Last summer I felt stuck, like a car in a muddy puddle, tires spinning without getting any traction. (Admittedly, that metaphor stems from some real life experience.) The pandemic had worn me down. I was apathetic and numb. I didn’t have much to give and needed a reset.
September came like a promise the way it often does, bringing me feelings of a fresh start. At the same time I began two things: spiritual direction and attending a Monday night young adults service at a nearby church.
I didn’t know it then, but both those things began to change me. To be fair, it’s more accurate to say Jesus started using those things to change me. He is the One who brings healing and freedom, but He happened to use two practices I’d resisted before: contemplation and community.
I didn’t want to do spiritual direction. The spiritual director had set up some fairly strict parameters — we would practice nine months of prayer and meet bi-weekly on Tuesday nights on Zoom to talk about what God was doing in our lives.
I’m not exaggerating when I say nine months is one of the longest commitments I’ve made (God is clearly still working in me). The thought terrified me. But my friend and I agreed to do it together.
I began to pray each day, each morning, in the same chair with the same throw tucked around my legs. I opened the same books — words from Scripture and Saint Ignatius of Loyola — and I began to contemplate who Jesus is more than I’ve ever contemplated before. I began to pray, not just with words but with my life. I prayed in the mornings, in the kitchen while cooking, in the car while driving, in the moments before I met a friend for coffee, in the folds of each mundane day. My life, it seemed, began to become a prayer itself.
Contemplation — spending focused time with Jesus in prayer, Scripture, and meditation — started to deeply change me.
But Jesus didn’t just meet me in the mornings when He and I were alone. He also met me so graciously in community.
I started to attend a Monday night young adults group at a church nearby. I was resistant to this too — mostly because I’m hardly a young adult anymore. I think the term to sum me up these days is simply an adult. But I was also resistant because community is challenging, and I’d gotten used to being inside my apartment alone for the last two years.
I pushed through the resistance and went anyway. Then I went again. And again. Suddenly six months had gone by, and I realized I was seeing and encountering Jesus in new ways because I was seeing Him in the people around me.
For some of us, spending time in contemplation with Jesus is easy. We love to wake early, splay open our Bibles, and soak in time with our Savior face-to-face. For others, it’s the community that comes more naturally. We see God more clearly when we’re shoulder-to-shoulder with others who love Him.
Jesus didn’t change me only through contemplation, spending time alone with Him. Jesus didn’t change me only through community, seeing Him through others. Jesus changed me through both.
He Himself practiced both these beautiful disciplines. He’d sneak away early in the morning, seeking the face of His Father. Over and over in Scripture, we see how Jesus made meeting with God a priority. (I often wonder: if this was so high on the Son of God’s priority list, shouldn’t it be the highest on mine?) But although Jesus was in constant contemplation, He also lived in community — and I imagine the disciples weren’t always the easiest to get along with.
Pastor Rich Villodas recently wrote, “Jesus lived in perpetual communion with the Father but still needed a community of brothers and sisters. We can’t do it alone.”
I am becoming more convinced that the two things we need as we slowly start to navigate our way out of the pandemic is contemplation and community. We need time with Jesus — abiding with Him every single day, deepening our roots into who He is. But we also need community — digging in deep with people who love Jesus and show us the facets of His character we don’t always see.
We’re all in different stages and seasons, so this is going to look unique for each of us. Maybe you can’t get up early to pray because you have tiny children who wake up far earlier than you do. Maybe you haven’t found a safe church space yet, or you still need to be careful about going out in public.
Regardless of where you find yourself today, may I urge you gently, kindly, friend to friend?
However it may look for you, seek Jesus alone and seek Jesus in community.
We need Him, and we need each other.