The past couple weeks have been pleasant in a spiritual sense. God’s taught me so many things lately, and it’s been nice to dwell on them over this period of time and find a sense of comfort in his truths as I think about how they apply to my life at present. Most of this goes back to my weekend at Forest Home. Recently I have been in one of those times that I feel distant from God’s presence. I have dealt with this by telling myself my relationship with him should not be all about feelings. It’s normal to be in this place, and I grow more from experiencing this so I shouldn’t lose heart. At our last discussion group at Forest Home, we talked about those dry spells. One guy from our group had spent some time talking with pastors from the other churches that were present that weekend—getting prayer and talking to them about being in leadership and experiencing dryness. Across the board, the pastors admitted to that being a very real thing—something they too experienced often. On the one hand it was encouraging to know that even pastors get in that boat. On the other hand, it was discouraging to know it would be a normal occurrence in our lives. We talked about how the feelings and emotions that people talk about when they relate to God are a load of crap, not because it doesn’t happen, but because it’s not the norm. The norm is the time that we don’t feel anything. We get so hyped up on feeling things in our culture that we look down on churches that don’t provide that emotional experience during their services. But this just contributes to the lie that we believe about it being a constant. We look to feelings and emotions to determine if things are good or bad with God. We believe they determine how strong of a Christian we are. If we’re not feeling God, then we’re doing something wrong, and we need to fix it. That is so far from true. It was good to have that discussion as a group of young adults who desperately want to be near to God’s heart and hear that many of us have been there or are there currently. My wow moment about this came when I sat in that discussion group and thought back to our time of solitude that we had just come from and I realized that I had had a legit conversation with God, and it was completely void of feeling anything.
That time was probably the highlight of my trip. At our chapel meeting we were told that directly afterwards, we would be participating in a hour of solitude. Our church group was laughing because we had just finished up a series on spiritual disciplines and one of them was silence. Now we had a great time to follow-up and practice it at camp. I was excited, but a little concerned that it was in the evening when it was so cold that the only place I could realistically go was in my sleeping bag. I was afraid of falling asleep if I had to be quiet for a whole hour. But I brought that up to God and was comforted that God values rest and sometimes that’s what we need time to do. At the close of the service, we all walked out completely silent. Everyone went their separate directions into the dark. I began by telling God I needed help just listening and not talking, as I tend to fill my prayer time with chatter and forget to listen for an extended period of time. I told him I was here to listen to whatever he had to tell me and however he wanted to tell it. I finished my Bible reading scheduled for that day and hadn’t gotten anything out of it. I decided to try some listening prayer.
Chris and I had spent some time talking about listening prayer the day before. He went to Oasis where they were taught it and shown how to use it. He had been practicing it and had been given direction from God on his next step for his career in the military. I told Chris I wasn’t convinced it was something that worked all the time. I had definitely experienced it before, but it was usually when it was something big like I was mad at God for giving my mom cancer and was yelling at him to tell me why or I was so overwhelmed with my schedule and being busy that God told me to rest. It was always in those big moments though, and the man who introduced the idea of listening prayer for Oasis made it sound like it was used for everyday stuff too. After hearing that, I tried to ask God what to do about something I was dealing with, but I got no response. I hadn’t tried to do it again since that happened a month or so ago, but after talking about it with Chris, I thought I should try it again.
Before opening my prayer journal I told God I was there to listen. I was going to ask him a question and then do nothing but wait for a response. I had an hour after all. I was a little overwhelmed because I had a ton of things I wanted his input on. But I decided to keep my mind on the present and things that I was dealing with that weekend. I asked him about someone I was trying to be friends with; I needed to know how to be a friend. I think I was expecting to have to wait a while for a response, but it came right away, “Bear one anothers’ burdens.” Oh, okay. But how do I bear someone’s burdens if they won’t open up and share them with me? How am I supposed to deal with them? “Treat others how you would want to be treated.” Okay, so how do I want someone to be my friend? I want them to keep in touch with me, to genuinely care about how I’m doing, to pray for me, to encourage me, and to invite me to hang out. So that’s how I should be this person’s friend. Then God told me not to just say I was going to do it, but to actually do it. Whoa, you know God means business when he gives a warning like that! That was taken care of, so I moved to the next order of business. I needed wisdom in whether or not I should confront someone. That conversation got me ranting a little bit. Then I checked myself and apologized—God knew what it was all about already. I told him I just needed a straight answer; do I confront this person? Yes or no. I hesitated before I added maybe. I didn’t think a question like that could have a maybe answer. Maybe I should confront? No, you do or you don’t. But then I remembered that God’s answer of maybe sometimes means wait for more clarity later. So I added maybe. That was the answer he gave me. He told me to wait. He gave me some more detailed instructions of what that looked like. I didn’t have anything else I particularly needed wisdom about, but I was thinking about the message Bart Campolo gave on how much God loves us.
