Finding Myself on the Interior Journey

21 Jul

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I grew up in a large evangelical church filled with constant activity. We’d gather twice on Sundays and once on Wednesday evenings for Sunday School, worship, and fellowship (a word that seems to be used only by churches these days, often in conjunction with that other F-word: food). This activity-oriented approach to spirituality was especially true of youth group, where my faith was formed and informed by the exterior world in largely extroverted ways.

In the small town where I lived, youth group was the place to be, and mine was the group to belong to. Because we were young, we had even more activities than the average church-goer. (Capture the Flag, anyone? How about a relay race that involves Jell-O, marshmallows, and eating a cow’s tongue?) Sure—I loved the hay rides, the retreats, and the hours playing cards on our way to our next mission trip destination. But looking back, I realize I was always floating along amidst this flurry of youth-oriented activities with little opportunity to land—something my introverted nature desperately needed in order to maintain a sense of clarity and rootedness.

Back then, I didn’t know what it meant to be an introvert; I’d never even heard the word. What I did know was that it was good to be social, good to be involved. It was also good to invite friends, to pray out loud, and to stand and sing each and every word (bonus points for raising your hands in abandoned praise). As a good Christian girl, I did all the good things without question. This is faith, we were shown. Was there any other way?

As I grew older, I realized—deep down in my spirit, where truth blossoms—that my heart longed for something more. All the faith-driven activity of my youth didn’t give me much space to question, to contemplate, or to excavate beneath the established foundation in search of nuance and deeper meaning. This was true of both faith and self. No one spoke of self-discovery—only of self-abnegation, in which personal desires and doubts, considered secondary to the omnipotent will of God, were often regarded as sinful rather than as spiritually insightful.

Without knowing it, I had been denying a part of myself in my spiritual journey: my natural introversion. It’s not that the spiritual nourishment offered by my youth group and my childhood church wasn’t authentic. It’s just the way in which I participated in it as an introvert wasn’t authentic to me. What was missing all those years was an invitation to the interior journey.

It’s no coincidence that the words introvert and interior share the same first few letters. Both introvert and interior speak of a turning inward—an invitation to go within to find meaning. For those who identify as introverts, the interior journey offers an alternative path to deeper meaning—one steeped in silence and solitude, rest and simplicity, wisdom and tradition, beauty and mystery. This ancient and intimate path is often referred to as contemplative spirituality. In an increasingly loud and busy world, it is a refuge for the quiet soul.

Almost a decade has passed since my youth group days, and like many twenty-somethings, I’m in a season of self-discovery. In the past ten years, I’ve traveled the world, earned two degrees, married my husband, and entered my vocation. With each new challenge and adventure, my spirituality has deepened, and my self-awareness has grown. As I learn more about the ways I interact with others and connect with God, I’m finding myself on an interior journey, drawing closer to the contemplative path.

As an introvert in the Church, I found contemplative spirituality to be the soil in which I can put down roots. Liturgy that guides me along the path of the sacred; spiritual practices that ground me and draw me closer to God; a holistic faith that incorporates body, mind, and soul; an embrace of silence and mystery that honors my long-held desire for solitude and stillness—this is my home in the Church, and it teaches me more about myself and the Divine each day.

While I’m still new to the interior journey, I finally feel like my heart has found a home on the contemplative path. If my experience resonates with you, perhaps it’s time for you to begin your own interior journey. Here are three tips to help you start exploring the contemplative path:

  1. Slow down

Connection with God isn’t something to work toward in the future—it happens right here, in the present moment. But to notice it, we need to slow down. The interior journey is not a race to the finish line but a gently unfolding path. Being present to this unfolding path begins by slowing the pace and making space for contemplation in your everyday life. A great place to start is by setting aside time each day for solitude, stillness, and prayer. You can also incorporate these contemplative practices into your daily routine by turning off the radio on your morning commute or by pausing at the beginning and end of each task. The options are endless, but the goal is simple: to create space in your life so that there’s room for the Divine to enter.

  1. Pay attention

Once you begin to slow down, you’ll start to notice the presence of God where you never did before, finding meaning in even the most ordinary of places. It’s not that those places weren’t infused with the sacred previously—you just didn’t have the eyes to see. When you are attentive, you’ll soon discover that even the most unexpected things can serve as windows to the Divine. You can practice paying attention in your everyday life by noting things you are grateful for each day or by turning a daily task, such as washing the dishes, into a daily ritual, transforming what once was ordinary into something meaningful and opening yourself up to the presence of God.

  1. Be inspired

To be inspired is to be “in spirit.” You might find that the lines of a particular poet put words to your longing or that your daily walks fill you with peace and enthusiasm (a word with equally sacred roots—en theos, meaning “in God”). As you slow down and begin to pay attention, notice what inspires you and follow its lead, trusting that it will bring you closer toward God.

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