One of our favorite reads of late has been Finding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray (see our review here). In fact, we appreciated it enough that we invited Bonnie to respond to a few questions from contributor Mark Newton. The result is a two-part Q&A interview where she provides additional insight into the themes found in the book and how they can be applied throughout our own experiences.
Frequency: What would you most like your readers to experience with Spiritual White Space?
Bonnie Gray: So much of the pressures we experience in our everyday life stems from our fascination with success, self-reliance and productivity. Those are great qualities to have in the workplace, where we are measured by our performance. But, the greatest, silent epidemic we experience in our modern-day society are struggles of the soul: loneliness, restlessness, and deep sense of disconnection with our work and our relationships.
We don’t have very much space to relax, to be known and to explore the life we’ve been given. It’s ironic. We have so many resources in life, and yet we are increasingly struggling with relational aspects of our lives – including with ourselves.
My hope is that readers will experience a new journey of rest – even in the process of reading and they will see loving God with our soul – not just our minds – is part of experiencing God.
I hope the reader begins to explore what soul care looks like for them and in that exploration, discover the reasons why rest is difficult as well as how rest can be creatively refreshing and personal. I hope that the reader will begin to create more white space in his life, to get refreshed and go deeper with God and others. Rest is something we all deeply crave but all too often, we only hear pat Sunday School type commands to rest because it’s the Sabbath. But, Sabbath changed once Jesus came on the scene. There were no rules to Sabbath anymore, only a relationship where we explore what rest means to us and how God can meet us in that journey.
Frequency: Are the principles contained in the book applicable to men?
Bonnie: Definitely. It’s proven because I just led a three-day Spiritual Whitespace Retreat for the strongest, manly of men – the Military.
I became the “tour guide” for officers and their wives to take a soulful journey to uncover the stories in their lives, to find clues to what intimacy with God looks like. I took men who are proven as leaders in the military to mange, bring order, and lead their units with strength through a spiritual journey of storytelling, prayer and meditation and visual arts. And they absolutely embraced it like ducks to water… although I’m sure at first they at no idea what they were in for. Lol. And probably wondered why a 5 foot Chinese-American woman from Silicon Valley could possibly have to share with strong manly men in the military about finding white space.
Silence and solitude and the ability to enjoy and get refreshed with downtime is critical to recovering the strengths God made in a man: resilience, creativity, kindness, compassion, reflection and joy. There is something very powerful when a man is able to remember who he was as a kid and have that deep soul connection with God as confidante and friend. With his wife, his kids and even his colleagues. He is able to give out more because of the tremendous pressure he has in the workplace, family or battlefield to perform.
Men, maybe more than women, suffer the pressures of stress more acutely than women because they often don’t give themselves permission to explore what is soothing, relaxing and enjoyable to connect with God and others. Women on the other hand have a slight edge because soul words are more a part of our vocabulary. But, look at the men of the Bible, every story has special moments of spiritual whitespace with God – and those are the times their spiritual gift and callings become solidified with passion and fire.
Jesus Himself lived it. We often just emphasize the “action figure: Jesus – what he did. But, Jesus lived a very soulful life, with lots of rhythm for down time with friends, withdrawing for alone times with God, confiding in his best buds in small circles and going out fishing, carpentry, having a great meal, meeting new friends and hanging out wherever he felt led to go. What Jesus did came out of who he was and he nurtured that inner life with lots of spiritual whitespace.
Frequency: How does telling our story bring us closer to God?
Bonnie: When Adam made the mistake of taking on his own ideas about what it meant to be self-sufficient (his knowledge), the first thing he did was hide. We hide in more grown-up, socially acceptable ways. We become workaholics, we distract ourselves by serving too much, we problem-solve, over-analyze, and perform. We don’t give ourselves space to really reflect and think about our life as a journey.
But, the concepts that we are all pilgrims on a journey resonate with everyone, because that is reality. We are constantly changing, closing one chapter, opening another. And no one, no matter how old you are, is always writing a new story in our lives. That’s why we need faith.
Telling our stories is the doorway to expressing that faith with God. It’s intimacy, becoming known, so that we can assess where we want our stories to head next. If we know where we’ve been, where we are now, we have greater appreciation for where we want the direction of our stories to go.
Frequency: What advice would you give someone with a painful past who is afraid to tell her story?
Bonnie: You don’t have to be alone. We need each other for the journey. You will never know what it feels like to be the real you, until you take the risk to be known. Jesus had a painful past – his betrayal, his suffering, his rejection, his scars – and he is someone who understands the fear, the doubt, and the loneliness. God wants all of you. Telling your story is letting God love you and taking a step into this world with all parts of you integrated. You don’t have to walk around the world with parts of you missing, in hiding. Your story is worth honoring because you’re loved. As is. You are worth honoring. Many kindreds on the journey who are honest and free will welcome you. Those who judge and criticize you are only hiding from their own brokenness and scared to be real.
Frequency: How can we choose which part of our story to tell?
Bonnie: In everyday life conversations, start with how you feel right now. Today. And if someone is safe, they’ll immediately respond with a listening heart or share from their own journey. In time, you can hang out with these kindreds and share more, as you ask more about their story.
