Guidance Along the Way

Years ago, when (as it seems now) I was just beginning on my spiritual journey, I went to the minister of the church where I was attending. I was in need, I told him, of a spiritual guide and didn't know how to find one. That minister (who is also my friend) did not know how to respond. True to his responsibilities, and to his academic roots, he went back to his books to discover what a spiritual guide was all about.

According to my friend's research, the primary responsibility of a spiritual guide is to ask three questions, to which I add a fourth. When traveling the spiritual road, the real guide is the Holy Spirit. That is why these are questions, not answers: Questions to help us to listen to the guidance of God.

  1. Where are you now?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What hinders you?
  4. What gives you hope?

As it turned out, I never did connect with a spiritual guide — except for the Chief Elder. But the research that my friend did that at time has grown into the discipline for my spiritual growth.

Where are you now?

Stop a moment and take stock. Where are you now? This question invites me to consider how far I have come so far. What is life like here, now, just where my life happens to be at this moment? I'm sitting on my living room floor reading the employment ads may be the description of your spiritual life.

I tend to answer this question with more picturesque metaphors. Sometimes, the answer has been nowhere, or at least it feels like nowhere. Or it feels as though I'm lost, shipwrecked on a dark sea. Once my answer was that I was sitting outside the door of the king's audience room, waiting to get in. Today, I seem to be at the border of a new province where I've never been before.

Where are you going?

This question invites me to look ahead, at least as far as I can. Do you know where you are going? We like to talk about God's plan for our lives, but I think that we tend not to be specific enough. Maybe the question should be where are you going next? What is the next step in the direction the Spirit is pointing?

Where am I going? I'd like my answer to be I'm going to follow Jesus — but the truth is that Jesus moves too fast for me. I can't ever keep up. But, as the next step, I am going into that new province. That seems to put me someplace where I don't have a good mental map; where I won't be able to navigate using the little tricks I've been using. I'm going tentatively and hesitantly, but I'm going ahead.

What hinders you?

This third question is usually my favorite, because I almost always have an answer. By this time I have looked around at the place where I am and I've looked ahead to where I'm headed. Now I need to look down at the road and find the rocks, potholes, and broken bottles.

I usually have an answer, but my answer isn't always exactly right. Often as soon as I name the obstacles in my path I realize that what I've named are not the real hindrances. Lack of time to pray may hinder my spiritual development, or the lack of a time commitment for prayer. Friends or family or work can be distracting me, or sometimes I use whatever distractions I can find — even television — to keep me from facing my spiritual journey.

What gives you hope?

What, despite the rutted trail and the broken glass, shows that God is interested in my life? What shows that God is pushing for my success? Once, the only hope I had came from the fact that God kept coming after me "like a bear lying in wait". That was not a happy time, but there was hope in the fact that God was interested enough in me to interfere in my life. At another time, every work I undertook prospered, my acquaintances and colleagues came to me for spiritual insight, and I could hardly help but have hope for the future. Today, I am reassured by the frequency with which I hear God advising me about even the details of my life.

I am always glad that my spiritual direction ends with this question. It makes me "drink from the brook beside the way" before I resume my journey. Where are you today? Where is God leading you? What stands in your way? What reassures you? Take a moment to drink in God's grace, then move on to love God and everything that God loves.

May, 2001
June-July issue, West Side Moravian Highlights