Category: A to Z Challenge


I have often been asked if Spiritual Growth is really possible?

  • How do you stay motivated to grow over time?
  • How does Spiritual Growth actually occur?
  • How can I cultivate Spiritual Growth in my daily life?

The “how”s of Spiritual Growth are different for each of us, because each of us are different. What works for one, may not work for another, or it may not work – yet.

Spiritual Growth takes time and does not happen by accident. It is the process by which we move forward, gaining an ever-widening understanding of who God is, and who we are in relation to Him.

The goal of Spiritual Growth isn’t to become someone else. The goal is to become the best version of yourself. It is accomplished over time and involves patience, study, and the intentional application of what has been learned.

Yet, the real work of Spiritual Growth is done by the Holy Spirit – the active agent of any change. How He changes us is something I cannot explain. I can only tell you what has happened in my own life.

My Spiritual Growth has come about through a multitude of situations, people, and lessons I would have otherwise avoided. I have found there is an aspect of humility in Spiritual Growth that cannot be escaped. And that humility exposes our Willingness.

Willingness to let go of my opinions, of my preferences.
Willingness to move outside of what is comfortable.
Willingness to admit I don’t have all the answers.
Willingness to talk less, and listen more.
Willingness to go deep inside.
Willingness to ask hard questions.
Willingness to accept hard answers.
Willingness to suffer while striving to remain blameless.

Willingness is all that the Holy Spiritual really needs to change you. He will accomplish the mystery of the inner work; your job is to cooperate with Him.

Interested in exploring your Willingness, or lack there of?? I’m the perfect person to talk to, as I’ve struggled with that myself. Drop me an email with your thoughts.


V is for VISIO

In “U is for Unknowable,” I threw out the challenge that God, in the end is, unknowable. This caused a bit of a stir, so I thought I’d keep the conversation going.

Now, it isn’t that God wants to be unknowable, the limitation lies in me! Hard as I may try, I can never “think” as He does, never see things as He does, never understand things He as does.

He is without beginning or end. He exists outside of time and space. I’m a weak, broken creature, constrained by time. My understanding of everything is affected by this reality. I’m made in His image, but I contain within myself only a small remnant of knowing what that means. God is not my equal, He is my creator.

Isaiah gets it, as he speaks on behalf of God,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (55:8-9)

It is because of this inability to really understand God, that Christ became a man and lived among us. By His words and actions, Christ attempted to show us who God is, how He thinks, and what is important to Him.

But God’s effort to reach us didn’t end with Christ. We have the example of those who have journeyed before us, we have the traditions of our faith, and Sacred texts. Yes, I said texts – plural.

At a retreat, I once heard a monk say,

“There are three Sacred texts; the Text of Holy Scripture, the Text of the Inner Self, and the Text of God revealed in Nature.”

The first one is obvious, The Sacred Texts of Scripture, the inspired Word of God. The Text of the Inner Self, well that’s really fascinating, and I’ll save that for another post. In this piece, I want to focus on the third text: The Text of God revealed in Nature.

In nature, there are hints of God, everywhere. I’m not only talking about the deep beauty found in nature, I’m talking about the way our physical world points us to a greater understanding God.

CS Lewis touches on this a bit in his autobiographical work, “Surprised by Joy.” He says, “All images and sensations say, in the last resort, ‘It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?’”

As a Spiritual Director, I often hear, “Lisa, I want God to speak to me.” I get it, I was there too. I wanted the big, booming voice, to speak loudly and without hesitation. But I’ve learned that God is speaking to me – all the time, it just took me a little practice to “hear” Him.

Through the years, I’ve taken several exercises designed to help with listening, and created a worksheet which shifts this listening into seeing. It’s called “Visio Divina,” or Sacred Seeing. If you use this worksheet a few times, you’ll be off to a new way of “hearing” God in everything you see around you. Even if you’ve never thought it was possible for you.

Share your email with me and I send you off a copy:


My Spiritual Director once told me, “God has no rigid ‘plan,’ that must be kept at all costs. It is the rule of love, that God is always about the business of seeking and finding us in new and creative ways.”

Visio Divina is a tool that will help you let God find you in a new and creative way. I hope you’ll give it a try. Once you do, drop me an email and let me know how it went.


T is for TERESA

Exploring the lives of Saints has allowed me to enter a fullness in my Spiritual life. I have learned from so many who have traveled on the path of faith before me. St. Teresa is one of those Saints. Her life is a wonderful example of how persistence in faith bears much fruit. Like Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila lived in a time of great turmoil.

Interesting to consider that we will avoid struggle and turmoil at almost any cost. We’d rather run away, self-medicate, or live in denial of our problems. Yet, we have so many examples of how struggle and turmoil can be catalysts for great seasons of Spiritual growth.