That was the message I took the most away from. Bart told us that there was nothing we did to get God’s love. He just loves us because that’s who he is—it is his very essence. He didn’t need us to do anything to earn it because he already gave it. It didn’t matter to him how we messed up, it wouldn’t make him love us any less. Bart made me laugh in his very blunt way of speaking. There were several times that he said things that kind of made me squirm because it wasn’t something you typically hear in church. He was bashing on all sorts of people in the church. It was stuff that was true, but it’s stuff people don’t usually say. The thing that made me squirm about this message was when he told us to go and have premarital sex if we wanted, to go do drugs, and to go and sin in other ways. It didn’t matter. Because God wouldn’t love us any less. That was true, but it was a little weird to have a pastor deliberately tell me to go sin. He was making a point, but it was kind of a strange way to do it. He did say something very true though—that those things have their own punishment. God doesn’t do the punishing. They have their own consequences. Bart told us about the way John addressed himself as the one that Jesus loved. He said John was the disciple that had it right. He recognized that God chose him to be loved. Bart asked us what it would be like if we woke up in the morning and when we looked in the mirror, we didn’t criticize or talk down on what we saw. Instead, we looked ourselves straight in the eye and said, “You are the one Jesus loves.” How would the world be a different place if we all took ownership of that and truly believed it and lived it? Good stuff. I came away from that message so encouraged. Lately it has felt like I haven’t been doing anything right. I just kept messing up and doing things wrong and getting in the way of God’s plan. But this message reminded me that there was nothing I could do to keep me from being the one Jesus loves. The “rules” I felt I was getting wrong, were not laws. They were guidelines in place to help me and to show me who God was by showing me the things he cares about. I didn’t have to be perfect! God loved me without my perfection. It was the biggest release for me after having been continually frustrated that I was messing things up.
So, thinking about that message during my listening prayer, I thought, “Just for kicks, let’s see what God has to say about this!” I asked God, “Do you love me?” “You know I do.” “How much?” “More than you can fathom.” “Forever?” “Forever and ever.” It was awesome. I was just being silly little me and asking the God of the universe questions I already knew the answer to, but he is just cool like that and played along. After that, I wrote lyrics to my next song. I was stoked about that—songwriting had been on my list of things I wanted to do at camp, and it just fell into place. I’m not sure when I’ll have time to write the music, but it will be sweet when I do.
As I said before, I realized in discussion group afterwards that I had that entire listening prayer conversation with God and didn’t feel a thing. Even when he told me how much he loved me, there were no emotions involved. That astounded me! But it was the best revelation because I was able to see that it is possible in the dry spells to have a legit relationship with God. I had a full on conversation with him, and it was the best thing ever. Feelings come and go, but the foundation I have built my relationship on is solid. I think marriage is like that too. There won’t always be happy feelings….people say they fall out of love. But they just fall out of the giddy feelings they had at the beginning. But if the foundation is solid, and the commitment is there, then it will last a lifetime.
When we had discussion group later, we reflected on what God did for us on the trip. I had gone to camp expecting to have a weekend away to spend with God. My quiet times had been getting few and far between, and I seemed to constantly be playing catch-up with my one year Bible reading plan. I had felt burdened to commit the upcoming school year to God, and wanted to get back on track with him at camp and do that. I was looking forward to time spent at the prayer chapel and writing my music to him. But when thinking back on what God actually did, it was completely different. I came away with that message of God’s love and a release from my perfection. I never did make it to the prayer chapel. I had to fight for quiet times all weekend. I looked at that however, and felt glad. It reminded me that I can’t rely on a weekend away at camp to make things right with God. I need to make a daily effort to include him in everything I do. I also thought it was pretty awesome that God takes our expectations of what he’s going to do and completely changes them and does something much better than we ever could have imagined.
Another thing I’ve been thinking through with God is surrender. I’ve been listening to my Tenth Avenue North CD in my car nonstop. One song that catches my interest is one that touches on this idea of surrender. My heart sings it from its very depths, “Empty my hands, fill up my heart, capture my mind with you.” I want to give up everything my hands are holding so tightly and surrender them at the foot of the cross. One night at worship at camp, we were singing a song about falling on our knees. There wasn’t room to do so, so I left to our cabin deck where I could do just that while I listened to the music. I thought about that kneeling position as a position of worship and surrender. I grabbed my journal when the song finished and headed over to one of the boards where we could write. I wrote a poem about surrender that I copied onto the wooden board as the music played.
Fall on your knees Put it on the altar Hear the call of surrender
Stop holding on Just let it all go Don’t fear your surrender
My child, I’ll hold you I’ll care for your dreams Be willing. Surrender.
Some days it’s easier than others to take ownership of this. God will hold the things I give him. He’ll take care of them, and change them into something completely beyond anything I ever could have expected.
Finally, Bart shared with us a definition of JOY that I absolutely love. I’ve thought about joy many times recently. Being in the dry spell, I knew that joy didn’t have to do with feeling happy. But I wasn’t quite sure what joy was and what it looked like in my life. Bart said this, “Joy is knowing in the midst of your suffering that you’re where you’re supposed to be.” How awesome is that?! I wrote it on a sticky note and put it on my mirror. I see it every day, and I have been holding onto it. At our discussion group we talked about being authentic. We talked about how we need to be available for people to share with us whatever they’re going through. I was fired up for the conversation, but took a pause and realized that even though I had the same vision of authenticity as my friends, I was no longer going to be at Seven24. I didn’t get to strive to make it happen alongside them. Instead, I was going to a place where I had no idea if that was even a vision. It was scary and sad. Coming home, Sunday nights have been a little rough. It feels like something is missing. I have had church to go to for the past couple years, and now there is nothing. It hurts inside when I see the facebook posts afterwards about what was talked about or how much the group is loved. But in the midst of the emptiness, I have joy. My hurt is real, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m where I’m supposed to be. This is my home, and I know it’s where I belong. Therefore, I have the JOY of the Lord!