I began my two-year experience with Ruth Haley Barton's Transforming Community experience after having been in full-time ministry for a decade, and during those years I had largely bought into the lie that the kind of life with God that I deeply desired was a luxury which the demands of ministry said I could not afford. Although I would not have said it in these words, my lifestyle revealed that I believed practices such as taking a day to be alone with God were not really among the best uses of my time in seeking to advance the work of God’s kingdom among us.
The first Transforming Community retreat I attended focused on solitude and silence. After some initial teaching and times of prayer, we were given an extended period of time to be quiet and alone with God. When I arrived back in my room, I literally felt ecstatic to the point of jumping up and down. This was not because of any special experience or vision from God, but simply because though I had desired a life of intimacy with God for years, I had denied myself permission to pursue it in some of these most elemental practices handed down to us through the centuries. I was caught off-guard by my own elation, but it made sense once I realized that it had been eight years since I had last been on a retreat that gave me extended time for silence and being alone with God. I already had a master’s degree in spiritual formation and my denomination’s certification as a professional in the field, and yet I had starved myself of being alone with God for eight full years, and largely because of my feeling that the demands of ministry were too important for me to indulge myself in practices such as those.
As I signed my name on the Transforming Community’s group commitments, including that I would spend time in solitude regularly rather than starving myself for another eight years, I felt that I had finally been given permission, by a group of others who knew the same demands of ministry that I did, to live my life in a way that was consistent with my desire for God rather than continuing to deny it for the sake of ministry. That felt monumentally good.
When I received that permission to rearrange my life around my desire for God, I had no idea that the events of life would unfold in such a way that I would desperately need the lifeline that the Transforming Community would provide me through its practices and relationships over the next two years. Ministry circumstances during that time were the most difficult that I had faced in my decade of ministry. Simultaneously facing those pressures of my work and going through a period of intense personal grief and family stress upon my father’s diagnosis of terminal cancer and his death six months later was too much for me to handle. Depression came and I felt as if life was being squeezed out of me.
If at the same time, I had not also been in the Transforming Community... Well, there is no way of knowing for sure how things would have been different, but I am convinced that I would have been dragged some place emotionally and spiritually where I never want to go.
I cannot overstate the value of the Transforming Community consistently providing me with solid , challenging teaching which helped me to develop skills in discernment and led me to find a path of ministry much more authentic and aligned with God’s work in me than the direction I had been headed.
I cannot express the value of the relationships with people who mentored me, prodded me, encouraged me, and listened to me in the midst of the pain I was experiencing.
Perhaps most significant of all, I will never fully know the extent to which I was sustained and held up through the way that the community and its leadership prayed for me personally. It felt at times as if I could not stand, but this community stood for me through their prayers.
I am now more than six months removed from the completion of my two years in the Transforming Community. My life is now arranged dramatically different from the way that it was when I attended that first retreat on solitude and silence. My family, all of those to whom I minister, and I are all much better off because of the changes we have made.
If I had not been in the Transforming Community during these two years of my life, perhaps God may have sent another lifeline my way. I am profoundly grateful that I will never have to know if that is true.
Want to know more?:
- Take the Transforming Center's Free Leadership Assessment and browse their site for more information on Transforming Communities and other events and resources, including three of Ruth's books that I have on a list of highly recommended readings for Spiritual Formation.
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