Companions On The Journey

In the past fourteen articles, I have reflected on my life journey, particularly my spiritual journey, recalling what were for me deeply significant experiences and encounters with people. In this final article, I would like to speak about my reasons for intentionally sharing such personal experiences with you.

One scene from the gospels comes to mind. It is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and what happened to them when they realized that the person journeying with them was none other than Jesus himself. They immediately returned to Jerusalem. At the moment they arrived, the other disciples were discussing the appearance of the risen Lord to Peter. The two disciples shared about their own experience on the road and how they happened to have their eyes opened to realize that it was Jesus who had been walking with them. The account in Luke goes on to say that just at that point in the story, Jesus appeared in their midst. (Luke 24:33-36)

On our life journey, each of us has had the experience of having our eyes opened to the Lord Jesus who walks with us. Just as each of us have had a unique life journey, our personal encounter with the living Christ is unique as well. It has been my hope that as you read about experiences in my personal life journey, some of you may be inspired to write your own story of deeply meaningful experiences in your own lives and how you have been met by the Lord Jesus in them. And it is my prayer that as we share our personal experiences with one another, the Lord Jesus will come and stand in our midst just as he did 2000 years ago.

Another reason for writing came from a word of encouragement in Henri Nouwen’s book, Here and Now where he speaks of the great paradox of the spiritual life, ‘that the most personal is the most universal, that the most intimate is most communal.’ (p. 23)

In the course of writing these articles, I have repeated two things. The first is fellowship with a spiritual companion or a heart-friend, in other words, how important and wonderful friendship is. The spiritual life is centered in a personal relationship with the Triune God. When I speak of personal, I do not mean an isolated individualistic relationship. Since the Triune God lives in the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, when we receive spiritual life in our relationship with God, we also come alive in our relationships with friends. And in our relationships with our friends, we come to know God more intimately.

Over the past several years, my relationships with my soul-friends have given me some of the most wonderful experiences of my life. That new friends are being continually added to this fellowship never ceases to astonish me. Recently I have been offering retreats for pastors, evangelists and their spouses that I call ‘Seminars on Pastoral Ministry and Spirituality.’ These seminars grew out of a wonderful heart-friend relationship with Rev. Keikichi Sakano, a real gift from the Lord.

The second thing that I have written about repeatedly in these articles is the importance of reflecting on our own life journey and our faith journey. As I wrote in the first article, without this reflection it is very difficult to discover the meaning or significance of various events and experiences in our lives. On the other hand, as we take time to pause and reflect and meditate, we become increasingly able to see the hand of the Lord who walks with us and guides us.

Recently the idea of Spiritual Direction has been expressed rather by Spiritual Accompaniment. Since the concept we are trying to express is that we become spiritual companions to one another that our eyes may be opened to the Lord who walks with us, I believe it is a better way of expressing this concept to say Spiritual Accompaniment. In this spiritual accompaniment, we offer help to one another to deepen our meditation on our life journey and on our daily lives. Along with meditation on our lives, there is another very important dimension of meditation and that is meditation on the Word of God.

These days, words like meditation have become rather a trademark for cults and new age religions, but we need both a thoughtful study of God’s Word in order to understand it and also a deep meditation on the Word of God. Meditation on the Word of God is indispensable if we want our meditation on our own lives to deepen. To borrow an expression from Dr. Hans Burki, ‘In the meditation of God’s Word, the story of the Bible encounters the story of our lives.’

As you meditate on the Word of God and on your lives, may the Lord who is your soul’s best friend provide you with good companions on your faith journey.

‘Jesus himself drew near and went with them.’ Luke 24:15

No Crisis, No Growth

There are certain words that we have heard repeated so often by certain people that they have become engraved upon our hearts. And those very words will sometimes echo in our hearts and come from our lips in unexpected moments. For some reason, most words of this type tend to be negative words. Some people, when they are about to begin something new, hear phrases like, ‘Why bother. You know you won’t stick to it!’ or ‘Even if you do it, it will never amount to anything,’ and they hesitate to try.

