Season of Delight
I love to run. Well, at least, I used to love to run. It was the kind of activity I truly delighted in. From my running app's verbal signal "Beginning run," to my post-run stretching routine, I loved it all. In my adult life I only participated in a single organized race. Nine months after my first open heart surgery I ran the Phoenix Rock 'n Roll half marathon as a celebration of my renewed energy and life. Other than that, I hated to spoil the pure joy of running with the duty of a training regimen.
Season of Discipline
But now it's different. The shiny new heart valve from seven years ago is wearing out. It's tired and getting less and less elastic; hardening itself against the constant blood flow through my heart and narrowing the passageway that supplies oxygenated blood to the rest of my body.
I'm still running--my cardiologist insists upon it--but now its strictly out of duty. I'm tired and I'm sensitive to every tiny irregularity in my body or my process. As my pace continues to slow and my breath gets shorter, I worry. Should I stop? Am I pushing it too hard?
Regular exercise is the most accurate indicator of my heart's condition and a daily run is now "doctors orders." What a drag. And a gift.
Desire: Discipline: Delight: Repeat
In retreats I lead, I walk people through the cycle of connecting with their desires, then creating disciplined action that helps them lean into those desires, which, if followed, ultimately lead to a season of delight. In our 'instant' culture, we often believe we can move straight from desiring something to possessing it. That works for goods and services, but not for relationships or movement toward God or, really, anything of lasting significance.
For change to occur in these 'things that matter', we must usually spend time intentionally engaging in new patterns of behavior and thought that slowly, often imperceptibly, create space for God to do his transforming work in us. The good news is that, in time, these new patterns become established and we are able to enjoy the fruit of God's spirit-- increased capacity for love, joy, peace, patience, etc.
But in this season of my life I'm being reminded of some truths I've forgotten. Mainly, that sometimes, even after a long season of delight, I might be required to move back into a season of discipline.
Over ten years ago I began a journey that has led to the most dramatic internal transformation in my life. Against all odds, I have become more loving, more compassionate, more joyful and quite comfortable in the disciplines that have created space for the Holy Spirit to work.
And then, I started grad school. I naively (or, pridefully) assumed I would simply be able to continue my current spiritual experience of delight. But Jesus invited me to step out of the boat in the middle of the lake. What I found was I hadn't quite mastered it all and there is a renewed focus on spiritual disciplines in my life. Like my new running regimen, it requires more work to engage in, but I know it may save my life. As I read this week from Eugene Peterson, "...ours is a pedestrian way, literally pedestrian: we put one foot in front of the other as we follow Jesus." And that is what I am doing. It's not pretty or fast, but I'm putting one foot in front of the other.
I love how God is weaving together my spiritual and physical health. He knows I need practical pictures of his movement in my life and he is faithful to provide. When it is time for my physical open heart surgery, I'll praise God again for the new life he gives me physically--which everyone can witness--while also enjoying the continued new life he provides in my spiritual heart.
It has always fascinated me (read-- frustrated me) that Abraham was actually living in the Promise Land when God established his covenant with him. Abraham was prosperous, righteous, chosen, obedient and willing. And, BONUS--he already lived in the place God promised to give to him and his descendants. It seems a lot of time, trauma and trekking could have been saved if God had simply established their residency early on. I'm just saying...
And now, a little about me...
A little over five years ago I attended a silent retreat at a beautiful Mission on the west coast. I remember it well because I was coming off a four year journey of deepening my relationship with God through the contemplative disciplines. It had been a season of healing from addiction to busyness, compulsive codependency and activity-based Christianity. I longed to help other Christian leaders find the sanity and soul nourishment I experienced and I assumed God's next step for me would be into the field of spiritual direction or coaching Christian leaders. I wanted to spend more time 'being'. I was afraid of 'doing'. It felt like death.
So, of course, that's where God sent me. Not because he's a masochist, but because he conquers death.
A New Direction
As I sat on the cool grass in the center of the Mission courtyard I began a collage that I thought would depict 'being'. Somehow I found myself gluing the word 'DO' to my paper. Then...ACT. In the midst of all my being words, God was clearly directing me to action of some kind. But what?
I left the retreat confused. I thought I'd misunderstood. I pursued a job coaching leaders but some wise people around me shared they felt it wasn't a good fit and that door slammed shut.
God waited a week, then showed me his plan as I drove to Home Depot. I don't know why he chose Home Depot as my burning bush moment, but it has forever changed my experience of home improvement. Anyway...as I drove to Home Depot, God suggested I call Apartment Life and see if they were still looking to fill the regional leadership position. They were. Through a serious of miscommunications with my husband I ended up putting my name in the hat and in January of 2009 I was fully immersed in a world of doing and performing and activity.
The next three years I spent trying to integrate what I knew about formation into my life as a leader. I felt propelled for a purpose--creative, energetic and resilient. Then, just as quickly as the energy appeared, it was gone. I knew it was time to move on.
Then, two more years of wandering.
