Though I didn't realize it at the time, the autumn of 1987 proved to be a pivotal point in my spiritual journey. It was then that I took a road or embarked on a voyage (however you want to put it) that I'm still traveling to this day. I hope it has meant that I've grown closer to Christ that I otherwise would have. It certainly changed a lot of things.
At that point in my life I was a few years into my career at a technical consulting firm. My third child was less than a year old. I'd been married for just over six years, and allowing for the expectable marital adjustments, we were doing well. We were involved in a little evangelical community where Ellen and I both appreciated the focus on community life and mutual commitment.
But I, personally, was feeling a bit stagnant in my spiritual growth. My early Christian growth had been in the military, with all the accompanying challenges. This had transitioned into the giddy excitement of my early involvement in the evangelical community, which kept me going well into early marriage on enthusiasm and optimism. But as I buckled down to the drudgery of being a husband and father, some of the fun was wearing thin, and I was finding that there wasn't much underneath.
During that period our group of evangelicals was somewhat swept up in the spiritual fad of the moment, which happened to be “signs and wonders”, usually manifested in dramatic healing. Since physical healings were rare, there was a lot of focus on emotional healing, healing of memories, and the like. This led to a lot of introspection and amateur diagnoses of the root causes of personal struggles. I began to wonder whether I needed to get some of that prayer to fix whatever was wrong with me.
It was during that time that I went to a men's conference and heard at least one speaker talk firmly about our need to have deeper faith and closer obedience to God's holy commands. I don't remember exactly who gave the talk, but the real Speaker was the Holy Spirit. I remember carpooling home with a bunch of guys, one of whom was leader of the local prayer team who was going on about the dramatic manifestations they had been seeing during ministry times. I remember mentally shaking my head as he spoke – somebody might need all that, but it wasn't me. Shortly thereafter I wrote in my prayer journal, “I don't need healing – I need faith!” I felt clearly the Lord calling me to deeper dependence upon Him, more listening and more obedience on my part. I started rising very early (something that comes more easily for me than for some), sometimes as early as 3:30am, in order to have plenty of prayer time before my early start for work.
The Lord met me during those quiet hours, when it was just me and my Bible and my prayer journal, alone in the living room with nothing but a candle for illumination. He showed me that I had been seeing myself as a slave, not as His son, and the critical difference that made. He helped me understand how liberating obedience was, and how important it was to trust Him completely, regardless of external circumstances.
It wasn't so much an immediate, dramatic makeover as it was the turning of a corner. Within a year of that time the Lord was speaking very distinctly about trusting Him no matter what I was called to do. Within two years, He had called me back to my Catholic heritage and launched me out on the spiritual challenge of self-employment. (You don't think being self-employed is a spiritual challenge? Try it.) Ellen and I faced the anguish of seeing the evangelical community in which we'd invested so much begin its slow and painful deterioration. We had a few dramatic times in our marriage, but many more years of just trudging along, discharging our responsibilities, being faithful to what we'd been called to. Hopefully we've both grown in faith and helped our children (and others) to do likewise. But through it all I could trace much of the change back to those quiet mornings in the autumn of 1987, when the Lord called me to a deeper walk with Him, and enabled me to follow.
Looking back across the past quarter century, I see that what the Lord was challenging me to was what spiritual directors call abandonment. I've recently finished Fr. DeCaussade's classic Abandonment to Divine Providence, and many of the themes he explains are quite familiar. They've been the foundation for the closer walk with the Lord that I date back to that time.
There have been many significant years in my life, for a wide variety of reasons. 1957 (obviously), 1967, 1975, 1979, 1981, and others all have their meaning. But as important as any of them for my adult walk in Christ has been 1987, which was the year He called me to a deeper and closer walk with Him. It's a path I'm still on, and hope to travel even more faithfully until I reach my journey's end.