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Towards a Receptive Spirituality

August 3, 2011

This month, Michelle and I will celebrate seven incredible years of marriage. In that time, my wife has challenged me in many ways, always pushing me to reach deeper within myself to pursue God and the call he has put on our lives. Of the many thing I love about my wife is her simple ability to help me put things in perspective and see things about myself and situations that I can’t see.

A short while after we were married, Michelle very lovingly pointed out one of my personal blind spots. “You don’t receive compliments well,” she told me after the crowd had thinned out following a speaking gig.

She clarified, “Your natural reaction is to make self-deprecating comments when someone tells you something nice.”

I had never given much thought to how I responded when someone said something nice. She was right, of course, that receiving praise makes me uncomfortable so I naturally look for ways to diffuse that discomfort by deflecting the praise.

That night, she offered me a challenge, “whenever someone says something nice, look them in the eyes and say, ‘Thank you.’”

It sounds so simple, even easy. So, why is it that, to this day, her simple challenge is still so difficult?

My inability to simply accept and receive a compliment is a microcosm. It’s a personal habit that can be overcome, but it points to something far deeper. Last week, guest blogger Chris Sperling discussed what we have come to call a “receptive spirituality,” in which we embrace our role as the bride of Christ and embody a greater receptivity to Him.

As I read Chris’s words last week, I was challenged by them in the same way that I was by Michelle’s words all those years ago. I don’t receive Christ well. I too often try to dictate the terms and tone of our relationship with my own thoughts and my own mind, rather than allowing him to do so.

I suspect that I am not the only one that has this problem. I imagine, however, that this receptive spirituality is far more difficult for men. As men, receptivity does not come naturally to us. Built into our biology and reflected in our psyches is the natural tendency to be a giver, a fixer, a doer.

Chris and I had some discussion about what a receptive spirituality would really look like. We gathered up a group of men to discuss the topic and see if receptivity in spirituality was even on their radar. Everyone agreed that it was something we needed to seek in our relationships with God. Then, as good men, we quickly turned to the mode of doing, essentially trying to construct a five step process whereby we could actively cultivate greater passivity. About fifteen minutes into that conversation, one of the other guys had the clarity of mind to say, “hey guys, I think we’re doing it wrong.”

In speaking about receptive spirituality, we began seeking examples. It will probably come as no surprise that we ultimately turned to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as our example. Receptivity is Marian in the sense that it is submits, subordinating personal plans to the plans of God. It echos the response of Mary, who said to the angel who revealed God’s plan for her virgin birth, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:28). Her response recognized what we must seek,the Lordship of Christ over every moment of our lives.

Receptive spirituality, is also reflected in the other Mary, the sister of Lazarus. You’ll remember the story: as her sister, Martha, milled about the house waiting on their guests (the apostles and Jesus), Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, enamored with his presence and hanging on his every word. Mary let the presence of Christ be the determining force in her life. She did not have an agenda for him or an expectation for what his presence should look like. Rather, Mary just “was” in his presence.

When thinking about a practical implementation of receptive spirituality, the words of the Lord’s prayer keep echoing in my mind, “thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” What if that became our mantra, if every five minutes we sought to reorient ourselves to that prayer? It challenges me to stop trying to dictate the direction of my daily spiritual life, to take a breath, survey my surroundings and submit myself back to the Lord.

This past Sunday, I sat in Mass gazing at the image of my Lord on the Cross. In that moment, I sat thinking about being receptive, about opening myself up to the voice and will of God and allow his Spirit to wash over me. There was a peace in that reflection, a feeling like I could breathe a little bit more, like I was letting go of the heavy burden and picking up the lighter yoke of Christ.

Through the course of our seven years of marriage, Michelle has placed her trust in me to care and provide for our family. She has allowed me to make decisions both small and insignificant to life changing. I am her husband and her groom and she has entrusted me with that role and responsibility. And this, of course, is the model I must follow and learn from her, to give myself to Christ like a bride to her groom. I need to learn to throw myself into his loving arms with no regard for self, just trust that the one who gave his everything has the strength and love to sustain us, protect us and, ultimately, transform us.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 5, 2011 10:58 am

    I’ve been told something similar about not taking compliments well. There’s a fine line between graciousness and pride, though, and I dance on that line sometimes. Humbling myself helps me fight pride, and it saves the Holy Spirit from having to humble me, which never feels good.

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