Upon my own heart are engraved the expressions, ‘It can’t be helped,’ or ‘There’s nothing that can be done.’ These words quite naturally lead me to an attitude of resignation that is close to passivity rather than encouraging me to actively engage in something. It is rather like listening to the Beatle’s song, ‘Let it Be.’ Another word I hear is, ‘It’ll be all right.’ Whenever there is a worry or concern I find myself saying these words to myself and blurting them out to others. There is an element of optimism in these words, but also a sense of refusing to face harsh facts and escaping to wishful thinking that it will work out somehow. When I tried to recall from whom I had heard these words, I realized that for me it had been my parents. My parents are no longer in this world, but I can still hear their voices within me.

‘You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.’ Luke 3:22

It has been 40 years since I became a Christian, for the past 20 years, these words have been gradually and deeply engraved upon my heart. For the first 20 years of my Christian life, my experience of the Christian faith was fervent hard work in my own strength. Intellectually, I understood the meaning of the word ‘grace,’ but it had not penetrated deeply into my soul. However, these words have gradually led me into the world of grace. Furthermore, my understanding of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ has changed from an emphasis on salvation from judgment and condemnation to salvation that makes me a child of God, salvation that brings me into a relationship with God the Father. As I have meditated on these words over and over again, my understanding of them has moved from my head to echo in the depths of my heart. I have begun to grasp that life is a journey of faith in which we are made alive by the grace of God the father to live in a parent-child relationship with God.

There is another phrase that has become significant to me during the past 20 years of my faith journey. The phrase was given to me through Dr. Hans Burki, my soul-mentor of whom I wrote in the previous article. The phrase is ‘Growth through Crisis,’ or perhaps, ‘No Crisis, No Growth.’ As we journey through life, we are sometimes confronted by crises of life and faith. The way we perceive these crises has a great impact on how we will deal with them. In the context of dealing with several crises, I heard these words from Dr. Burki and they have gradually been engraved on my heart. During a crisis, I would be confronted by situations or difficulties that could not be coped with on the basis of previous experience or knowledge. I would sometimes be overwhelmed by a sense of the utter darkness that lay ahead. At such moments, the phrase, ‘No Crisis, No Growth,’ would be a great encouragement to me. It reminded me that the current crisis was just another opportunity for further growth. It gave me strength to wait for the hope of salvation from God.

Dr. Burki’s wife, Dr. Ago, is a famous marriage and family therapist in Switzerland. She, too, affirmed the truth of these words in the context of the relationships between parents and children and couples. As I look back at the experiences of our family, I truly believe it, too. These words have often sustained me when I came to a place where I could not see ahead.

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

I Corinthians 10:13

Spiritual Mentors and The Shepherd Lord

When the Israelites were finally about to enter the Promised Land, they were commanded to look back over the 40 years in the wilderness and to recollect the entire journey. As I look back over what is now exactly 40 years since I was baptized in December 1960, I realize that I have been able to make this journey because of the help and support of those who have been my mentors, my co-workers, and my friends. As I recall what I have received from each person, I perceive the hand of God’s mercy and guidance.

When I started going to church, there was a woman, Mrs. Hara, who always spoke to me and prayed for me. We walked together every Sunday night on our way home from evening worship that met on the opposite side of Sumida River, parting at the edge of the Kototoi Bridge. Her parting watchword was always, ‘See you in 168 hours!’ She visited my parents who were devout Buddhists and witnessed to them and all during my student years as I struggled with decisions about my future, she prayed that I would be led to be an evangelist. Whenever I think about the hardships and suffering she experienced in her life and of her clear faith, I feel as though I can almost hear her habit of saying, ‘It’s only the beginning!’

Rev. and Mrs. Yoneda, who commuted every week from their residence at the seminary to minister to us, discipled me as they came along side of me with warm, pastoral care. When I gathered up my courage and went to their house to tell them that I was giving up my plans for college and wanted to go directly to Bible college, they doused me with cold water, as it were, and urged me to go out into the bigger world to have meaningful encounters with many different kinds of people first.