Teresa lived in the 16th century and was a contemporary of St.  John of the Cross. She was a mystic, contemplative, and monastic reformer. In 1970, she was among the first women to be given the title “Doctor of the Church.”

This honor was due in large part to her exceptional work, “Interior Castle.” While in prayer Teresa saw a vision of the soul shining like a crystal, she set to write the vision as an explanation of our journey to God. Originally written for the nuns under her direction, “Interior Castle” holds deep truths for those who desire Spiritual growth and union with God. The journey to union is one of self-knowledge.

In her writing, the inner self is likened to a crystal mansion. Each chapter takes the reader deeper and deeper through seven mansions into the inner chamber of the soul, where Christ, in glory, awaits them.

Teresa asserts that there are many obstacle to union with God. These obstacles are found and fought within the space that exists between where the soul lives – outside of itself, and where God lives – at the soul’s center. St. Teresa tells us that union with God is difficult, because “we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are.”

A little later this week I will be releasing information about an opportunity to join an intensive journey to God through Self-Knowledge. The lessons and exercises hold many keys to self-discovery. Send me your email address with the box below, to get valuable information as it becomes available.

S is for SILENCE

Retreats and Silence go hand-in-hand.

Retreats create the space for Spiritual Growth, and SILENCE is the language of Retreat. I know that seems odd; silence as language, but silence is the language of God.

Regular periods of silence play a significant role in Spiritual Growth. The type of silence I am speaking about is not the mere muting of the noise around us. No, it is an inner condition of our very beings; stillness, quiet, calm. There are also elements of desire and anticipation in this type of silence.

God has promised to be found by those who seek Him, but once we’ve found Him, often we begin to fill the space between us with our desires and demands. To hear God, we must listen for the sound of a gentle breeze.”

Can one move long the journey in faith without silence? I suppose, but if you want to GROW spiritually, you must submit yourself to silence.

As an extrovert, silence has not come easy to me. I wrote about my initial experience with silence, in D is for DISCERNEMENT. But, once I tasted the fullness of emptying myself in order to be attentive to God, I could not go back to the way things were. In this silence, my Spiritual Growth expanded in ways I never could have anticipated.

After my husband died, I submitted myself to a ten-day retreat of silence and solitude. At the Siena Prayer Center I met with a Spiritual Director for 1 hour each day, and we discussed what God was revealing to me. It would have been very easy to stay home, and keep busy with all the things that I needed to take care of in the wake of this tragedy. But the time alone with God was so very rich and full of the comfort and clarity I needed at that critical time.

I know not everyone has the luxury of retreating for ten days, but you must begin – somehow, somewhere. A suggested mode for incorporating silence into your journey of faith is:

1 hour per week, 1 day per month, and 1 week per year.

This silence business is nothing new, and there are tools to help you enter this silence. Drop me an email if you’re interested in learning about them.

A word for Introverts: the silence that is needed here is not your regular experience of inner quiet. You must be attentive to something outside yourself. You must go deeper, or go sideways. The external quiet may come easy to you, but there must exist in it, longing and anticipation.

A word for Extroverts: at the onset, silence may be difficult for you, but you must push through what feels like loneliness. Do not be afraid. Create the space, and be still. God will speak to you, you are not alone.

Regardless of your temperament, observing silence does get easier with practice. And I can PROMISE, you will never regret seeking God in silence.

R is for RETREAT

If you know me, you know I love to retreat. I attended my first retreat in 1991. I was nervous, and it was difficult to leave my family, but I knew I needed to get away. At that retreat, new doors were open to me, as if, in the pause, I was given a new set of glasses, and the whole world looked different.

I don’t retreat to escape the world. I retreat to fuel myself for the world.

  • I retreat to return to the quietness I was designed to enjoy.
  • I retreat to practice hearing God’s voice.
  • I retreat for the space I need for God to change me.
  • I retreat to rest.
  • I retreat because it is good for my soul.

If you desire to grow spiritually, you must retreat.

If you are new to retreating, I suggest you begin with a “led” retreat. Attend with friends, or make friends at the retreat, but commit to observing some solitude during this time. God is longing for your attention, give it to Him.

If you are a seasoned retreatant, I challenge you to try a private, self-directed retreat. Bring only your Bible, a journal and an open heart. Let God lead you.

Here is a link to locating a retreat center. I have retreated in the mountains, the desert, at churches, and in hotels. The location isn’t as important as actually committing to a retreat – Just Do It!

I’ve created and led over 40 retreats. I have attended dozens more as a participant. So, I know a thing or two about retreats. Below are my top three “Dos and Don’ts.”  I hope they give you the motivation to seek God in a retreat setting.


