This post is part of a roundtable discussion about the new book The Gift of Hard Things by Mark Yaconelli, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.
It’s easy to be spiritually focused when life goes well for us. Not so easy when grief, suffering, pain and frustration fill our days.
Spiritual director and storyteller Mark Yaconelli gets that and refuses to spiritualize or sugar-coat reality. Yet his new book, which takes us on a journey through many people’s experiences of spiritual growth through hardship, is full of hope. Without pretending to provide answers (who could?) Yaconelli invites us to give our full range of distressing feelings what he calls “holding space.”
“We all need holding spaces where our perspective can deepen—a friend, a community, a prayer, a chapel, a story, a forest or a book to hold us until the rage calms, until the despair is comforted, until the voice of self-hatred quiets. (P14)”
Yaconelli shares a time in his life when he felt distant and burned-out vocationally. A road trip with an old friend that included an amazing gourmet meal became his holding space, and brought him back to himself.
He tells how a graphic and shocking video of children killed or injured in the 2007 Iraq war turned a Presbyterian youth event from a “God loves you! Be Hopeful!” celebration to a raw and necessary facing of the grief over violence in that war and in communities all over the world.
“If I were to name the suffering that exists in the West, it is ungrieved grief. It is an unwillingness to admit, to name, to embrace the pain of loss. (P102)”
How do we create “holding space” for this pain? That’s where the practice of spiritual direction can be helpful. Drawing from his experience listening, discerning and asking important questions as a spiritual director, Yaconelli offers practices at the end of each chapter that may help us through suffering–reflection questions and suggestions for action. Each practice invites us to embrace our pain rather than distract ourselves or run from it.
Finally, I am always grateful for a book on spirituality that is highly readable and earthbound. If you have ever had the pleasure of hearing Mark tell stories, you know he conveys his truth in a clear, compelling and interesting way. (If you haven’t, there are some great YouTube videos you might want to check out.)
The Gift of Hard Things is honest, borne of experience and hopeful. As he writes in the epilogue,
“We get to choose whether our helplessness draws us toward or away from prayer (P147).”
This book helps us choose well.
If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit . Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.