In college, I became interested in world missions and during my student years I went to the Middle East. However, near graduation when my dreams seemed to fall apart, I lost my confidence and felt my plans were frustrated. When I was at the point of leaving everything to chance it was the General Secretary of KGK, Rev. Hisashi Ariga, who spoke to me and encouraged me to pray one more time. It was also Rev. Ariga who met with my parents when they were strongly opposed to my becoming a KGK staff worker. He talked with them extensively and removed the obstacles that stood in my way. A few years later, he also encouraged me to attend seminary in Singapore at DTC (Discipleship Training Center) and made it possible for me to go.

When I think about my experience serving on the staff of IFES for almost 20 years, my experience as a KGK staff worker and the great opportunity I had to study at DTC with people from all over Asia, I begin to discern the importance of the door that was opened to me through Rev. Ariga.

The friendship and fellowship I enjoyed with people I met at DTC in my late 20’s has been a treasure to me throughout my life. By far the most significant person I met there was Dr. David Adeney. He went as a missionary to China before the war and worked with students in China during the revolution. His life-long motto was, ‘Not disobedient to the vision from Heaven.’

As we shared life together for those three years, he modeled that motto for me in the way he made his relationship with the Lord the basis for everything in his life, and in his humility before the Lord and before people, and also in the way he related to each brother and sister in Christ on the same level, valuing them equally. Even as a teacher, he was willing to acknowledge his errors and it was especially in this attitude of repentance that he modeled for us true spiritual authority that was recognized by all. Whenever I met him, even after graduation, he would encourage me. He often exhorted me through letters and prayed continually for me. I will never forget his encouragement and prayer for me around the time I was struggling with the decision to work for IFES or not. Dr. Adeney was truly a mentor for my soul.

I have been blessed with many deeply meaningful relationships through the international fellowship of IFES. For my life and my faith, the most meaningful relationship for me has been with Dr. Hans Burki from Switzerland. In these articles, a great many of the experiences I have written about are experiences I have had through my fellowship with Dr. Burki. Since I first met him at an IFES General Meeting in 1971, we have had almost 30 years of fellowship. Dr. Burki was the General Secretary of the Swiss Christian Student Association for many years and then served as Associate General Secretary of IFES for nearly 20 years.

He has come to Japan many, many times and through what we have called Integration Seminars, he has opened our eyes to what it means to live in the grace of the gospel and how wonderful it is to do so. It is impossible for me to express in words how great has been the help and support given to me by Dr. Burki and his wife, Dr. Ago, at each turning point of my life and each time I faced a crisis of life and faith.

For me the life mentors and soul mentors I have been given are concrete expressions of God’s mercy and grace toward me. They are evidences that the Lord truly is my shepherd.

The God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day. Genesis 48:15

Fellowship In The Spirit

One day, out of the blue, I received a telephone call from the office of the ambassador of a certain country. What’s more, I was informed that the ambassador himself wanted to speak with me. During our conversation I learned that he had been requested to contact me to see if I could be of help to a Canadian who was coming to Japan to receive treatment for an incurable illness. The Canadian, who was an acquaintance of the ambassador, did not know any Japanese people in Tokyo. He had heard about me from an American missionary working in Thailand and asked the ambassador to try to get in touch with me. The Canadian was a physician who had spent many years in Southeast Asia serving the people through medicine. His admirable service had been lauded in the home country of the ambassador also. With the help of many others, I was able to arrange for a place for him to stay while he was receiving treatment and also make arrangements to help with his care. A few days after the call, I accompanied the ambassador to Narita Airport to meet him. He has since come to Japan several times to receive treatment, and even while he battled the disease, he worked with great dedication to help many orphans right up until the time he was called home to be with the Lord.

The missionary who told the Canadian about me has been working in Asia for nearly 50 years and is currently serving in Thailand as a spiritual mentor for people from many different countries. The Canadian had also been mentored by that missionary. I will never forget my first encounter with the missionary. It was during the time when I was still living in Singapore. One day an older man suddenly walked into my office. He shouted out, ‘Mr. Ohtawa! Is Mr. Ohtawa here?’

