Once every spring and fall, Multnomah undergrad and seminary students, along with several faculty members, gather together in the JCA Student Center for Day of Prayer. MU cancels classes so students can devote their whole day to connecting with God. The time is not restricted to prayer, though; students are encouraged to commune with the Lord through meditation, reading, writing and worshiping.
On November 20, Day of Prayer began with a time of worship before Karen Fancher, Seminary Dean of Students, introduced Dr. Morris Dirks as the event speaker. Dirks has been a pastor for more than 25 years in the Pacific Northwest, holds a doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation and recently published "Forming The Leader's Soul: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction." He is the founder and director of SoulFormation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing the spiritual and emotional health of Christian leaders.
The issue of spiritual health is particularly meaningful to Dirks, who spoke of his ministry burnout — a defining point in his life more than 10 years ago. His depression and cynicism confused him at first, since everything "on the outside" looked like it was going well: "I had a fabulous run in ministry, two kids and a wonderful marriage," Dirks said. "I thought I knew how to take care of my soul." But in the midst of the darkest season of his life, he had to admit that he didn’t know how. His quest for help was the beginning of a difficult — but incredibly fulfilling — journey toward healing.
'Pour out your heart to God'
"What kind of symptoms do you see when your soul is running on empty?" Dirks asked. He looked around at the students sitting in front of him. "Raise your hand and tell me."
One student raised his hand. "Cynical," he said.
"Yes," Dirks said. "Thank you. How about another one?"
Another student spoke up: "It feel like nothing matters," she said.
"Thank you for being honest," Dirks said. "Let’s keep going."
More students raised their hands. The quiet was punctuated with their responses:
Dirks nodded in agreement.
"When you go to a doctor, you have to be able to define what the problem is," he said. "You tell them where it hurts." But when it comes to our souls, Dirks observed, most people don’t like to acknowledge the cracks. "If you do that, then you have to look at the causes," he said. "And that hurts."
It may hurt, but it was exactly what Dirks encouraged students to do.
On every chair in the JCA, there was a sheet of green paper; over 200 adjectives were listed on it. Words like exuberant, appreciated, disappointed, inadequate, smothered, jealous, overwhelmed, anxious, misunderstood and stagnant. The adjectives were split under five categories: happy, sad, angry, scared and confused.
Dirks asked each student to circle ten words that described how their soul felt. Every honest, raw feeling they had. "Your emotions are a place where God invites you into intimacy with himself," he said. "That’s why so many people have a flat relationship with God. They don’t give their emotions to him, and they don’t feel his emotions." The room was silent while students hunched over their papers, reading and circling.
Once everyone was done, Dirks encouraged them to take time with God that day to talk about each emotion they'd circled. He urged them to tell themselves the truth about the reasons behind their emotions. "Many of you have lost touch with your soul," he said. "If you are willing to process this with God, he will move you through it," he said.
Dr. Valerie Clemens, chair of pastoral ministries, thanked Dirks for his message before encouraging students to spend the rest of the day reflecting on his teaching and composing a personal psalm to God using the emotions they circled on their sheets.
"Don’t rush it," she said. "Pour out your heart to God."
'We need this in our life'
Jesse Larson, a sophomore studying youth ministry, didn’t know what to expect from Day of Prayer, but Dirks' message struck a chord. "It was extremely relevant," Larson said. "We focus so much on pouring into other people that sometimes we forget to care for our own souls. How can we help others if we’re not helping ourselves?" Spending personal time with God, he continued, is where strength comes from. "I’m really glad Multnomah gives us a day to focus on that," he said.
Lisa Hezmalhaleh, who’s pursuing her master’s degree in Christian Leadership, agrees with Larson. "We need this in our life," she said. "I needed to be reminded [that] we can’t care for our souls on our own. The Lord is the only one who will be able to help us explore its depths — the parts we don’t want to see."
Hezmalhaleh appreciates that Multnomah views the individual as holistic. The University is committed to cultivating a person's academic side while also putting a high value on their soul. "Multnomah’s goal is not just to help students grow in intelligence, but to balance that growth with spiritual formation," she said.
Dr. Garry Friesen, Bible and theology professor at MU, cherishes many of the University's traditions, but Day of Prayer is one of his favorites. "The faculty and student relationship changes to a believer and believer relationship," he said.
But Day of Prayer does more than bring a community of faith closer together.
"It makes a statement that academics is not Multnomah’s only goal," he said. "If you’re studying scripture, and it doesn’t result in prayer and worship, then you’re missing the point."
Tags: Day of Prayer 2013, Garry Friesen, karen fancher, ministry, ministry burnout, Morris Dirks, Multnomah Biblical Seminary, multnomah day of prayer, Multnomah University, seminary students, soul, soul care, student fellowship, undergrad student, valerie clemen