Do Follow:
A retreat leader will usually spend a fair amount of time preparing for your retreat. It’s good to follow their lead. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and try their exercises and reflections. However, give yourself permission to follow God’s lead as well. As a rule, I say, follow the leader, unless you specifically feel God calling you to something else then, follow Him.

Do Pay Attention:
Outside our regular environments we tend to be more attentive. Open your eyes and look. Look for patterns, connections, and symbols. As you practice this type of “seeing,” you will begin to become more attentive at home.

Do Be:
Our lives are so focused on doing, and getting, and achieving … at your retreat practice being. Often I will cover the mirrors and clocks while I’m making a retreat. I try not to concern myself with my physical appearance or external schedules. In a culture where we are preoccupied with ourselves, it is freeing not observe myself, and just be present to what is going on around me.


Don’t Bring too Much:
A retreat is not intended to provide you the opportunity to catch up on your bills, or thank-you notes. Don’t encumber yourself with things to-do. Give yourself to becoming better acquainted with the part of yourself you neglect.

Don’t Stay Connected:
Leave your cell phone in the car, or keep it in airplane mode. If you’ve made a commitment to retreat, be present. If you have people at home who might need you, limit yourself to checking your phone once a day.

Don’t Judge:
Yourself, the retreat leader, the food, the accommodations – nothing. God will use whatever He is given to teach you something you. Humility is of paramount importance in Spiritual Growth!

Q is for Quotidian

In Spiritual Growth, Q is for Quotidian Mysteries

quo·tid·i·an, adjective 

     1. of or occurring every day; daily.
    2. ordinary or everyday, especially when mundane.

mys·ter·ies, plural noun

     1.  the condition or quality of being secret, strange, or difficult to explain.
     2.  a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding.

I love these two concepts together; ordinary and secret. And the idea of being altogether too “difficult to explain.”

This issue came up in a spiritual direction session just this week. I was asked, “As Christians, shouldn’t we stand out, do something important, be remarkable? Most of my days, are filled with the ordinary and mundane tasks that everyone fulfills. But I can’t leave my job and my family to serve those in need.”

I admit it, I’ve felt this way too. I remember the first hint. I had just left the corporate world, to begin a life as a stay-at-home mother. I loved what I was doing, but it was hard, physically and emotionally. I found great support in a women’s Bible study at a local church.

In this Bible study, I learned about the exciting events of the early church; miracles, shipwrecks, foreign cultures. But I was bound to the daily grind of diapers, bottles, and temper tantrums. I felt that my gifts were meant for more than managing the bodily functions of two active boys.

I recall a specific moment, rocking my colicky son, gazing longingly out the window, I thought, “Surely God, I’m meant for more that this?” And in that moment, God gave me no such assurance.

“Actually Lisa, you are meant for exactly this, at this time. This IS your mission field.”

Not what I was hoping to hear, but an idea that has been a significant motivation for how I do, what I do.

In monastic communities, there is a person selected to fill the role of “Cellarer.” The cellarer is in charge of the storeroom (cellarium), and is called to a wide range of responsibilities, including the distribution of goods, and the care of kitchen vessels and other ordinary items. Although having a rather boring role to fulfill, the cellarer has always been highly esteemed in monastic communities. In the Rule of St. Benedict, the cellarer is charged to “look upon all the vessels and good of the monastery as though they were the consecrated vessels of the altar.”

I like this idea, even the most ordinary objects of the monastery are to be treated in the same fashion as the sacred altar objects. This is something I can imitate. Every diaper changed, every dish washed, every memo sent, or spreadsheet created … every boring, mundane act, can be performed as a sacred act of worship.

Most of us are not called to a life in a far away, exotic place. Most of us are called right where we are, in the middle of the mundane, everyday life we’re leading. And like the Benedictine cellarer, we can enter the mystery of the Quotidian, and see the redemption of all things, even our daily tasks.

P is for PSALMS

In an era where distractions crowd out my ability to listen to God, the Psalms offer me a quick touch point, reminding me of who He is, and who I am in relation to Him and to others.

Within the Psalms, I find every emotion ever felt; love, contentment, triumph, rest, national pride, and the comfort of family and friends.

I can even find those emotions I’d rather not utter; rage, sadness, greed, the desire for revenge, laments of not fitting in, the fear of death, and the desire never to have been born.

The Psalms offer me a unique connection by way of the scarlet thread of human emotions that has persisted through time, and has remained mostly unchanged. The specific context may be different, but the emotions, common to all, are there in the Psalms.

As I read the Psalms, I am comforted by two things: first, that I am not alone in my feelings, whatever they are, others have felt them too. And second, it is okay to bring those feelings, no matter how confusing, or ugly, to God.

I am fortunate to read my Psalms from my mother’s Bible. She suffered with cancer for 20 months before dying. We never spoke about the Psalms, but I know she found solace in them, because she made notes in her Bible.