I greeted him, evidencing my surprise at his sudden appearance and he explained, ‘I have come to minister in Singapore and someone in Thailand told me that I must meet Ohtawa.’ After a time of fellowship, we parted with his promise to come to see me again before he returned to Thailand. When we met again several weeks later, we shared together about our spiritual journeys. I shared with him the experience I wrote about in the Deepening Conversion article, and he shared with me about a similar quiet experience of the Holy Spirit. Our ages and our backgrounds were very different, but through our fellowship we felt a sense of wonder deep in our hearts. I met him only one other time some years later in Thailand, but I have received much encouragement from him through letters.

By the way, the first encounter I had with the person who introduced me to that missionary was also an extraordinary one. It happened when I was on the way back to the Bangkok Guest House after a staff training conference for the Thai Christian student fellowship. On that particular morning during my quiet time, I felt inclined to read the Bible passage not only in Japanese, but also in English. When I finished reading, I felt led to memorize the passage in English. It was the first time I had ever felt such a compulsion. After spending quite a long time committing it to memory, I went to the cafeteria.

I sat down at a large table and while I was eating my breakfast, one, then another person joined me. Before long, we began to converse quite naturally. As I was listening to an American who was teaching in Thailand share about a very moving experience, I realized suddenly that it was for this person that I had committed to memory the scripture passage that morning. I plunged in and said to him, ‘Let me recite a passage of God’s word for you. I believe it was given to me just for you.’ And then I recited the verses.

Several weeks later, a thank you note from him was delivered. He wrote that at that time he was so surprised that he could not adequately express himself, that he had been deeply moved and that the verses I quoted were words that had in the past had a very profound meaning for him. He also said that he would like to meet me again. A few months later when I was in Singapore, I actually had an opportunity to meet him again and to hear him share about his life journey more fully; his experiences of deep suffering, his struggles and how he had experienced the great mercy of the Lord. The passage I memorized that morning was from the section we call the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…
For he who is mighty has done great things for me.

Luke 1:46-49

Fellowship of the heart begins with responses of the heart, and so deepens, but it is extremely rare to have a response prepared before hearing what the person has to say. From that extraordinary encounter, fellowship with another person was born, and through that relationship, I was led to deep fellowship with still another person. In these seemingly chance encounters, as the ‘just happened’ experiences accumulate, we can begin to see the quiet work of the Holy Spirit.

There is a book about the Bible that is titled, ‘The Go-Between God.’ Surely the Holy Spirit joins us to God the Father, to Jesus the Son, and to one another. Heart-fellowship and spiritual companionship are in fact all gifts of the Holy Spirit. In order to receive these gifts, we need to have quiet hearts that are able to discern the Spirit’s leading, and open and receptive hearts to follow that leading. This is something I have learned by having become the friend of many different people.

If You Only Had Six Months To Live

‘If you had only six months to live, how would you spend that time?’ I have had occasion to ponder this question several times since I was in my mid-thirties. The first occasion was at a retreat to relax overnight with the staff of KGK (the Christian student movement in Japan), the organization I was working for at the time.

I had been reflecting on my life up to that point, the dreams of my youth, and various experiences that had come my way. I was seeking to discover the ‘desire of my heart,’ and I thought about the six-months question from the perspective of how my heart’s desire might be fulfilled.

One day five or six years later, I found an old notebook while I was cleaning out and reorganizing my bookcase. I leafed through the pages and I discovered the completely forgotten ‘desire’ I had written about at that time. As I read it, my heart was filled with amazement and I was profoundly moved. I had already changed jobs and was working as a staff member for IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) representing East Asia. The focus of the new work that I was doing with IFES was exactly what I had written in my notebook about my heart’s desire. There was a period of about two years before I changed jobs when I felt uncertain and a measure of anxiety about doing so. Perhaps it was because the new job was a perfect fit for my heart’s desire that the decision eventually seemed very natural to me.

