Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

Messy Spirituality

I freely admit that I crave a certain degree of order in my life.  On the Myers-Briggs I am an INFJ with a fairly strong organizational J.  That J serves me very well in work and thrives on deadlines. It is certainly what got me through a PhD program in under 6 years. I love my home to be neat and I have a hard time getting to work if its not (okay, so maybe it helps me procrastinate sometimes).  I can be the queen of planning and every day make lists of things to get done (although I often don’t accomplish everything on the list).  I have a friend who is high on the P end of the scale who envies me greatly and wants to know my secret for getting things done.  This way of doing things can certainly be a gift.

But in the last few years there have been some big shifts inside of me. I find myself being invited, especially through prayer and dreams, to hold my plans much more lightly and live into whatever is emerging in my life.  I call it “organic spirituality,” this path of listening to my own unfolding.  Following what seems to be most life-giving in this time and place.  Trusting my own longings.

I had a dream recently: I walk into my spiritual director’s office and the couch I usually sit on has been folded out into a bed and the sheets are rumpled. I am invited to sit down, but feel confused, maybe a bit anxious.  I laughed to myself at this image when I woke up–these delightfully rumpled sheets that represent my longing for a spirituality that is willing to get messy, that doesn’t always need the bed perfectly made to feel at ease.

I have often thought that if I lost my agenda I would be even more distressed than if I lost my wallet.  Identity theft notwithstanding, credit cards and ID’s are easily cancelled and replaced.  My agenda however, contains all the places I am supposed to be from now through the whole of next year.  To reconstruct spiritual direction appointments, classes, workshops, groups, and more would be a frightful task.  And yet, I have a love-hate relationship with this carefully scheduled life.  It’s not that I’m not spontaneous or flexible–in fact I am much more of a “P” with regard to my personal life–it’s just that I have realized many of my friends and other people I am deeply fond of I see at pre-arranged times, for example in my women’s group, my writing group, my dream group, my supervision group, and so on.  And while these groups provide me with essential support and feedback for different parts of my work, I realize I am longing for my relationships to start getting a little messier and spill out of their neat little boxes on my planner pages.  I want friends to meet friends from different parts of my life, or to meet my husband, or to just be able to call one morning and plan lunch or a hike one day.  I do this occasionally, but far less than is necessary.  I expressed this over the summer to one of my group gatherings to a warm and enthusiastic response.  We were talking about what shape our group might take in the fall and I said I wanted to get to know spouses and celebrate things together and just let out lives overlap more and get a bit messier.  Part of it are the crazy times in which we live. People are so very busy, sometimes if we don’t plan ahead several weeks will go by before we get to see a dear friend.

Really though, for me this is about much more than lunch dates and putting aside my agenda. It is about the journey I think we are all called to–the letting go of plans, the exploding of our boxes, the recognition that God is so much bigger than our plans–bigger even than our widest imagination.  It is a lifelong journey, because we naturally think in boxes, wanting to categorize and make sense of things.  Even when I think I have allowed God as much room to be who God is, I suddenly bump up against a limit I have imposed unconsciously and I wonder, why haven’t I let the sacred into that part of my life?

It is the kind of spirituality that makes decisions that don’t always seem logical or practical.  Like adopting an almost ten-year-old dog after my previously beloved ten year-old dog died, simply because of a longing to bring some healing to her wounded heart. Or doing something despite the mental list of reasons not to, simply because it feels like the most deeply life-giving thing I could do in this moment of my life and when I do it, my heart grows wider and my imagination soars.

Do you have any rumpled sheets in your own life?  Where are the places your plans have gotten in the way? What is emerging in you now, wanting to have a voice, despite how impractical or silly it sounds?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

You might also enjoy

Monk in the World Guest Post: Jennifer Scott Mobley

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jennifer Scott Mobley’s reflection and poem The Work of Healing. “We are each a multitude of inner voices. Some of these voices are loud,

Read More »

14 Responses

  1. I enjoyed this – I am definitely a rumpled sheets woman and now, going to school in 2 cities, I am having to impose a degree of organziation on myself that is literally physically painful.

  2. I love this post. I am INFP and sometimes my “sheets” are a little too “rumpled”. I could use a little more J, a lot of the time…but my beloved ISTJ husband helps me stay on track….
    Precious Tune. Hug her for me.