Several years ago, I experienced a painful job transition that wasn’t my own choice. My pattern was to try as hard as I could to do right and to fit where I was. Many of us probably do this very thing – it is actually part of the shame cycle. We try harder and when things don’t work, we try even harder. Eventually, things can come tumbling down as they did for me in my old job.
This experience crushed me. I didn’t know which way was up. At the time, I was attending seminary part-time because I wanted to know more about God. My old understanding of God was becoming less and less adequate for my questions. And then when my world caved in at the loss of my job, I really didn’t know what to do.
The wind got completely knocked out of me. My trying harder didn’t fit or work any longer.
Since I was already attending seminary and my time was freed up with the loss of my job, I started going full-time. Some might say this was a foolish step as a single parent just getting by because I had very little put away for retirement. What I had put away wasn’t enough to retire on but maybe it was enough to heal from the pain of this loss and to find a new way forward.
I found seminary to be a good place to heal, ask questions, and rest in the journey of discovering an experiential relationship with God. It felt very much like falling into the God I had always known was there – trusting more in the relationship than my cognitive sense of knowing. My experiences of God were true but the churches I attended didn’t know how to hold or talk about them. In my studies, I learned that many, throughout Church History, had experienced God in the same ways I read about in Scripture and felt in my own journey.
Things began to resonate with me through my reading and even in my cognitive sense of God and Scripture. So much of what I understood experientially and now cognitively became congruent. It was a very healing place and also a process. This new way of resting in my relationship with God gave me a passion to share this intimate love beyond understanding with others. I knew an invitation to do this work was in front of me, but I could not clearly see or define it.
I spoke to my brother about this internal sense within me and he shared an image that was helpful. Imagine a mountain far off in the distance. This is where the journey is headed but we don’t know what is between me, you, and the mountain. We can’t see the details of the mountain because it is so far off, and we don’t know how many trees, rivers, wild animals, or obstacles of any kind are on the way. But, we know that we know this is the path we are invited to walk. So, looking down at our feet, we take the very next step. That is really all that we are invited to do. Just take that next step.
This image has been helpful on this journey, and I have discovered that the step is firm in the stepping. As you take the next step it feels shaky but when your foot hits the ground it is firm and “right.” Even though I had a sense of the shape and details of the mountain, I didn’t have a crystal-clear view. It was fuzzy at best.
The first step, after going full-time to seminary, was to write a spiritual formation study called Being Boldly Loved and Loving Boldly. It helped me to connect the God I was getting to know through my studies, with my old understanding and love of Scripture. So much healing happened in my heart as I felt invited to write. The study became three 12-week studies that combined spiritual formation, contemplative prayer, and stories from Scripture to invite participants into a deeper relationship with God, themselves, and others. I have had the privilege of hosting several groups through them which is a beautiful experience.
Along the way, I learned a few things about walking alongside others in their relationship with God. One is that people are hungry for more in their relationship with God and oftentimes, their old way of understanding doesn’t meet them any longer. As a spiritual director, I host these types of conversations one on one. However, through conversations in small groups, people will be open in new ways as they soften toward God, themselves, and others as they experience a non-judgmental space where they both show up in and host one another.
I still sensed there was more to this journey and the invitation provided by the mountain. I felt it was important to share what I was sensing with those close to me. We discern best in community. This is the beginning of the creation of the Companioning Center. Next week I will share the next part of the story - the companions along the way.
Kathi Gatlin co-founded the Companioning Center and founded Boldly Loved to bring together her two greatest passions: spiritual formation and teaching. Walking alongside others in their spiritual journey, whether individually or in groups, brings her immense joy. She loves sharing the contemplative life and exploring ways of understanding God with others. Ultimately, seeing companions grow deeper in their own understanding of who God is and who they are in relationship with God is her faithfulness.
Kathi is a trained spiritual director, supervisor, writer, spiritual formation group facilitator, retreat speaker, leadership mentor, and adjunct professor with George Fox University and Portland Seminary.
Kathi has two grown daughters and five delightful grandchildren. She enjoys coffee, chocolate, deep conversations, reading the mystics, and walking in trees with her Covid puppy, Oliver. http://www.boldlyloved.org