Back Where I Started
And here I sit. In the same place I thought I would be five years ago. Pursuing a master's degree in spiritual formation. More and more drawn to silence and solitude. Repentance and rest. Waiting and watching. Loving and listening.
There are days I wonder if it wouldn't have been simpler if God had led me here in the first place. I was already sitting on the edge of this new land. Did we really have to walk away, only to return a few years later?
Yes. So clearly, YES. I don't claim to understand all of what God was doing, but I honestly wouldn't have done it any other way. And, although I'm sitting in the same place, I come as a different woman. A woman with more depth, more pain, more healing, more dependency, less certainty, more beauty.
Today I see how God took my desires from that day at the Mission and grew them. How he lovingly held them with me, then took my hand and led me where I needed to go in order to fully enter into his plan. I have a feeling there'll be more of this in the future. Glimpses of the future, abrupt changes in direction, wandering and then...home.
Until we're finally face to face.
Well, it happened. All the people who were concerned about my involvement in Christian Yoga and contemplative practices were right. They clearly saw the danger ahead of me and the perilous path on which I was embarking. They must have known that yoga and silence were just gateway drugs. If I was open to such questionable activity, my judgement couldn't be trusted and certainly I would end up abandoning my faith or, worse, becoming a...gasp...liberal.
This week I found myself so deeply impacted by the love of God that I had no words. I found myself loving others so deeply I felt like an idiot. I found myself ready to abandon everything for Love.
Who am I?
While this was no sentimental, sappy, Hallmark card experience of love, it was an emotion. Or, perhaps more of a physical presence. How weird is that?
I don't want to write too much because words seem to diminish the sacredness of this transformation, but my foundation has been rocked and I'm amazed at a God who would so lovingly disassemble my prickly, protective coping mechanisms so I could fully live and love and be loved.
Today I find I'm not hiding behind my life experience or my emotional health or my spiritual resume or my well-crafted sentences. I'm a beginner again. Sitting at the feet of Jesus while he introduces me to so many I've dismissed and overlooked who may have much less external success or platform but have love in great measure.
For the first time in my life I'm beginning to understand what Paul means when he says,
" But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
Do you see what's happened? I started a journey some years ago and I was adequately warned that it would lead to something radical. Something unsafe. Something that would change me.
I insisted it wouldn't affect me.
I was wrong. Praise God.
Katy Perry's song Roar hit the airwaves en force last month. Since then it has become an anthem for discouraged, seemingly-defeated-but-resilient people everywhere. Just yesterday Richard showed me a YouTube video with kids in a children's hospital lip-syncing to this song. There's no way around it--I'm inspired.
Given my 'no love' stance toward Taylor Swift, you might assume Katy Perry was on my 'do not listen' list as well. But you'd be wrong. If I were interviewing nannies, I would go with Taylor, but otherwise--Katy's my girl. I can't help it. She has talent and soul. And, every once in a while I see remnants of holy in her.
With the release of her new album, Prism, this week she's been widely interviewed about the inspiration for her songs. It doesn't take a degree in poetry to gather that she's writing about a time of difficulty in her life. In her interviews she confirms that she went through a period that took a toll on her self esteem. But it was out of that darkness that Roar was birthed. (Apparently hyper-sexuality was also part of the healing process, but I'll leave that alone for now.)
As a woman who has a daughter and who works with women leaders to help them find their voice, Roar should be my theme song. You can't hold me down! I'm a fighter! You hear my voice...like thunder, gonna shake the ground! I'm a champion! Roar!
But I tell you...
There's only one problem. God isn't asking me to roar. I'm not saying that having some fight isn't often what's called for, I'm simply observing that the way of Jesus is, more often than not, a much quieter path.
Today I wanted to roar. I'm physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. As I meditated and prayed this morning I secretly hoped I would emerge from this time feeling energetic and ready to take on the world. After all, isn't that how the agreement works? I plug into the power source of the Holy Spirit and, just like my iPhone in the morning, I leave fully charged and ready for another day of productive activity?
I'm currently taking a class on the Disciplines of the Spirit and one of our textbooks is a favorite of mine...The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun. This week we completed a brief assessment designed to surface where God might desire to shape us. I faithfully completed the assessment and moved on to the reflection questions. What I hoped would come out in my reflection was a sense of deep rest and encouragement. I found myself drawn to the disciplines of Sabbath and listening to God.
Inwardly I crouched, waiting for my time to roar.
And then, he spoke.
"Kelli, ask a friend to show you your blind spots."
"Kelli, you've wounded another friend. Ask for forgiveness."
So, let me clarify. I feel tired and vulnerable and God wants me to invite someone to point out areas of weakness of which I'm blissfully unaware. And then he wants me to admit to another that I've neglected our friendship.
Just what I was hoping for.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
After accepting his invitation I am more amazed at God's faithfulness and grace. But I do not feel like roaring. On the contrary, I feel more dependent, quieter, still tender.
I love Katy Perry, but, for now, she'll have to roar without me.
