Have you ever wondered how you made it through a difficult time in your life and came to the conclusion that you survived “by the grace of God”? That is how I would describe most of my high school and college years. Despite my solid family faith and twelve years of Catholic school education, I spent my teen and early adult years experimenting with alcohol. I recall (vaguely) many nights partying with friends and driving around town while under the influence of alcohol, or putting myself in dangerous positions and feeling invincible. I rarely attended Mass, and my prayers were inconsistent and desperate pleas with the Lord only in times of need. Reflecting on my foolish behavior, I pray my children have more self-confidence, self-respect, faith and maturity than I possessed at that age.
But somehow, despite my repeated attempts to destroy my own life and waste my gifts, I managed not only to survive, but also to succeed. I graduated from college, found a great job, married my college sweetheart and created a loving, joy-filled family. Sometimes my husband and I look at each other and marvel at God’s miraculous strategy in connecting our two souls. It seems that God was with me all along. He watched as I made choices that hurt Him. He remained open and available during the little time I chose to spend with Him. And He welcomed me back when I was ready to come home to Him.
Whether we turn from Christ or simply put Him on the bottom of our priority list, He is always with us. Just knowing that is comforting. I also find comfort in examining my spiritual milestones and recognizing God’s presence in my life.
As an avid journal writer, I have kept a spiritual journal for many years. I pen my prayer requests and expressions of gratitude, along with many other written forms of prayer that allow me to connect with Christ in my busy life. The foundation of my journal is a Spiritual Life Map that outlines all of the milestones in my life and relates them to my faith journey.
How to Create a Spiritual Life Map:
Choose a journal that feels special or sacred to you and dedicate it to written conversations with God. Open your journal to a blank spread so that you have two pages to work with. Or if you prefer, you can use a large sheet of unlined a paper and then insert it in your journal. You’ll need to gather colored markers or highlighters.
Draw a timeline of your life, beginning with the year you were born and ending with today’s date. Use whatever form feels right for you – I like to draw an arrow for each decade of my life, but you can also draw a circle or mandala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala) with your birthdate in the center.
Identify the major events in your life that may have had an impact on your spiritual formation, beliefs or relationship with Christ. Include those that are joyous as well as times in darkness. Use one color marker or highlighter to insert the dates of significant spiritual milestones in which you felt close to God or totally cared for and loved. Use another color marker to document events during which you felt isolated or abandoned. Use a different color to indicate neutral events or another category in your life map that emerges.
This exercise can be as creative and fun as you would like! Don’t spend too much time on it and don’t worry about filling in all the details. Just begin to map out the milestones in your spiritual life based on what comes to mind immediately – you can always fill in the gaps later. While you are working on your Spiritual Life Map, play your favorite Christian music as inspiration.
When you have finished the Spiritual Life Map, select a turning point for you spiritually and write about the event. Recall in detail what happened and how you felt. Who was involved in the event and what role did he/she play in making it a spiritual milestone? What lessons did you learn as a result of the event?
You may want to describe in your journal a time in your life when you felt abandoned by God. What were your thoughts and feelings about God – or do you recall a lack of any feelings toward God during this time? How has your perspective changed since the event has passed?
Or…if you prefer, write about a time in your life when you felt God’s presence. What were the signs of His presence? How did you feel knowing God was with you?
Reflecting on God’s presence in my life through the pages of a spiritual journal is a rewarding and enlightening practice for me. I pray that you are able to use this Spiritual Life Map exercise to create a long-lasting written dialog with God.
Copyright 2010 Theresa Ceniccola