This morning, I am struck by several verses she underlined in Psalm 143.

 “… my spirit fails me and my heart is full of fear”


“Quick, Yahweh, answer me before my spirit fails; if you hide your face much longer, I shall go down to the Pit like the rest”


“Reach down your hand from above, save me, rescue me from deep waters…”

I can’t help noticing as she underlined, the force of her pencil scored through the pages that follow. As I imagine her struggle, my heart is pulled into a place I know, yet do not fully understand. I think on her fear, the fear of the one who wrote the psalm, and my own fear – the scarlet thread connecting us.

Together we struggle, yet together we seek God for help.  I rest in this comfort.

Below is a listing of psalms by type. Take a moment and consider one or two; there you will find lovely bits of wisdom and comfort!

Adapted from:

O is for OMNI-ness

In our efforts to Grow Spiritually, it is foundational that we understand who God really is.

A tool I have used in teaching about God is he THREE famous “omni” statements; Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence. I’m sure you’ve heard of these:

  • Omniscience – that part of God that is all-knowing. A comfort during time of or own uncertainty.
  • Omnipresence – that part of God that is everywhere, at all times.  A comfort when we feel like God might be busy, somewhere else, with more important things than our situation, and finally,
  • Omnipotence – that part of God that is all powerful! A comfort when life is overwhelming, and we feel like we have no control.

It was just this week that I learned a new Omni-attribute about God, Omnibenevolence. Doing a little research, I find a big, duh.

Omnibenevolence; from Latin omni meaning “all”, bene meaning “good”, and volent meaning “willing”

A new word to me, but certainly not a new concept. God is the source of all good things, but our ideas about “goodness” might vary from His.

As a Spiritual Director, I have found that this issue is the source of a lot of contention for a lot of us, as we attempt to understand God.

We’ve all asked, “If God is the source of all goodness, why does He allow, ______________?”  fill in the blank with your concern.

Spiritual Growth is all about the willingness to wrestle with these the contradictions. Contradictions between what we know about God and what we see around us. God’s shoulders are broad enough to take on your biggest questions. If you were to fill in the blank above, what would you say? Leave me a comment below!

N is for NOUWEN

I was intimidated by MERTON, but I would have like to have been friends with NOUWEN. His writings resonate with me on almost every level. They don’t necessarily confront me, rather I find in them an immense source of comfort.

I first met Henri Nouwen when a friend recommended a movie about his life. The film told the struggle of a soul who searched for belonging and acceptance, as most of us do.

I think his book, “The Living Reminder” has meant the most to me. Most people gravitate to “The Wounded Healer,” or “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” both excellent books!

Yet, I found a gentleness and a freedom in “The Living Reminder” that helped me overcome the idea that I had to be and do so much for others. It helped dissipate much of the anxiety I had over being a Spiritual leader. His teaching let me off the hook for being responsible for the world.

He has a genuineness about his teaching and his expression that reaches me.

You can actually experience some of his teachings on YouTube. He speaks in great depth about being “Beloved sons and daughters of God.” He calls to us a life, based on that knowledge.

“Easy?” he asks. “No.” he replies, in a thick Dutch accent.

Two of my favorite Nouwen quotes:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”


“Those who love us do not always love us well.”

I encourage you to seek out this great theologian, a humble catholic priest, author of some 39 books, and hundreds of articles on living a life of belonging. There is much you can lean.


M is for MERTON

It took me some time to actually sit down and read Merton. Honestly, I was intimidated by his reputation. I thought he might be too advance for me, so I began by trying to take in some of his quotes. Here’s a few of my favorites:

He wrote a lot on love:

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” 

He wrote a lot on silence and solitude:

“The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human living.” 

And he also wrote a lot on suffering:

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” 

Years ago, I was invited to a retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, GA. They had a beautiful exhibit all about the history of the monastery. I was surprised to find Brother Louis (Merton’s monk name) pictured among the monks who built the monastery. It was fascinating to see him, just one of the community, working to lay brick, or cut wood. It peaked my curiosity, and I began researching his life.

I noticed some time ago, it is difficult for me to learn from any theologian unless I experience them in the context of their life. Their story teaches me as much as their theology. Merton’s life story was no different. I found him to be a real person, with a real life. Complete with struggles, failures, and small triumphs, just like myself.

Since then I have read Merton’s work with a fresh perspective. I have found his most profound writing in a collection of his Journals, “Entering the Silence: Becoming A Monk and Writer,” edited by Jonathan Montaldo.

These personal reflections touch quiet places within me, and I find myself no longer in the presence of a man’s whose reputation intimidates me. No, I find myself in the presence of fellow traveler, on the same path to God as myself. He, obviously, is bit further on the road than me.

Tomorrow, N is for NOUWEN
(who was also influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton)