my thirsty, parched soul. I tasted the glory of God, and it encouraged me, and focused me on a resource I have always been vaguely aware of, but never fully realized. The Spirit of the Living God lives in me – resides there – always. He never leaves me, or forsakes me – and while on some level, I have known that, I have been reluctant to speak of it, and embrace it. So, I guess that is my “take away” from SSD. I realize in a deep way that God is with me – forgiving me and loving me, and I am surprised and delighted at the communion I have with God since I’ve been back. Seeking Him and finding Him … being still and knowing that He is God. My hunger and thirst after God have deepened and I am slowly learning to wait on the Lord, and listen for that still small voice before I speak or act. As I seek to do this, I become overwhelmed by the Glory of the Cross – where Jesus lived and died so that death would die and I could be forgiven and become Alive in Him!
Mary Ann Steffy
Having studied under Larry Crabb over 30 years ago, plus continuing to stay in touch with him by sending him my newsletters and reading his books, I figured I had some idea of what I would get on the School of Spiritual Direction. But to my pleasant surprise, I did not take away information, but a personal experience.
I had a one-on-one chat with Larry about two-thirds of the way through the week and the next morning the Holy Spirit moved in my soul. This really took me by surprise because I began to softly cry during the worship time, and I’m not one for crying in a room full of people. But I decide to not resist what was going on inside and allowed the tears to flow. I was surprised and blessed by the man sitting next to me. I had not said a single word to him up to this point, but he began to gently rub my back and the woman on the other side of me put her hand on my shoulder. This made the tears flow even more. As the lights went up and it was time for class to begin, I attempted to dry my eyes and be ready for what Larry had to say.
As I have shared the above with people back in Ireland and they asked if I knew what was going on, I had to say I don’t know. But upon reflection, I see that moment during worship as a beginning of what Larry said to me in our time together. He encouraged me to allow people to see the softer, more feminine, vulnerable side of me as opposed to the capable, competent, together woman that most people experience who don’t know me very well. Every time I share about the softer, little girl Mary Ann that is inside, I feel those tears close to the surface. They were there the night of the banquet as I gave my 2-minute testimonial.
I feel like I experienced, first-hand, what Larry was teaching about “relational spiritual formation.” I’m asking God to show me how to allow others here in Ireland to taste what I received. I started meeting with a small group of people whom I could share my heart with and they share theirs. Larry suggested this as a way to allow the softer, more vulnerable Mary Ann to be experienced, and to give the others in the group a place to explore their true self. We’ve only met once so far, so it’s early days.
There are no words to describe my week in North Carolina at the School of Spiritual Direction. It was nothing short of soul surgery without anesthesia, just like Larry said it would be.
I will be forever grateful to have had the privilege to sit under Larry Crabb, more than in depth teachings and to watch the power of the Holy Spirit display Jesus through him and on to the other 30 students that attended.
Aside from having my children and marrying a godly man, this has been the most difficult yet meaningful thing I have ever done! My heart is so completely full of better understanding Who God Is, What He’s Up to and What it means to be Fully Alive in Him!
There has been a huge paradigm shift in my thinking and I am still overcome with what took place regarding my relational sin and how much I’ve grieved the Holy Spirit. To the degree I see my sin is the degree I will be able to love others well and relate in a way that puts Jesus on display!
Because of the School, I feel more passionate and called to travel the narrow road to where God wants to take me as His child, becoming a FULLY ALIVE, feminine woman!!
I was a student of Dr. Crabb’s 30 years ago. I’ve often credited him with teaching me how to think. In the past few years I have had significant struggles in my marriage and ministry and felt drawn to sit under his teaching once again and be refreshed and challenged by his wisdom.
During the school of spiritual direction, I felt most struck by the teaching that spiritual formation is actually relational formation. Our God is a triune God engaged in perfect relationship with the members of the Trinity. To be like Christ is to relate well. Loving God and loving others fundamentally refers to how I relate to them.
During the week, I also received direction regarding my personal relationships. I was challenged to think about why I pressure my husband and my kids, and how I withdraw from other relationships or seek refuge in humor. I came home desiring to know God deeply and to continue to settle the issues of my own heart, so I can relate with less demand and participate with the Spirit in directing others.
Attending the School of Spiritual Direction was the most encouraging yet perplexing thing I have ever done. It is a new way of thinking and living. I’ve learned throughout life, especially through church and school, that in order to have a good relationship with my family and friends I needed to be a good listener. I also have been taught to be a good encourager and to acknowledge people’s feelings and thoughts even though I may not totally agree with them or understand them on the same level, and try to empathize and show compassion. I’ve learned to try and put myself in another’s position so I could better understand what that person might be going through. I’ve learned communications skills which included things like open posture to show open communication and active listening techniques that shows I’m listening and understanding what is being communicated to me. So when I decided to attend the School of Spiritual Direction (SSD) my goal was to learn ‘how’ to be effective at being a ‘safe’ friend so hopefully one day, I can invite groups of women into my home and lead bible studies and discussions so we can grow in our relationship with our Lord as we just live life out together on a daily basis. I wanted to learn how to listen and encourage safely. I thought I would be learning skills or “how to’s” that would empower me to be a more effective leader. I was wrong. Smile. Dr. Larry Crabb does not teach skill sets or theories for learning how to be an effective leader when it comes to heart issues, or at least not in the way I thought. He teaches how to listen more to the person to whom you are providing SoulCare while at the same time, dying to self and listening for the Holy Spirit. He teaches you how to listen to the Holy Spirit more and rely less on self knowledge or theories that we may have been taught.
