This is a scary confession for me to make. Scary because some people may have judgmental reactions to this. Some may wonder why in the world I’m not clearly voting for _________ (fill in the blank as you may). Others may be appalled at my apparent lack of preparedness. How in the world, after months upon months of political ads and political discussion, could I not have done my homework and decided on my candidate of choice?!
Let me explain. When I went to bed Monday night, I knew who I was voting for. I wasn’t planning on waking up undecided.
Let me also explain that my indecisiveness had very little to do with the candidates. It had everything to do with me. With the journey that I’m on right now.
Eugene Peterson, in the forward to his book, The Wisdom of Each Other, tells this story about a man named John Muir:
In the last half of the nineteenth century, John Muir was our most intrepid and worshipful explorer of the western extremities of our North American continent…
[in 1847] Muir visited a friend who had a cabin, snug in a valley of one of the tributaries of the Yuba River in the Sierra Mountains…One December day a storm moved in from the Pacific ~ a fierce storm…It was for just such times this cabin had been built: a cozy protection from the harsh elements…
[but] Muir, instead of retreating to the coziness of the cabin…strode out of the cabin into the storm, climbed a high ridge, picked a giant Douglas fir as the best perch for experiencing the kaleidoscope of the color and sound, scent and motion, scrambled his way to the top and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on for dear life, relishing Weather: taking it all in ~ its rich sensuality, its primal energy.
This story is background information for an illustration that Peterson uses later in the forward to explain “religion vs. spirituality.” This illustration so accurately depicts the spiritual journey that I’ve been on in recent years:
The word “religion,” following one possible etymology (not all agree on this), comes from the Latin religere, “to bind up, or tie up, again.” The picture that comes to my mind is of myself, having spent years “getting it all together,” strolling through John Muir’s Yuba River valley, enjoying the country, whistling in self-satisfaction, carrying my “life” bundled in a neat package ~ memories and morals, goals and diversions, prayers and devotion all sorted and tied together. And then the storm comes, fierce and sudden, a gust tears my packaged life from my arms and scatters the items every which way, all over the valley, all through the forest.
What do I then do? Do I run helter-skelter through the trees, crawl through the brush, frantically trying to recover all the pieces of my life, desperately enlisting the help of passersby and calling in the experts, searching for and retrieving and putting back together again (rebinding!) whatever I can salvage of my life, and then hiding out in the warm and secure cabin until the storm blows over? Or do I follow John Muir to the exposed ridge and the top of the Douglas fir, and open myself to the Weather, not wanting to miss a detail of this invasion of Life into my life, ready at the drop of a hat to lose my life to save it (Mark 8:35)?
For me, the life of religion (cautious and anxious, holding things together as best I can so that my life will make sense and, hopefully, please God) and the life of spirituality (a passion for life and a willingness to risk identity and security in following Jesus, no matter what) contrast in these two scenarios. There is no question regarding what I want: I want to be out in the Weather! But far more often than not I find myself crawling around on the ground, gathering up the pieces of my life and tying them together again in a secure bundle, safe from the effects of the Weather.
The past couple of years have brought some big changes to our lives. A storm has blown through, so to speak. Not a storm in the form of a death or physical tragedy and not a storm that the average onlooker would even notice. Yet a storm that has still impacted us and has caused us to experience loss. Loss in the form of some changes in life that weren’t part of my “plan” ~ my nicely tied up package.
Just like Peterson’s image, I had been walking along a lovely river valley, carrying my “life” all bundled up nicely. I knew what I wanted, where I was going, and what I was taking with me. I was happy with my memories and morals, goals and diversions. My life was easy and good. I liked it. I was full of self-satisfaction. And I praised and trusted God in the midst of it.
So it made no sense to me when a storm came through and tore that bundle from my arms and scattered all that was in it every which way. Because in my mind, everything that was in it was good. It didn’t need to be torn from me. I found myself desperately trying to crawl about (helter-skelter!) and pick up the pieces and bundle them back together…like they use to be.
