Lately, I’ve been pushing myself to my limits in both faith/ministry and teaching. There have been times that I press in joyful intensity for what I do, and other times out of necessity, as coronavirus takes me in directions I would not have otherwise chosen (for example, meeting all of my students this year for the first time online). In the past month, I have had several friends concerned on my behalf about the tightness of my schedule. With good but sometimes overprotective intentions, they’ve wondered whether I would burn out. While I appreciate their care, I have sometimes lacked words to describe how radically different serving feels when you love what you do.
I recently was in a meeting where someone took offense to my desire to try new things, seeing it as a threat. They threw back at me a prayer request I had shared the week before, about being in a season of learning to receive from God, insinuating I should slow down into passivity instead of continuing to press in, surrendering the curiosity I had for what God could do through our conversation. After sidestepping the judgmental nature of their response, it made me plumb the depths of what it means to receive from God.
In beginning to answer this question arises another: “What does it mean to receive from other people?” When I think about receiving from people, passivity has never been my path. I feel most energized in the company of others seeking after the same things from God; expectantly and experimentally collaborating to construct something beautiful together. In spaces where people are active, expectant, and joy-fully dependent on God, I am mutually fed. However, in the occasional meeting, lecture, or training that has become merely routine, where people expect little and are marginally engaged, I tend to walk away feeling tired. In spite of having a full schedule, managing the details of daily life isn’t as challenging as the discouragement that comes from sensing people’s low expectations.
On the contrary, I sense an invitation from God to press in during this season, to contend for the next blessings he will send, not just for me, but for my community. I slow down, sense what he is saying, pray in agreement, and partner with him to bring the next thing forth. I watch as God reveals how this next move illustrates the larger story that he is writing. As a woman protects an unborn child, laboring until it is brought forth and then celebrating once it arrives, so it has been in the past, contending in God toward answered prayers. Now that new (largely financial) barriers have appeared, once again I start the ascent up that great hill, asking for more of God. Today I feel myself in the ascent, feeling the instability, early in the process of a new thing. Even so, the Lord will bring fruit.
Sensing this incline/pressure has made receiving from God feel both different and the same to the past. The same, in that there is an invitation to be still and listen to his still small voice. Different, in that it requires a greater emptying, both of my own will and logistically of other activities I would otherwise use to fill my time. For example, I’ve found it useful to spend the first 15-30 minutes at home just reading after I come back from teaching (instead of consuming media). I’ve also continued to monitor what media I’m consuming by setting parental locks on certain shows that would distract me from God (one more layer of difficulty often does the job of keeping me away, even though I know the passwords). As old rhythms rupture, one effective replacement I’ve found is listening to the Dwell app as I work, an audio bible app. By being able to listen to the word, I’ve found new connections between verses I would not have noticed by reading alone. It’s true that faith comes from hearing, and I’ve been grateful to let these words wash over me. I’ve also been blessed by new tracks by Psalmist Raine, one of my favorite worship artists. I love her sincerity!
Finding these new ways to receive from God has helped offset the visual overload of too many screens in a time of coronavirus. I’m already planning to have play verses and students and I eat lunch at our desks in the classroom, giving them a chance to take in information through their ears instead of their eyes, put their heads down for a little while, and just rest. As I retool my daily schedule, develop anchor charts related to social distancing classroom behavior, and finish preparing our space for their arrival, imagining how we will be able to receive from the Lord together has been so peaceful.
These resources have helped reintroduce the slowness I’ve needed. Two truths remain true about change during this time: 1) human beings can find ways of adjusting to just about anything and 2) slowing down is emotionally courageous. As mindful listening displaces my anxieties about financial provision, health, or other lack of closure in other areas of my life, it is like I am on an island with the vastness of time and God spread before me. It takes courage to be so slow, because you realize your own powerlessness. Like this author’s transparency in explaining how her membership in AA emotionally prepared her for the pandemic, you revert to taking things day by day, with fewer false securities. To meet God, I have to accept my powerlessness and instead, develop awe as I stare out into this great expanse. Refine me in this place, God. Once again, I make my home in the unknown, trusting that God who started a good work in me will bring it to completion. Ironically, in this emptying vastness, I receive a spiritual daily bread that re-energizes me to dive back sometimes still, sometimes active nature of my life. Just as the migratory patterns of leatherback sea turtles cause them to sojourn in stillness only to launch themselves across the world, the slowness and speed can’t be separated.
Lord, give us the wisdom and self-control to surrender, to meet you in that great ocean of the vastness of time. Give us also the courage to remain expectant, remain childlike, remain joyful, and remain active. Christ, come dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.