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.
Such soothing words to read this morning. I am moving back to a place where I have a strong community of friends and a church community that I have so missed the past several years. Now more than ever, I realize the importance of this. I have tried to read my bible more and have Jesus in my life but need that community too.
Aliza Latta says
I love that you’re moving back to a place where you have a strong community! So amazing, Madeline.
Beautiful words, Aliza: “We need Him and we need each other.” As a senior citizen grandmother, I have also come to the same realization more fully these past two years. Thank you for sharing such important thoughts for all to contemplate and implement. God’s blessings!
Aliza Latta says
Thank you so much, Louise!
Linda Sprunt says
Truth upon truth, Aliza! Thank you for sharing this very timely devotional today. It’s been challenging to get back into community after the pandemic, but so worth it! And being “contemplative” has been something I’ve discovered through the past few years. Again, challenging, but life-changing!
Aliza Latta says
It has been so challenging! But yes, you’re right — so so worth it.
Ariel Krienke says
I joyfully spend time with the Lord in his word and prayer. I look for a community but I won’t sacrifice truth. Lies are from the devil. I lovingly push back from lies and untruths and am usually rejected. I know I do it in a Kind way. My community is my husband and I right now but I trust God to bring us to others when the time is right.
Aliza Latta says
I love how joyfully you spend time with Jesus, Ariel. I love that!
I am finding it difficult to get back into attending church instead of watching it online. My times of contemplation are few and far between. I have started auditing a class at a college just so I can be with people and study the Bible at the same time. I am enjoying being with people but sometimes I get down on myself and think it’s all just a substitute for going to church and spending time with God and his Word.
Aliza Latta says
It’s so difficult, Denise. I am praying God brings incredible community into your life <3
From the other comments here I’d say your story hit home for many reading it. Recently, over the last 7 months or so, I started having quiet time each morning after my kids are off to school and just being. Just meditating on God meditating on his son and just finding peace there.
It is truly amazing what happens when you begin something like this something so small begins to unravel into something larger, in a good way, in my opinion anyway. I find that my spiritual circle continues to grow not as much in community but within myself and unlike others getting back to church weekly has not happened yet since the pandemic but I believe I am headed in that direction.
Thank you for a gentle article with a beautiful sweet message
Thank you, Aliza! I’m going to work on this.
Thank you! As a senior adult, I too am learning the joy that comes from spending time alone with Jesus throughout my day and also in community with others. I am doubly blessed.
Over twenty years ago I committed to making an Ignatian Retreat over a nine month period with a spiritual director. We met in person weekly and I was assigned scripture and did daily contemplation and journaling. It changed me forever and brought me closer to Jesus and to knowing my true self. It also helped me make a deeper connection with community. It was a difficult commitment to make but I’m so grateful I did, thanks to the help of the Holy Spirit!
Nancy Ruegg says
AMEN, Aliza. It takes both–time alone with Jesus, and time in community with his people–to fully develop into the men and women he desires us to be. There’s great satisfaction, too, in the rhythm of taking in and giving out!
Ruth Mills says
Yes we need both individual & community time with Jesus. It’s my experience when in balance the 1 on 1 time points me to community & the community time points me to 1 on 1 time. God created us as complex beings & this concept is just another testament to His creativeness!
Beth Williams says
It is so easy to get stuck in a rut. The pandemic took us away from community & church. We had to watch services on Facebook or TV preachers. For most of us that became the norm. The isolation made people lackadaisical about their spiritual well being. People were/are simply worn out. Like you said we all could use a reset. We missed the interaction of friends & family and the accountability that comes with meeting together. I was blessed that my in-law’s church was still meeting. I would attend there & see my MIL occasionally. It helped me stay focused on Christ & is love for me. Everyone needs Jesus, His love & many hugs from others.
Love this Aliza. I need Jesus I feel so lost.