The second time I considered the question I was in my mid-forties. I was at the IFES East Asia Graduates Conference in Indonesia. The last day of the conference was on New Year’s Eve and as the last part of the program, the participants were asked to consider, ‘If you had only six months to live, how would you spend it? Where? With whom? Doing what? Then we broke up into pairs and took time to share our thoughts. At that time, too, I examined my innermost desires, taking into consideration the actual circumstances of my life and sought for my answer to the question.

Six months later one part of my desire that had seemed unreachable at that time was fulfilled in the completion of the manuscript for the book I was writing, With Christians In East Asia. Another part was fulfilled in being able to continue the work with IFES that following year although I had felt it was impossible. The eight years we spent in Singapore from 1986-1994 were years of blessing for my family and myself that we will never forget.

One week to the day before we left Singapore, SumieYokouchi, a missionary colleague with whom I had enjoyed close personal fellowship, paid a visit to our home. Since my wife and I had enjoyed a very warm and open relationship with her during our last year in Singapore, we were thankful for the time to bid her an affectionate farewell. I shared with her about my experiences in answering the question and urged her to think about it also.

I learned later that she had taken this suggestion to heart. Two or three months after our conversation, her physician actually told her that she probably had only six months to live. When I visited her in the hospital in Japan, she quietly said to me, ‘I really was told I had only six months!’

She was called home to be with the Lord Jesus almost exactly six months later. The morning of the day she died, she used a cellular phone to call me and tell me herself that her time had come. Our fellowship that evening was our last here on earth. I became aware once more of the preciousness and the significance of six months of life; no, of each day of life we are given.

Pondering this question once again now in my late 50’s, I don’t have a clear answer as yet, but I am aware that it is different than it was before. Perhaps it is because it seems that God’s calling for my life has become clearer. Perhaps it is because I have become conscious of a calling that is deeper than just God’s will and guidance for marriage, work, and what I am to do and where I am to do it. It is because I have begun to consider the question in the light of the question of what the God who created me desires me to be, what kind of person he wants me to become; in other words in light of the question of my calling in the sense of my very existence as to why I was born, why I am given life.

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do it. (Psalm 37:4-5)

These words have taken on new meaning for me as they speak to my heart.

Relearning To Walk

When I was commuting daily to work, I would leave the house in the morning when the air was brisk and enjoy my walk down the gradual slope to the station. Coming home was a different story. I would be tired after a long hard day of work and I had to walk uphill to get home. Even before I started the walk, I would dread it. The walking itself had no meaning for me, it was merely an unavoidable bother to be endured in order to arrive at home. On the rare occasion when I was able to get a ride home, I was grateful. I just wanted to get home with the least effort possible.

One day, on my way home while I was standing and waiting for a traffic signal, I had an insight. I was walking every day only because I had to in order to arrive at my goal. I wondered if perhaps this was not a metaphor for the way I was living my life. I was always thinking about how to finish the task at hand. It had become a way of life to jump from one thing to the next as soon as a task was completed. I recognized meaning in and attributed value to the speed and efficiency with which I could accomplish something.

From a work standpoint these are surely valuable qualities, but they can become a drawback when they are translated into how we live our lives. That is because we only see the goal and do not look at the value of the process itself. If we were to say that the only meaning there is in life on this earth is to reach our ultimate goal, which is death, then it sounds very strange indeed. After I became aware of this, I began to pay attention to the walk itself and to the process.

Around that time, I was attracted to a certain person’s way of walking. He walked in a leisurely manner, at a steady pace and in what appeared to me to be a refined manner of walking. I decided on the spur of the moment to ask him about the secret of the way he walked. He literally took my hands and directed my feet and taught me how to walk his way.

On the surface, this would seem to be a simple task, but it was actually quite difficult. My walking habits had developed over decades and were not easily changed. At the beginning, it felt terribly awkward and I wound up walking rather like an orangutan, but as I practiced for several weeks, my way of walking began to change. As it happened, the new way of walking proved to be very comfortable, I could walk long distances without tiring.

