“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders; let me walk upon the waters wherever you may call me.” – Oceans by Hillsong United
At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to have a quarterly spiritual recharge. For me, that means taking a weekend every few months to come together with women in His name. For two days, in an extremely intimate and God-honoring way, we shuck our normal rituals, pray together, love each other, learn the word, and lean into Him. Last weekend, I had the privilege of spending two days at the Women of Faith conference.
Leading up to the respite, I had traveled half way around the world and back, with only one day off before entering a four-day trial-like hearing that ended only sixteen hours before the start of the conference. Needless to say, I deeply contemplated giving away my ticket and just going to bed for two days. However, in an act of obedience, I followed the spirit’s guidance. He urged me to go because He said there would be something there I desperately needed. The Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth—Jehovah is his name—says this: Ask me and I will tell you some remarkable secrets about what is going to happen here. Jeremiah 33:2-3 (TLB)
I walked through the doors emotionally drained, morally bankrupt, severely jet-lagged, and exhausted beyond belief. The evening was filled with music, spiritual comedy, and hard lessons to swallow. It didn’t take long before the messages began to penetrate my rugged exterior. Sheila Walsh started it off with a talk about the storms of life that wash up things that have been buried for a long time. Things such as shame, guilt, anger, insecurity, disappointment, and un-forgiveness are items that we bury and are sometimes dredged up from the depths during tumultuous times. Ouch! What’s that? Oh yeah, the sting of conviction. You see, the lightening of a dying relative, the thunder of another dissipating relationship, the gale force wind of extreme travel, the rain of my second adolescence and flood of emotions attached to my emptying nest – has created this large and slow-moving storm in my life. Recognition that I am in it is the first step to weathering through it though. The bright side of the experience is that He has given me the strength to make it this far and He will continue to carry me through. Sheila ended by reminding us to stay the course of faith, one that few follow. It leads to the foot of the cross; the place where we lay our burdens down and find rest in Him. She then sang Kim Walker’s song Spirit Break Out. The chorus, “Spirit break out; break our walls down. Spirit break out; heaven come down” resonated with me.
Feeling more bound and less free when I left the venue than when I entered it made my soul extremely unsettled. The tightness constricted the four corners of my being and pushed against the callouses formed as protection around my heart. The part of me that had been agitated by the snug seating in the arena, the part that was unwilling to be open and engaging with those around me in a loving way, the part that wondered how much I really had in common with the women next to me, and the part that questioned my decision to come at all – began to melt as the application of the salve of the spirit began to penetrate those once hardened areas. Before I completed the walk across the parking lot to my car, there was a revelation that the real issue is that I was in PAIN. With all that was going on in my life, instead of stopping the madness and sitting still for a moment to gain balance and perspective, I pressed on as though the distance would annihilate the emotion. All along, I was feeling the Pressure of precision performance in my job, the Anger of abandonment by another friend, the Insecurity from the uncertainty of what my future holds, and Neglect of my spiritual needs. With each step, one thing after another was tucked and buried as if I was moving it out of the way to prevent it from impeding my progress. As a mentor once taught me, “that which you repress comes back to the party in another dress, just at a time and place not of your choosing.” In that moment, I realized I was in the middle of a grand masquerade ball that I had not planned to attend.
After a few hours of sleep, I woke up and was unable to coax myself back into slumber. I read a few scriptures and then began working through the issues from the previous evening. My thoughts cascaded from feelings to spirit to flow to water. It was then that I realized that my life is a living body much like a river. You see, a river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In some rare cases a river can flow into the ground and dry up completely at the end of its course, without reaching another body of water. A river begins at a source and ends at a mouth following a path called a course. The term upstream refers to the direction towards the source of the river, i.e. against the direction of flow. Likewise, the term downstream describes the direction towards the mouth of the river in which the current flows.
The river’s water moving along its course is analogous with life and its events that occur on this living journey. Like the river, life has a beginning and an end. They both also flow to and with other bodies, pushing the limits of their banks, in pursuit of something bigger that gives them real purpose. They are driven by the current that moves quickly within them, continuously and forever changing their faces and spaces within the confines of the path in which they flow.
So frequently, we develop methods of dealing with issues that seem to be successful, such as containing them within narrowly scripted margins. As we mature and flourish, we meet challenges and overcome them by utilizing those seemingly infallible problem-solving ways within those borders. When they no longer work, we either dry up at the end of our course or rely on the strength of the current that flows within us to swell beyond our banks, pushing us into new territory and extending us past what we thought was possible.
Leading up to the conference, I was in pain because I lost my way. I got caught up in the duties and plans of life and had forgotten my purpose. I was out of energy because I was swimming upstream and back to what was once familiar to me. I was drying up or flowing straight into the ground. Only by letting go and letting God determine my direction am I able to travel the natural path he has set forth for me, towards something bigger and for His glory. He is the current that guides me downstream, changes me, and gives me direction even in the storms. However, familiarity with Him is what allows me to recognize Him and to know where He is even in the midst of a raging squall. As Sheila recounted God’s message to her, “You are more than you know because I am more than you can imagine.”
On the path of faith, there is no need to bury anything and there is no reason to swim upstream. Although His ways are not conventional, they are what we are called to. On His path, His love dulls the daggers of disappointment and deceit, the shanks of shame, the anvils of anger, the guillotine of guilt, and the priapism of pain. Running to His arms for respite is where we find the comfort of peace and the courage to continue. The spirit led me downstream to that conference because it was exactly what I needed to address those things I had repressed.
And so now I ask you: What storms are brewing in your life? What path are you on? What are you seeking? Are you pursuing your purpose? Have you lost your way? What are you burying? Are you willing to follow the flow into unchartered territory to those uncomfortable places of unfamiliarity? Where is your faith leading you?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So if you are feeling uncomfortable right now, know that the change taking place in your life is a beginning, not an ending.” (Neal Donald Walsh) 12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. – Philippians 3:12-14 MSG