The Christian ideal, for the most of my Christian experience, has been held out as a state or place to be achieved. “Fully devoted follower” loomed as an elusive, if not unreachable, Promised Land. Not that this is a bad goal but the unspoken assumption was its fulfillment rested on my ability to achieve it. The way to spiritual wholeness it seemed came through the endless acquisition of information, methods and techniques that enable me to gain possession of this desired state of spirituality. The hidden premise in all this striving, was that it was up to me. Try harder, became my mantra.
After 30 years in ministry, however, somewhere in the side streets of my soul came a whisper, “There has to be more.” An unexplainable emptiness has settled in my soul. It actually felt more like an ache. A longing. I was surprised, and a little embarrassed by the voice and wanted to brush it off. But it wouldn’t go away. To experience such longing this far into my Christian journey and ministry was baffling, as you can imagine! I quickly did a spiritual to-do check list to figure out how this breach occurred. Bible reading? Somewhat consistent. Check. Prayer? Arrows shot up to heaven mostly on the run. Check. Christian Service? Overloaded and burned out. Check. For the first time, I had to admit, all my years of strategies for personal discipleship, no longer served the deeper spiritual journey God seemed to be calling me to now.
In that moment, everything changed. I became aware that what I was doing no longer worked. I realized all the “formulas” for “spiritual growth” ultimately achieved less than what I had hoped for. To be honest, I felt stuck. I knew there was more. Yet I knew I couldn’t go back to living as I was before, and I didn’t know where this longing would lead, how it was suppose to look or how I knew when I got there. I felt like Moses after the burning bush experience. He was called to a place where he’d never been. He didn’t know how he was to get there or how he was suppose to know when he arrived. One thing was for sure…my soul was not going to settle for less. My heart was speaking and I knew I needed to pay attention.
Although this new place felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar and I didn’t know exactly where it would take me…I knew it was okay. I knew somehow it would lead someplace good. Although I was being called to leave all that was familiar, where I felt secure and in control, to a new place, I knew I stood, like Moses, at the place where all spiritual journeys begin. Like a trapeze artist, there was a terrifying sense of letting go, with nothing yet to grab on to, yet my heart held on to the hope of some spiritual possibility in an unknown place.
The good news this desperate longing forced me, amid the business of children’s tennis practices and appointment to be kept, to seek out space, however unfamiliar it may be, where I could attend to my soul. I began to take long, silent walks, with no other goal than to make room for God to do what only he could do. The silence had a way of shaping my soul and offering it to God. This place beyond words became like a clearing in a jungle of my days; a place of shelter, peace, rest, safety, quiet, and healing. Almost imperceptibly, I began to sense it was a space where my soul could stay focused and alive to what God was doing.
I began to linger with the Word, bringing my whole self to come to the text with openness, vulnerability, curiosity, and wonder. I was no longer content with reading mere words on a page and having no meaningful connection to my life. By reading, rereading, pondering and reflecting, I began to meet God in the text.
Incrementally, and in virtually immeasurable ways, I began to cultivate a life with God, a life that was not lived on the surface of things. I began to let go of the “death grip” I had on “maintaining a vital relationship with God” in which I was in control. This long, slow work of formation was not about how I could make life “work” better but how I could, on a continual basis stay attentive and available to the on-going work of God in my life.
What I have since discovered is becoming a fully devoted follower of Christ now means a moment by moment of attentive turning and radical surrender to God’s Presence. This is the Promised Land. Like Moses, when given the opportunity to choose between moving on without God’s Presence or relinquishing his idea of what “The Promise Land” looked like and clinging only to God’s Presence, I chose the latter. And it has made all the difference.