Now I enjoy walking and I walk not only for the purpose of getting to my destination. My heart has gradually been opened to what I might encounter along the way and I have made some unexpected discoveries that have left deep impressions on me.

Now when I walk in this new way and when I tackle various tasks, I not only care about the finished product, but also the significance of the process. When I face problems, I believe and expect that there is not only meaning in the solution, but also in the time in which I am hoping for a solution. I am practicing a new way of walking with my heart as it were.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had a profound experience not only at their place of destination, but also along the way on their journey. (Luke 24:13-35) Of course it is important to aim for the goal but the way we get there and what happens to us along the way are just as important. If we only focus our eyes on the results, we will miss seeing the significant things, the wonderful things that happen on the way.

‘Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of the time. . . ‘ (Ephesians 5:15-16)

In the Bible, walking is used as a metaphor for life. There are passages that speak of four basic activities of every-day life, walking, standing, sitting and lying down. These represent different aspects of our lives. (See for example Psalm 1:1, 139:2-3, etc.) Literally walking, standing, sitting and lying down.

After my self-examination about how I walk and its relationship to how I live, I also began gradually to reflect on how I sit and stand. Sitting has to do with composing oneself and becoming quiet, a time when body and heart can be fully present with each other. This has to do with prayer. Standing is associated with stopping, putting down roots in firm ground where one can take a stand with solid support. Just as I had relearned how to walk, I am now making an attempt to relearn how to sit and how to stand.

In addition, I am also feeling the need to relearn how to lie down—in other words, when the activities of the day are ended and the day draws to a close, how to take a rest. I have been reading a book by Shizuteru Ueda in which he comments on Luther’s words, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other.’ In his book, he challenges the self-assertion and egocentricism of our world today where we are urged to stand up for ourselves with an appeal to our true identity found in our resting in the realization of our dependence on God and others.

Silent Prayer In The Presence of God

During my first year after joining the staff of an international fellowship committed to evangelizing students in Asia, I was invited as a speaker to a staff training conference for the Indonesian Christian student fellowship.

Upon arrival at the Jakarta airport, I was met by Brother I, the General Secretary of the Indonesian movement. Brother I is an old friend; we spent three years together at a seminary in Singapore, sharing a room with our desks side by side. After graduation, we returned to our home countries and were both led into student ministry. Ten years had passed since we were in Singapore together.

Brother I took another speaker from Australia and me to his home downtown and with his wife showed us warm hospitality. After dinner, we were scheduled to talk about the staff conference that was to begin the following day. Brother I began our meeting with prayer.

Up to this point, the scene was familiar to me having experienced the same procedure when I hosted speakers from overseas who had been invited to come to Japan. However, after a short while something happened that I had never experienced before. His prayer didn’t come to an end. And, his prayer was not intercession for the staff conference, but was rather entirely filled with praise and thanksgiving to God. He praised God for his greatness and goodness, and he lifted up numerous works of grace that God had done and gave thanks for them.

Before we realized it, we had joined in his prayer and followed his example, praising and thanking God. While we were thus praying, I became aware that my heart was filled with a quiet trust in God, the Creator of heaven and earth and in the sovereignty of the omnipotent Father God.

I don’t know how many dozen minutes passed, but our prayers gradually turned to the staff conference that would begin the next day. This was the ‘begin with a word of prayer’ before we discussed the conference.

A week later, just before my flight left Jakarta, I was sharing with Brother I some of my impressions of my visit. I told him that the time we spent in prayer was my most profound impression because it was such a contrast to the ‘begin with a word of prayer’ that I had previously experienced at the beginning of other conferences.

When I asked him, ‘Why did you pray that way?’ his response was totally unexpected. ‘So many big problems were bearing down on me, if I did not praise and thank God, I felt as if I would be crushed by them.’