If someone isn’t a soulful kindred, they may try to fix you or give you advice or make you feel like you’re broken. It’s safe to say, it’s too vulnerable for them. They’re not ready to share their stories.
In terms of sharing your story in a more formal setting, I always say confide in the questions you have about your journey today and let those “today” questions be an introduction to the events and experiences that shaped your current struggles, doubts and questions. It helps connect the listener to you today, as they understand more about your past. Going straight into your past is good for support groups or groups that already have a safe environment for sharing. But, for big group sharing, that’s how I like to do it. It builds a bridge to everyone, because we all have questions, doubts on the journey of life. And they inevitably do lead to events that have shaped us in the past.
Frequency: What would you tell a workaholic who can’t imagine making time for Spiritual Whitespace?
Bonnie: You may think you can go on forever being busy and enjoying the adrenaline of winning, but do you ever want something more out of life? When’s the last time you felt really, deeply happy? Do you ever feel tired, exhausted or lonely? What did you like to do as a kid? I’d ask whether they wish things were different with their friends, their romantic life, or their kids. I’d ask them what their dreams were and once upon a time, what did you really want in life.
I’d want them to tell me some stories and I’d listen. And very naturally from there, I think we’d both find the conversation moving towards the hunger and longing for spiritual whitespace and what’s happened in their lives that caused him/her to forget about what his soul once wanted or needed.
Frequency: How can people who don’t consider themselves good storytellers develop confidence to tell their stories?
Bonnie: The key thing about storytelling is to stay away from what I call “spectating” – telling me about your experience as an observer. It gets very stressful trying to figure out how to tell a story if you’re worrying about what someone will think about what you have to say.
In storytelling, it’s most important to be authentic to your experience, what you say, felt, heard, believe and think.
To get into that pocket of speaking in your own voice, I’ve found it helpful to visualize what happened to you as a movie – and you are inviting the listener into the scene that you’re in. That way you stay present with your story. You’re right in it.
Writing is also an important way to access your soul’s voice. Write your story in first person, in the present tense. It will have a more journaling feel, but you will by-pass the part of your brain that wants to “teach” and give information, rather than the part of you that feels and wants to invite another person into your world.
Third, it is so important to hear other people’s stories. When you hear other people tell their stories, it’s a powerful prompt when you hear echoes/themes of your own story. Ask questions of your friends or find writing that is focused on storytelling rather than teaching for illustration.
Our culture has moved away from ascribing authority to the analytic, thinking person to the emotionally connected, empathetic compassionate speaker, so it’s really the perfect timing to share God’s story in our lives in community. You will be giving others permission to be human and find God in community through your story.
Frequency: Who should we tell our stories to?
Bonnie: First and foremost, we must tell our stories to ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have.
Second, we ought to confide in those stories with God. Talk to him as friend to friend.
We can also share our stories with “safe” confidantes. Sometimes, this step comes before we open our hearts to share with God. I think of John the Baptist, how he prepared people’s hearts to connect with Jesus before he came.
Safe friends – soulful confidantes – do that for us. By safe, I mean compassionate and grace-filled, who are not afraid to be vulnerable to share their stories with us, instead of being critical or judgmental. These may be our mentors or pastors, but they are often trusted friends who have journeyed with us at different seasons of our lives or even new friends we seek out who have lived through similar challenges. I call them kindreds or sojourners.
When we see that we are accepted by those who love God or close to him, we realize God loves us and accepts us too. God loves us through each other, since he can’t be here in the skin.
We also should give ourselves permission to share our stories with our children, albeit with age appropriate amount of information or detail. One of the things that cause anxiety in children is confusion. If there are dynamics in the family that a child doesn’t understand, rather than sugar coating things or negating their feelings, we can offer than age-appropriate truth. So, we can journey together with our children rather than trying to shield them by withholding the truth.
Sometimes, we need an expert at helping us uncovering our stories. Although I have always been the one to counsel others, I finally found a PTSD expert who specialized in anxiety who practiced EMDR, and he was able to help me uncover deeper stories that I didn’t even know affected me. Like a safari guide leading me through the Amazon jungles, he knew where to look.
From there, I could then confide my stories to a small circle of safe people. As I gained confidence that I was loved and accepted, I started taking risks to share with people who were in different areas of my life that I had compartmentalized (my mommy friends, my work colleagues, acquaintances… world’s were colliding!) – which moved into small groups.
I was able to share with my readers on my blog and then, ultimately in print as an author! And then, from there, here I am now, doing interviews with media and leading Spiritual Whitespace Retreats! But, I was only able to share with a bigger audience because I felt known and supported in 1-1, in person relationships, with people who know me in my everyday real life.
My husband was definitely there from the very beginning, before I told anyone. He’s been my north star. I knew if no one accepted me, my husband was my one safe place. For others, it might be someone else.
Quick Links for Bonnie Gray:
- Website for Bonnie’s blog: http://www.faithbarista.com/
- Bonnie on Facebook: http://facebook.com/thebonniegray
- Bonnie on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TheBonnieGray