I don't drive in the slow lane. At least not until last week. Now I'm hooked.
Here's the story.
I didn't set out to conduct a personal experiment--it just sort of evolved. Last week I headed over the hill to San Jose to see my spiritual director. On my last visit I was pulled over for the first time ever and politely handed a speeding ticket. This time, I decided to leave early and drive the speed limit.
This is new territory for me. I left in time to arrive fifteen minute early and I instantly felt guilty. There is so much I could have accomplished in that fifteen minutes if I weren't driving. But within minutes I decided to make a game of it. What would it feel like to stay in the right lane for the whole 45 minute drive? I felt ready for the personal challenge.
Slow is stupid.
As cars sped around me I felt an initial tinge of anxiety. It was really more a sense of inferiority. I was driving slowly and I felt stupid. Recently Madison and I saw a car with this sign taped to the back--"New driver. Just learning stick shift. Sorry." I wished I had that sign on this particular drive.
(Quick aside--if you're a right lane driver already, this blog will only disgust you. I've got problems and let's just acknowledge that you're better than me and move on. You don't need to read to the end because you've already mastered the art of slowing. )
Things I learned about myself.
The first ten minutes were a battle of fighting my well developed impulse to move as quickly as possible. The next ten were a battle of fighting my new self-awareness. It didn't take long to uncover some serious pathology brewing beneath my need to speed.
Here are the top four:
Image Management. I drive a mini-van and I feel the need to represent mini-van drivers everywhere. We are not unskilled or unimportant. We have places to be too. For some reason, I believe that my superior driving skills will leave people with a good impression of me. For what end? I do not know.
Competition. I like to win. And most things can be turned into a competition--even if I'm just competing with myself. Can I get there faster than I did last week? Can I accurately decipher traffic patterns? Can I safely weave my way through the checkerboard-like traffic? It's a sickness--until you need me to get you somewhere fast, then suddenly, I'm your best friend.
People Pleasing. I hate to be in someone's way. So, if a driver gets up too close on my rear bumper, I usually feel bad. Like I did something wrong. The least I can do is get out of their way so they can move forward at the pace they desire. This is closely linked with my desire that other people get out of my way when I'm in a hurry (which is most of the time).
Over Optimism. When calculating how long it will take for me to get from point A to point B, I am always optimistic about the conditions. I know which lanes are fastest at any given point of a commute. I know that if I make the light at King, I'll have to speed to make the light at River. I know to take King on the way to school and Mission on the way home. I know short cuts going either way on Morrisey. But I never factor in a car turning left or an accident or a pedestrian throwing off my groove. All things that occur regularly. Truth is, I over estimate the positive factors and pretend the roadblocks don't exist or that I can find a way around them without much cost. If that isn't a metaphor for my life, I don't know what is.
Twenty minutes into this experiment and I was hooked. It was so calming! I didn't worry about changing lanes or getting out of people's way or calculating how to get around slow vehicles and I could feel my blood pressure dropping. Plus, with all that strategy-building space freed up in my brain, I could think about other things. Creative things. Prayer, even.
I arrived at my appointment feeling relaxed, peaceful and centered. Weird! After that I headed up to San Francisco for an extended time of reflection and then an evening meeting. I decided to drive slowly for the entire day. What I found fascinating, was that everything was less irritating. Traffic jams didn't faze me. Slow cars in the fast lane had no negative impact on my day. Someone wants to merge in front of me? Go right ahead! All emotions completely foreign to me in a commuter setting.
On the last leg of my journey I elevated the challenge. I was actually running late as I left Golden Gate Park to head to my meeting. But I decided to continue my pattern. Even running late, I found slow driving to be a balm to my soul. And, when I arrived at my destination I was more settled and less frenetic. I listened more attentively and was less tired after an evening of extroverted activities. And, even with open highway, I easily stayed within the speed limit on my 90 minute drive home.
And, yes, I'm aware we are celebrating my success at simply obeying the law. Just go with it.
This is a real thing.
It occurred to me in the slowness, that I'd heard about this before--this wasn't my idea. When I returned home I pulled out my Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and looked it up. Sure enough, there is discipline of slowing. And--get this--one of the suggested exercises is (and I quote) "Intentionally drive in the slow lane."
"If you can't take time to do nothing, you're a slave to doing. Doing nothing is a radical, revolutionary act. It frees you from the universal slavery of our age; slavery to the clock. The clock measures doing, but not being."
But practicing the discipline is not the end goal. It's simply a way to make space for God to do his transforming work. In this discipline, I may see some of the following fruit (again, taken from the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook):
I'm reminded that this experience essentially resulted from a speeding ticket and my desire to not have that happen again. Funny how God gets our attention sometimes. But I'm ever so grateful.
I'm looking forward to more days in the slow lane as I engage in the revolutionary act of "unproductive" living for the joy of sanity, freedom and trust in the long, slow work of God.
How about you? What is it like for you to choose to do things slowly? How do you react to a slow sales clerk or a child who is dawdling? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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