It is true that at that time as well as in the present, Indonesia is facing enormous problems politically, economically and spiritually. Relationships among people are strained. There were various problems building up between churches and among Christian workers. Brother I, himself, showed me that it is in perilous situations where human wisdom and strength seem to be powerless that we can lift the eyes of our hearts up to our God who said, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46:10)

During the course of my thirty years of ministry as a full time Christian worker, I don’t know how many times I have felt that I could not go on. One time when I was feeling most deeply troubled, God met me in a special way. I was feeling overwhelmed with the problems that were building up and with my own powerlessness, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Every morning from the moment I woke up, my thoughts were occupied with various problems that invariably led to the thought, ‘All I can do is resign, it is better for everyone if I resign.’

In the midst of those days I was invited to minister at a seminar and on the last day of that seminar, as I was praying with someone, I suddenly I found myself unable to utter a word. It was not so much that the words would not come out as it was that I felt so overwhelmed with the majesty of God and with his intimate presence that words were not needed. I was engulfed in the presence of God, somewhat like a crystal-clear ocean, in a silence surpassing thousands of words. Afterwards, although the circumstances had not changed, an amazing change took place within me and a new strength and hope was born in me.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy
One of Israel says,
‘In returning to me and in rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength.’

Isaiah 30:15

I am continuing to learn what it means to be still in the Lord’s presence and to praise his name.

Prayer That Covers Wounds

In an earlier article I wrote, ‘Sometimes recalling and reflecting on the past can bring great pain.’ This is often our experience when we recall our relationships with our families, particularly with our parents.

I will never forget the reactions of students at seminars when we began to deal with the issue of relationships with parents. Some students tried to escape dealing with this topic by playing sports and singing; others strongly resisted dealing with the topic at all. If the wounds of our hearts have not been healed, or if those wounds are still raw, this is a normal reaction.

Our journey in life begins when we are born to our parents, and our birth is firmly entwined with our father and mother’s marriage, and also with their life journeys up until the time they married.

The early years of our lives are deeply influenced by the interpersonal relationships of the people in the home in which we were born, particularly our relationships with our father and our mother as well as our parent’s relationship to each other. Therefore, when we reflect on our own life journey from its inception, it will naturally include reflection on our father and mother and on their relationship as a couple. As we do that, we will come face to face with our wounds, and we may waver in our task.

As I was reflecting on my life journey, I had the following experience as I was meditating on my relationship with my parents. At the time, I had my own home and was a parent myself, and so I was more able to see my father and mother as human beings and as a married couple. I was also in a frame of mind to be able to examine the life journeys of my aging parents to the extent that I knew about them.

First, I took unhurried time to remember things about my father, things that as a child I was thankful for, things that I liked about him, and I wrote them down. Then I recalled the things I disliked, the things that I had not been able to forgive. I wrote down the same number that I had written as positive things. In the process, I discovered that there were significantly more positive things about my father than I had expected.

Next, I repeated the same exercise regarding my mother. I had thought that there would be many positive things that I felt thankful for and that it would be difficult to find things that I disliked or that were hard to forgive. However, contrary to my expectations, I became aware of deep hurts and anger toward my mother of which I had not been conscious.

I found a place where I could be alone, and I read what I had written about my father and my mother. I gave thanks to God from my heart for each joy and each positive thing, with genuine feelings of thankfulness toward my father and mother.

And I lifted up each hurt, each disappointment, each wound, to the Lord, and I declared forgiveness for my father and my mother through the prayer for forgiveness uttered by the Lord Jesus on the cross.

I was astonished at the extent of the wounds that I had found in my heart and at how overwhelmed by these wounds I felt. After I prayed, an amazing sense of release flowed through me. It was not so much that I forgave them as it was that a forgiveness was born within me, a forgiveness coming from Jesus’ prayer. ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34).

Looking back on that experience, I realized that there were friends near me with whom I shared a spiritual companionship, people who were able to receive my wounds. They, too, were doing the same exercise. If I had been all alone, I may not have been able to reflect on these memories that were accompanied by such deep wounds. I believe that it was possible for me to tackle this exercise only because it occurred in the context of daily meditation on the word of God through which I felt the gentleness of Christ.

