I recently found out a little more about Maria Montessori, and am starting to read her famous book The Absorbent Mind. Turns out her first school was a day care for kids from low-income families. For several years now, I've been drawn to ideas like hers about cooperating with a child's natural drive to learn. And Heather has become more and more focused on the learning process of children, as we contemplate having our own.

These thoughts also made me think again about questions I've had about how to help others learn and grow in the spiritual life. I've noticed that I tend to focus on the goal, the result, where we want to end up, but I'm usually at a loss to know how to help someone get there. Is it a matter of technique? Do we need to try to cooperate with some natural desire or innate drive? Do I need to have some special gift in this area in order to be of much help? Because I feel clueless.

I suspect there are people with better gifts than me in this area. But I'm also seeing that the process of conversion (many conversions throughout life) and growth is much more complicated than a child's normal development process. It's not just teaching knowledge and skills. It's the guiding of a human will, one usually not inclined to be guided along such a path, not at all inclined to surrender itself completely. I can attest that my own path has been a twisted and tortuous one, with countless necessary experiences and influences. How gifted would you have to be to manage that kind of guidance?

Not long ago I was dreading a meeting with a friend, who seemed to be set on pushing an issue to the point of conflict. I was just hoping to minimize the relational damage. But then we started talking and the initial issue was dropped almost immediately. The underlying motivations were completely different than I expected, and my friend seemed to actually be in the midst of a significant personal change of direction. I ended up not defending myself at all but just listening and encouraging what was happening in his life. How did we get there? I had no idea, though I liked what I was seeing. Obviously, there had been circumstances and various influences working on his life that I didn't understand. And who could understand such complexity, much less orchestrate it? Who could know all that another person needs in order to get their spirit one more step closer to God?

Only God, of course. And only God can bring together the circumstances and people and experiences (material and spiritual) that can guide us effectively and reliably. It is not my place to be the shepherd for another. There is only one Shepherd.

But I can perhaps play a role in what the Shepherd is doing, and I myself will be guided when I am used in the guidance of another. But it is never my doing, my ability, my technique. Only in submission to the Shepherd will I do any good, and much of that good I may not even understand. But I can trust that, with or without me, the Shepherd is guiding his flock.