Resistance in the Spiritual Life

resistance training in a fitness class - photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash

Resistance is a term that is often used in descriptions of spiritual movements. In its simplest terms, it is used to describe when we resist God’s action, but what exactly does that look like?

We can resist many things to which God might be calling us. For example:

  • We can resist change, even though change is a necessary part of life.
  • We can resist God’s asking to try new roles that are uncomfortable or not “in our wheelhouse.”
  • We can resist letting go.
  • We can resist a change in the way we are being invited to pray.
  • We can procrastinate.
  • We can even resist love.

I can think of many instances of resistance in my own life. For example, I only trained to be a spiritual director after resisting God’s call. I had been on an eight-day silent retreat and praying with the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. After reflecting on God’s many generous gifts at the retreat, I offered to God, “Thank you. I will do absolutely anything for you!” I felt God say, “OK, train to be a spiritual director.” My immediate response was, “No!”

In retrospect, this seems amusing. So much for “I will do anything!” But I had real misgivings: How would I fit this into my already busy career? Also, I might inadvertently hurt someone whom I companioned. What if I were not good at it? What if I messed up?

God patiently listened to my worries but then suggested, “Just train,” and worry about details later. I dragged my feet for a full year, talked over with my spiritual director if this really could be a call, and finally took advantage of an academic sabbatical to get solid training. While I now only provide companionship for a few people, it has been a gift to accompany others, and I hope helpful for them as well.

Resistance might seem like a negative, but as one of the teachers who trained me in direction said, “Whenever there is resistance, there also is God.” In other words, we don’t resist unless there is something to resist; God’s action is always there inside the resistance. So when we are companioning others and observe resistance, it is helpful to be patient and to trust that God is still at work. If a person seems ready to hear it, we might help a person to notice resistance, but if things are still brewing, we also don’t have to rush another’s process—or our own. God is there, persisting.

Recently I have started to wonder whether we might notice resistance not only in individual persons, but also in relational dynamics. For example, consider a married couple who persists in arguing during a time of change. Arguing can be a way of staying connected—even though the connections can feel negative to both people. Or think about adolescents and young adults, who want increased independence and autonomy, but sometimes also want “just to be a kid.” This constant shifting between independence and connection can be trying. Parent and adult child alike may resist God’s call to relate to each other in a new way.

When we notice our own resistance, it can be helpful to (1) name it, (2) be kind and patient with ourselves, and (3) “act against” it, as Ignatius recommends. For example, I can think of a time when I was in a conflict with a family member, and God nudged me to go and hug him. I really did not want to do it at all, but I acted against my own resistance and listened to God. Once I actually hugged my family member, all my resistance melted away, and warmth for my family replaced it. God won, despite my resistance.

Where have you experienced resistance, and how did God help you to move past it?

Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Marina,

    I am a practicing clinical psychologist for 45 years, and your piece takes my breath away. I want to stand up and cheer, “YES!’.
    Thank you for being so crisp, on target, and tender. Please keep writing. I am so very thankful BC has you.
    John

  2. Marina,
    Carol said it so much more eloquently than I am able. This is such an insightful post! Unfortunately I am experiencing resistance in EACH of the ways you described (and a few others too)! Your insights and that of your spiritual director are so so so very helpful in finally realizing that God is also present in the mists of my own hubris.It is such a gift to receive just prior to the Advent season. Thank you and Peace be with you.

  3. Thank you Marina. This is a valuable narrative in so many ways. A definite keeper to be referenced over and over.

  4. Oh, my goodness, Marina. Your wise words resonate with me at a time when I am struggling with resistance to my role in troubled relationships; the uninvited pressure of change; the need to step out and make a decision that I have avoided for a long time; tuning out my inner wisdom to please another; and avoiding time with God to soak in his unconditional love for me.
    I’m grateful you took time to hold space for your decision to pursue giving as a Spiritual Director. That example helps me appreciate your words that God is here even when I hold an imaginary glowing golden orb as my place holder for God’s Presence. You also help me recognize that God will be in my weakness even when I take the next step with raw courage.
    Please keep pointing the way.
    Carol

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