Introductory Note:

Participating in God’s renewal makes us a gift to those around us, just like Jesus was. James Bryan Smith, author of The Apprentice Series, is a source of great wisdom on the practical means God provides for our renewal. In this essay Jim explains how his spiritual formation small group helped shape him and his group-mates into increasingly Christlike humans, blessing one another and the world.

Renovaré Team

I was listening to Henri Nouwen speak about spiritual growth a few years ago, and he said something that has stayed with me ever since. Though I must paraphrase, the essence of what he said was this: My spirituality is not for me, but for me to give to others. My spirituality is for you.” As a student of spirituality for a number of years I was stunned when the truth of that statement hit me.

Sometimes we can look at something for a long time and then suddenly see something so real, so obvious, and so true that we wonder how we missed it in the first place.

Practicing the spiritual disciplines became central in my life several years ago. Like Paul who can boast with humility, I am pleased to say that God has truly shaped and changed my life. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to write that because it sounds prideful, but I have learned to give thanks to God for developing (ever so slowly!) the fruit of the Spirit in my life.

But for a long time I simply developed fruit for my own little fruit salad. I relished my ability to love the unlovely, to have joy in the midst of sorrow, to have patience in the midst of tedious tasks, etc. It was only after I heard Henri Nouwen that this began to change.

My spirituality is God’s gift to those around me. In like fashion, the spiritual growth that others have developed is God’s gift to me. I am blessed by what God has done in the lives of many of my family and friends.

My brother and sister, along with their spouses, have experienced tremendous spiritual growth in the last few years. This past year my wife, Meghan, has grown very close to God. Her daily times of solitude, Scripture reading, and prayer are a testimony to me. Even my mother and father-in-law, who have always been dedicated church-goers, have experienced dramatic spiritual growth in the last couple of years. They have been on Tres Dias” and The Walk to Emmaus” in the past year, and their spiritual depth is evident to those around them.

I boast of these family members and friends not to lift them up, but to point to the blessing they are to me. I think of what God is doing in their lives and I am filled with joy. Their spirituality is a gift to me. Nouwen was so right.

This is the real benefit of my spiritual formation group. Each meeting is, for me, a little like receiving gifts. As I listen to the joys — and even the struggles — of my fellow members I am encouraged to see how God is at work. Their spirituality, what they bring to the group, is God’s gift to me. And the opposite is true: what God has and is continuing to do in my life is not for my own benefit, but for their benefit.

In one of the early sessions of the Spiritual Formation Workbook each member is asked to write a letter to God, and if they feel comfortable, to read that letter at the beginning of the next session. I remember vividly how my group was blessed by this exercise. The letters we wrote revealed hope and pain, successes and failures, but most of all, the letters reflected a passion for God. Though none of us were trying to impress the others with eloquence or dramatic style, the letters were very moving simply because they witnessed to the ways God had shaped each of us, the dreams God had planted within us.

Nouwen was right. All that God has done in my life — my spirituality — is not for me to hoard and savor, it is for those around me. Likewise, all that God has done within you is a gift freely given to those around you. More than any other single thing, spiritual formation groups have allowed my spirituality to burst out of the wrapping and ribbons and into the hearts of my friends — right where it belongs.

Originally published in Renovaré Perspectives, September 1992

Colorful Hands 3 of 3 / George Fox students Annabelle Wombacher, Jared Mar, Sierra Ratcliff and Benjamin Cahoon collaborated on the mural. Article.

Text First Published September 1992 · Last Featured on January 2022