Some time after this experience, I was given an opportunity to talk with my parents, just the three of us alone. This was the first time in a long while, or maybe it was the very first time since I had become an adult. I just happened to have at hand the list that I had written and I decided to have them listen to me read it to them.

Since I had in the Lord’s presence already dealt with the things that needed to be forgiven, I just read the list of things for which I was thankful and that had given me pleasure. I read them one by one to my father and to my mother. They were both astonished at these unexpected words of appreciation and while being bewildered as to how to respond, they seemed pleased.

When I contemplate that a short time later my father’s dementia progressed, and that I only saw my mother two or three more times before she died suddenly of a cardiac arrest, I can’t help thinking that the time we had together as a result of that exercise was a wonderful, special gift from God.

Seeking Heart-Friends

Since I began to take time to reflect on the experiences of each day, this reflection has become a very important part of my daily life, and I have gradually become able to hear the words of my heart.

Furthermore, opportunities for fellowship with friends who will listen to those words have been given to me. This fellowship is fellowship with heart-friends. I realize that in writing these articles I have shared things that are based on experiences I have had in the context of fellowship with heart friends. The experiences of becoming the friend of one’s own heart and of discovering heart-friends seem to be deeply related.

Sometimes recalling and reflecting on the past can bring great pain. One person who has been reading these articles wrote me the following response. ‘There are so many things in my past that I wish had not happened. When I recall those past experiences, I get depressed and so I don’t want to do it.’ I sent this person the following quote from Henri Nouwen’s book, HERE AND NOW.

When we look back at all that has happened to us, we easily divide our lives into good things to be grateful for and bad things to forget. . . It is hard to keep bringing all of our past under the light of gratitude. There are so many things about which we feel guilt and shame, so many things we simply wish had never happened. But each time we have the courage to look at ‘the all of it’ and to look at it as God looks at it, our guilt becomes a happy guilt and our shame a happy shame because they have brought us to a deeper recognition of God’s mercy, a stronger conviction of God’s guidance, and a more radical commitment to a life in God’s service. (pp. 81-82)

The problem is how does one go about getting to a place where one can ‘have the courage’ and ‘look at it as God looks at it.’

This is where the wonderful fellowship with heart-friends comes in. We don’t have to face the past all alone, we don’t stop at just listening to what our hearts are saying to us, but we can speak these words to friends who will listen and receive our words into their hearts.

If we try to reflect on our past in isolation, we might wind up reproaching ourselves and be overwhelmed by feelings of remorse. Or we might blame others and be caught up in bitterness toward them. But if we open our hearts to a friend who will listen without judging or analyzing, without exhorting or trying to teach us something, a friend who will give us a response from his/her own heart, then we will be protected from these dangers. Not only this, but we will be given the strength to face our past and to see things the way God looks at them through fellowship with our heart-friends.

The person I mentioned earlier who did not want to recall the past has recently experienced a restoration of fellowship with an old friend he had not heard from for many years. They have begun to meet frequently for fellowship and even to take holidays together. I am hoping that this friendship will become an instrument of grace in helping them to see things the way God looks at them.

How can we have this kind of fellowship with heart-friends? How are we to go about finding a friend that we could call a spiritual companion? Many people long to have such a friend, but they feel there is no one near them who could be such a friend, and they give up hope of finding one.

It is true that we cannot ‘make’ such a friend. But we can seek for, search for such a friend. If we believe that all good gifts are given to us from our Father in heaven who created light, and if we believe that He desires to give good gifts to his children; if we believe he is waiting for us to seek, then we can seek this good gift.

Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

A little while I go I received a letter from a person I had not seen for decades. He wrote, ‘I desire to deepen my friendship with you. It would make me very happy to have some time to fellowship with you. How about it?’ I was deeply impressed by his invitation. He also wrote in his letter the reasons he desired to have this fellowship with me as a friend and after reading his letter, I responded to it immediately. We have begun to meet together regularly and I am eager to see how our friendship will grow.