I felt like I was the “innocent bystander” and didn’t deserve the changes that had come my way. But slowly, I began to see (how I began to see are separate stories in and of themselves) that I was right where God wanted me to be. He was the Weather, and it was not a mistake that my bundle had been stripped from my arms.
As I wrapped my mind around this idea, I was slowly able to release those items that I had been comfortable with my entire life. Rather than trying to frantically gather them all back up and put them back in my bundle, I “opened myself to the Weather.” I let all of my comfort items (all those things I thought I needed to live a “good Christian life”) go. And I slowly began to wait and see what items would go back in. Maybe some of them would be the same…yet in different forms (maybe I still needed a “water bottle,” but a different brand, style, and/or color). Maybe I didn’t need some of those items at all anymore (maybe the box of granola bars wasn’t necessary).
Of course I’m talking in cryptic form…a blog is not the place in which to share some of the specific details of my storm. Yet I hope my message is clear. God was (and still is!) working in me. And He was doing it in ways I didn’t expect or understand…and in ways I didn’t even think I needed!
As difficult as it has been (and still is at times!), I am so thankful for the storm. My faith is stronger. My understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and trust in Him is much deeper. I have gone from being what Peterson calls “religious” (holding things together as best I can so that my life will make sense and please God) to what he calls “spiritual” (having a passion for life and a willingness to risk identity and security in following Jesus, no matter what).
No matter what. Some of the changes that have been brought about in my life (our lives, collectively as husband and wife) are things that (I must admit) I negatively judged others on in the past. In many aspects, I’ve risked my identity as I’ve pulled out of things. I’ve also let go of many of the securities in my life. And in doing so, God is drawing me closer and closer to Him.
I’m turning to God for direction like I never have before. Not just doing things because they are supposedly the “most Christian” or because that’s what I’ve always done. Some things may stay the same (as I “own” them and choose them) and some things may change. And I’m doing a lot of waiting. Of taking one step at a time, not always knowing where the next one will take me.
And that’s what I think my “election morning dilemma” was all about. It was one more thing I’d had in my nicely tied-up bundle. I had always voted a certain way because, well, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. But that morning, I realized that the “right answer” might not be what I thought it was. At the same time, it might be. I didn’t know! I had heard compelling arguments on both sides ~ both for and against specific candidates~from wonderful Christians who I respected and admired. Rather than just assuming one side was “right” (as I’d always done), I was more aware than ever that the overall answer as to whom should govern our country was not necessarily black and white. I was ready to consider both sides and come to my own conclusions…with God as my guide. What did I think? I truly didn’t know.
Of course, I didn’t have the time that morning (though I did try!) to figure it all out. But that’s okay. My questioning was the first step ~ in yet one more area ~ in letting go of “what I had always done.” Another item from my bundle to be evaluated.
As I stood at the ballot station that day with the choice of president before me, I paused. Not because I didn’t know who to vote for; I had come to a decision before heading to the polls. Who knows how I might have voted, had I had more time to truly weigh both sides…but I knew my choice at that moment was my own choice, and I knew why I had chosen it. I paused to appreciate the significance of that moment. A symbolic moment of moving forward. A moment of acknowledging the soul work God was doing within me. Just that morning, I had read this quote by Lilias Trotter on my mom’s blog:
And the growing point of our soul is the thing with which the Spirit of God is specially dealing, and all depends on faithfulness there.
My mom went on to quote another author, Bruce Larsen, in the same blog post:
Surely this is how the Holy Spirit wants to work in each of our lives. Everyone of us has a spiritual growing edge. We all have mastered certain skills and subjects and disciplines and formed certain attitudes. Our tendency is to sit back and make this the sum and substance of the Christian experience. On the other hand God says, ‘Well done,’ and then moves us on to new areas that we can grasp and master.”
Letting go of my comfortable and security-producing package has been my “growing edge” these days. And election day gave me one more opportunity to grow and trust and intentionally consider what to put in my bundle.
I pictured myself atop the Douglas fir tree ~ taking in the Weather. Not knowing which way the wind would blow, but trusting God in it…and in me. Not just in this decision, but with my entire life.
You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone “born from above” by the wind of God, the Spirit of God. (John 3:8, The Message)