As a girl, in small town Ohio, I spent countless hours at a park near our home. Cliffs with caves, creeks running under stone bridges and the quaint playground made a lifetime’s impression on me. I can revisit that park by merely shutting my eyes – in a blink I am spinning on the metal merry go round, playing princess in the pumpkin carriage and balancing on the wooden posts, making way around the perimeter of the park.
One of my favorite things to do was to swing and slide. The simplest of equipment was my greatest delight. On the swing I would soar – feet stretching to touch clouds, wind blowing my hair back, carefree and lifted. On the slide I would glide to the ground and ascend again, racing up the stairs to experience the rush again and again. One thing about that slide – once you got on it, you went down whether you wanted to or not. There wasn’t a brake pedal. To mount it was to ride it to the bottom.
My life in the Spirit has been like this at times. I find myself on a slide I don’t remember climbing. I climb up, up, up, gaining intimacy and clarity. My ability to serve seems more focused and impacting. My quiet times are sweet and filling. I know how to say, “yes’ and “no” and follow through with both engaging and finding rest. I’m doing great. Then, as if without warning, life hits me a blow unexpectedly and I slide.
- My teen son has a “moment” which hits my buttons and we struggle through a less-than-pretty interaction. I spend a few hours licking my wounds and regretting the misunderstandings between us.
- My husband comes home tired from his long day. I long for our usual connection, but instead I live with a real human being who has limited resources and needs of his own.
- My work and ministry, friendships and homeschool seem to pull at me til I’m drawn and quartered.
- I don’t get enough sleep and my feelings take over telling my head what is “true.”
Whatever the cause, something strikes hard and the slippery inward slope takes me down. I start devoted to and dependent upon God and end up sliding into self-reliance, thinking I know what is best and trying to fix what is broken on my own strength. I try to convince my son to see what I see and we end up frustrated at one another. I long for filling from my husband instead of seeking the Lord for my needs. I try to be all things to those who need me and end up being not enough to any. I burn myself out, putting my own needs at the bottom of the list so half of them don’t get met – then I’m spent and worthless. I could try to find words to explain the spiritual condition of my heart at these times, but God already did:
The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. ~ Luke 8:14
I feel like I need to rush in and assure you that I don’t live a life choked out by materialism or pleasures. Here’s the thing. It’s the worries of this life. The word for “choked” actually means suffocated. Can you relate? The original text describes “worries” as being drawn in different directions, distracted and anxious over the things of this world. I don’t know about you, but the fact that the Lord knows me and my heart that well gives me comfort and encouragement. These distractions – relational difficulties, inability to prioritize what should be first, trying to do what is beyond my limitations – they can suffocate the spiritual life out of me at times.
Just recently I hit that spot again. I slid down and God, like my Father often used to do in the park, stood at the bottom of the slide to catch me and keep me from careening into the dirt of my self-sufficiency. He caught me and reminded me of all He is. He doesn’t have the forgetfulness I do. He is with me when I soar and with me when I slide.
I am prone to wander. If we are honest, it is our nature to be like lambs, nibbling away from our Good Shepherd. He cares for us as His sheep, and yet, we go astray. He searches us and searches for us.
When our soil is full of thorns, He will come to weed out the thorns, till the soil and soften us if we are willing.
Coming to the end of myself, I can fall into Him and His love.
These “distractions” have a divine design. God allows us to learn through living. He lets us experience all the highs and lows of life. The joys, the trials and the mundane all serve to make us dissatisfied with our self-reliance and come to the end of ourselves. It is there we find what we truly need. At the end of self we find Him. When we have slid down, we reach upward towards Him.
Where I grew up, we called this eating humble pie. I love those old phrases – they tell things as they are. I had to eat a slice or two this past week and it still tastes as awful as it ever did. Taking a few bites of humble pie brings life as we allow Him to work in us, though. My inner peace has returned along with that deep joy I long for and only find in Him. It took some letting go, but I gained much in the process.
The way of Jesus surprises us. The way down turns out to be the way up.
photo credit: pumpkin at Cliff Park, Springfield Ohio by Ronda Jo Rouch Gram on Pinterest