Steadfast in the Dark
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
"Seeking self-awareness when obstacles and opposition emerge."
We have navigated such a difficult stretch these last two years. It has not been easy. Too often the atmosphere felt heavy and dark, the opposition strong, and the losses weighty. We have often grappled with a lack of control and certainty, and yet the Spirit of God has moved, and is moving, within the church. The Spirit of God invites us—still—to trust, to be truthful, and to act.
A few weeks ago I retreated for a couple days. In the quiet I sat with God and sought to offer my heart: all the questions, the griefs, and the hopes. I spent some time journaling, and then I brought out my pastels, paint, and colored pencils. When I seek to "create as prayer" I need to use rougher tools, often mixing mediums. Tools that are more difficult to control.
If I use more precise tools, like my fine tip pen, my analytical mind tends to evaluate, define, and problem solve before I have fully paid attention to the mix of emotions and realities that I seek to transfer to the paper and offer to God. To understand more completely I need to engage the layers. It may look different for you.
My intent in this particular prayer practice is open-heartedness and honesty. I seek to listen for God's interpretation and leading regarding all the layers, including the mess. I do not want to get trapped by a superficial understanding before I have listened well. Our hearts long for relief, so we sometimes grasp at our first evaluation of the circumstances or the gut response our emotions demand of us.
Consider the prophet Balaam in Numbers 22. There are layers to this story that reveal God's heart and Balaams heart. As a prophet Balaam was known to be a follower of God. But let's consider how Balaam evaluated and acted in response to the circumstances he faced with his donkey. The narrator gives us some information in verse 22 that I expect Balaam was unaware of... God was angry with Balaam. I will let you explore the story more fully on your own if you wonder why.
But let us observe Balaam's interaction with his donkey. As Balaam is traveling, his donkey turns off the path and goes into a field. What he could not see (but his donkey could see) was that the Angel of the Lord, with sword drawn, was blocking his way. Balaam struck his donkey to redirect her the way he wanted to go. He did not see all of reality, and his donkey was the recipient of his rage and inability to control his circumstances.
The Angel of the Lord blocked the path again in a narrow pass, and Balaam's donkey pressed herself against the wall, trapping his foot against the wall. Balaam was angry, again. His donkey would not comply with his intent to journey forward, he lacked control, and he struck her again. But he did not see the danger that faced him. Finally the Angel of the Lord blocked Balaam a third time, and his donkey lay down on the path. Balaam was enraged and struck his donkey. Then the Lord opened her mouth, "What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?"
How often do we react badly to circumstances that feel out of control or to obstacles in our path? How often do we believe that we have a clear and comprehensive perspective. Sometimes we do not know the truth or understand the whole story. Balaam thought that his donkey was the obstacle, the enemy, the one opposing him, but he did not see all of reality. It was the Angel of the Lord who opposed Balaam... his donkey protected him. When anger or fear drives our reactions or decisions, active or passive, we are in danger of doing more harm than good.
In the month of October Dan Allender addressed four categories in his podcast that prevent us from connecting well. These unhealthy patterns of relating are so human, but as we become more aware and responsive to the Spirit of God, and one another, we can learn and begin to heal. It is critical to become aware off our own tendencies to cope in unhealthy ways. God will invite us again and again to see life from his perspective. I have seen this in my own life.
When I encounter obstacles how can I PAUSE to be certain I do not react in unhealthy ways to the "wrong enemy?"
If my path is blocked, perhaps God is seeking to redirect me. How do I look for the presence of God when my intent has been derailed?
If anger stirs in my heart - how can I bring this unruly emotion into prayer?
At the beginning of my retreat a couple weeks ago I had started my prayer drawing with simple dark swatches of color: browns, grays, and black. It felt heavy and weighty. But there had been plenty of dark realities in my life and in the lives of our community and our world. Out of these dark colors emerged a tree trunk with roots and then branches. Something was alive.
And as I continued to pray a gold thread emerged that was clear and hopeful. The gold thread upheld the little tree and limited the darkness that could reach it. For me the gold thread reflected God's sovereignty and redemption shaping the story and providing hope. Finally leaves emerged, green and life-filled and Wind surrounded the tree. The Wind spoke to me of the Spirit of God moving and active in this place. The image felt hopeful and true - the tree stood steadfast.
How can we seek a whole-hearted perspective? How can we remain steadfast, dependent upon the Spirit of God?
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught,
abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7
Links to Dan Allender's podcast in order