I was very anxious the week before I was to attend the school. I had a very busy week at work and was not feeling well physically. I wished I could have backed out, only I had already paid for the school and my airplane ticket. After the first day of attending the school I was glad I didn’t cancel. I had already read a few of Dr. Crabb’s books as a requirement to attend the school so I knew a little about his mindset for listening well to others. However, I was even more intrigued listening to him in person and I found myself more eager to learn from him and to listen intently to what he had to say so I wouldn’t miss anything. I just wanted to grasp a hold of what he was teaching and to learn about walking the new narrow way. His teaching was different and new compared to what I’ve been taught in church and school. I know that we were created for God – and to know God. I know that we are to have a heart of serving God in all that we do. I know that we are to guard our hearts and minds and live for God as best we can while here on this earth. I know we are to show love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and display all the fruits of the spirit to one another. I know we are to demonstrate Jesus’ love to others in all we do. What I didn’t know, was what it meant to put Christ on display in our every day communication when we relate to others; or what it means not to put Him on display when we relate to others. That is a new mindset and way of living for me. What does it mean to put Christ on display when I’m relating to others? Relating well with people not only means listening well to them, but also listening well to the Holy Spirit ‘while’ I am listening to people. It also means paying attention to what is going on inside of me ‘while’ I’m listening well to the other person and the Holy Spirit. Well, how do I do that? It all feels so overwhelming yet, I feel a sense of relief because the ‘pressures off’. I no longer have to worry about depending on my knowledge or skill level to help people solve their problems. SoulCare is not about solving problems, it’s about encouraging hearts to desire Him more, and having that desire be the first desire of our heart and lives. It doesn’t mean that we are not to desire other godly good things, it just means we are to desire Him above all else –above our marriages and our relationships with our children and other family members. This means that even in the midst of turmoil and shattered dreams, that what we want most is desiring God and knowing Him more and putting Him on display in and through every situation of our lives. Putting Christ on display is a new mindset for me and a great challenge.
There were about 30 of us there in one room during SSD. We met together every day for a week. I didn’t know anyone there at all. By the end of the week I felt some connection to everyone in that room because we all, at some level, wanted to learn how to put Christ on display when relating to others. I now have a deep connection with my SSD roommate. In fact, even though we live in different states, since we have been back home from the school, we have talked several times a week and are both now taking Dr. Crabb’s on line courses for learning how to provide SoulCare for another person. I’m learning that I have to pay attention as to what is going on inside of ‘me’ when I’m listening to others share their personal struggles and concerns so I don’t try to provide SoulCare from my own fleshly and selfish desires. This will also somehow allow the Holy Spirit to be released inside of me so He can do His work! I don’t know what that truly looks like, but I want to know and am eager for Him to change my heart and do His work in me so I can be the type of person that loves others on such a deep level that it stimulates their desire for God – the desire that has already been planted there by God – no matter what life circumstances they may be experiencing.
I still do not totally understand ‘how’ providing SoulCare is done, but I do understand the concept and want to learn how to be a safe SoulCarer not only for women that I may possibly lead in a small group one day, but for my husband, children, grandchildren and other family and friends. I’m amazed and perplexed as to how often I do not put Christ on display in my daily conversations with my husband and children, yet I’m excited to see how God will work in my heart and other’s hearts and lives because of learning how to depend on the Holy Spirit’s direction for providing SoulCare and not on my wisdom, skills or some counseling theory. I want to walk the narrow way of desiring God more daily on a deeper level even though I know that desire will never be fully quenched on this side of heaven. I’m excited to see ‘what good’ God is up to not only in my life but in the lives of those I love as well.
Simply put the School for Spiritual Direction changed my life. It gave me an opportunity to open my soul to God in a way that I never thought possible. It showed me that I have a longing and a desire to go deeper with others in my community and also with the Lord and that this is a good thing, a Godly and necessary thing. It showed me that the power and the beauty of the Trinity is at work and this made me feel alive again. It helped me to see that the longing that I have to go deeper with Christ and with others is something beautiful that Christ has put in me. And it also showed me that the wreckage that is my life at times is actually beautiful and that God longs for me to walk with Him through these hard times and desires for me to embrace Him in this process. For the first time, I feel inspired to face the mess and to look beyond it to see the love that awaits me on the other side. I feel strengthened by knowing I can trust in God, He will meet me in the mess and love me through it. He will walk with me and be with me, will sanctify me and show me that Christ is alive in me and alive in others. By embracing this opportunity God places before me, I will go deeper with Him and have a much richer relationship with Him. I believed the lie that I was too messy and too much of a burden to be loved by God and by others. I did not believe that our magnificent God was for me and that He is a tender and merciful God. But, He met me in this place and used SSD to show me how beautiful and how tender He truly is. He revealed to me that He designed me in a very specific way for His glory and that this is a beautiful thing and powerful thing. That He created me to put Himself on display to the world around me. And He also revealed to me that it is not fully up to me to do this, but that I need to trust the power of the Holy Spirit alive and at work in me. I am not some misfit from the land of misfit toys, but a daughter of The King and that He has beautiful things to offer me and others in the midst of the wreckage!