Spiritual disciplines were foreign to me, and seemed unnecessary as I was forced to do them for a class in college. The only “disciplines,” I thought were appropriate from the new long list I was given were things like reading my bible, going to church, and praying for requests. When these additions were introduced, I gawked at them for their difference from my upbringing, quoting an only-by-grace passage or two, and refusing their open hand for healing in my life.
It wasn’t until doing them was made into a challenge, my personality clearly showing itself here, that I embraced the joy and rest of other practices both difficult and easy for me, known respectively as either upstream or downstream practices. Silence, solitude, retreat, sabbath, and rest are all things upstream for someone like myself; doing the act of what feels like “nothing” a true wrestle as I look at my busyness, accomplishments, and tasks for my worth. The wrestle in these new spaces left me limping, marked, and changed. This fight consciously moved through my brain, fingers, and toes to teach me that Jesus loves me not for the passages I can quote and defend, but because of Who He is, and just because He loves me. I do, still, have to fight against this untruth in the not-doing, because even these rhythms can become something to take pride in instead of being a shaping, receiving rest.
As I’ve moved into a seemingly more flexible time in my life, a time where I am fully self-directed and responsible for managing my tasks for study and research, I have found that instead of walking through my grief and pain, I have turned to my unhealthy pattern of yes-wo-man to please people with the hours I appear to have totally free. Yet, as my new unpaid role of PhD candidate shows itself barely touched, my anxiety brings to the forefront the emotions I have long shoved deep down, grasping for excuses as to why I just can’t bring myself to say no.
When James, my husband, told me a silent retreat might be necessary, I immediately became defensive. Yet, my apprehension only showed my need, the stubborn idea that I can do this on my own rearing its ugly head, exhaustion and grief a burden waiting to be unpacked. It has been all too easy to dwindle the hours away on our sabbaths, just for a little bit of extra work, leaning back into the self-sufficiency of our wandering hearts.
Let me be clear: as the generation of self-care junkies, it can be tempting to see these practices as simply another thing to do for myself instead of an intentional turning, a reorienting upward of our person to Jesus Christ. Taking care of yourself is important, but sitting there misses the point of the very meaning of “upstream.” Some of these movements go against my hardwiring, and without His help, those stone cold parts of me won’t be softened. We are averse to the many deaths that are part of following, the many ways in which our preferences should not and can not be king if He is to be King.
This isn’t a post about how twenty-four hours away was a cure-all, but how the answer isn’t the disciplines, the answer is Jesus. While we trudge in our own paths and patterns, inevitably shaped by them no matter how good they may seem, sometimes it takes a full-fledged uprooting to shake ourselves awake. Stomping away through the snow in my boots into a secluded cabin in the woods helped me to sort through the junk I had been hoarding in my heart, but ultimately, it is Jesus who comes and brings true rest, healing, hope, and life.
We boarded a plane shortly after with backpacks and our bodies alone, just enough to get off in a new city, get warm, and come right back home. This rest, I do know, is a privilege. We both imagine that the fog and bright sun combined has us on a different planet, and we kick up sand, smelling the salt, tucking a seashell in our back pockets to bring back to the snow.
It has always been interesting to see palm trees with Christmas lights on them as a born and raised midwesterner, my ideas of what this season should look like different than what was before my eyes. I often wonder on how much we are missing out on with our own ideas of what things and seasons should be stuck to the backs of our eyelids, keeping our eyes shut from what He holds for us if we were to just trust Him.
I am quickly barred up by fear, actions tending towards careful for self-protection and self-preservation. Jesus came into this world as a human, entering in through the loud pains of childbirth for the woman as the curse given from the beginning. This advent shows me that my hiding and my pleasing is not the way Christ offers and models. In His grace, this pilgrim journey is not wasted even when I have eyes that do not see, His truth pulling lies out from clutched darkness to redeem. Weak and small, He shows us, and we receive.
I stretch into child’s pose, and have a deep sense of knowing that Jesus doesn't love me for the things I do, freeing me to no longer grit my teeth together and beat my chest over the fact that I am not who I’d like to be. The rest of the class easily moves and balances into crow’s pose, and I breathe deeply where I am at, unimpressive and abundantly sweaty, both inwardly and outwardly joining a fight that will be a constant striving to rest in God’s Work and not my own.
He is moving me, and I am free to move.