The Unwanted Nap
This past August, as the week of live classes at my first residency week for Renovare Institute of Spiritual Formation came to a close, I closed my notebook, stuffed it into my backpack and headed to my room to discard my black bag and prepare for the silent retreat that would end our week together. I was ready to get outside, enjoy the beautiful afternoon and productively begin processing all of the information rattling around in my head and heart. I had mentioned to one of the faculty that this is what I planned to do. "Oh," she said with a strange look on her face.
Being the oldest, I am a relentless planner and typically do assignments right as they are assigned. I had dutifully thought through how I would spend my almost 24 hours of silence. Certainly, I needed to be responsible and make sure to begin processing the beautiful things I had learned. The faculty encouraged us to ask God what He may have on the agenda for our time of silence with Him instead of assume we knew. They even offhandedly remarked that this agenda may NOT include processing our week. This was mentioned a couple of hours after I had so confidently stated my plan to one of them over lunch.
Offhandedly, because I am a good student, I dutifully asked God what His first order of business for me was. Assuming I wouldn't hear anything, I hunted in my room for my walking shoes when I heard as clear as day, "A nap." My shoulders sagged. "Really?" This felt like when I was three, finished my lunch and the dreaded words would always come, "Guess what time it is?" The main reason I looked forward to growing up was I wouldn't have to take naps. I do have to say it is still one of my most favorite perks of being an adult.
Some people love naps. I am not one of those. I hate naps as much as I hated them when I was three. If someone finds me napping, I am most definitely sick or tired enough to accidentally fall asleep. This hatred of naps is not because I am opposed to resting; I am perfectly fine sitting in a chair on a beautiful afternoon. When I heard, "A nap," I was not only disappointed because I hate naps but also because I wasn't even tired. A nap was the last thing I wanted to do that afternoon, but I have come to know God enough to know that usually He is right. Well, always He is right, but I don't always agree with what He tells me to do. This day I didn't agree, but assumed there was something I didn't know I needed.
That day, a nap was an act of worship I didn't understand until later. Any time we do what God asks us to do, even a small seemingly insignificant act, it is an act of worship. It is a surrendering of our way in favor of His. It is a step in trust. Trust that He actually knows more than we do. I don't know about you, but a lot of times I find it harder to do the smaller and seemingly inconsequential things He is asking of me. I am finding though, nothing is inconsequential with God and our small acts of disobedience most likely cost us more than we know. Our small acts of obedience are often pregnant with possibility that is never discovered without obedience.
I reasoned it must be my body was more tired than I knew. It wasn't. I lay there wide awake. Everything was dark and silent. I could hear the commotion of doors opening and slamming shut as people were doing what I wanted to do. I was missing out. After about an hour, I got up and still didn't understand why I heard to take a nap. I didn't feel refreshed; just confused. I wondered if I had even heard correctly. Had I just taken an unnecessary nap? That would be very disappointing.
I happily put on my shoes and ran outside free of the forced stillness. I tentatively asked God what He would like me to do next. I felt clearly to walk the labyrinth at the retreat center we were staying at. Labyrinths are new to me and I am honestly not all that enamored. People talk to me about them and the meaningful slowness they have experienced. I smile and nod reminding my face not to betray me. The labyrinth? Really? This silent retreat was off to an awfully slow and fairly boring start. I walked through the buggy grass and began to walk as quickly through the labyrinth as possible so that I would finally be free to walk the path around the lake I had been looking forward to all day. As I ran through the labyrinth, I heard, "Slow down." I slowed way down and heard, "Slower still." "WHY? Why do I have to walk this slowly?" I silently complained.
As I slowed my pace I began to see something. God was asking me to just be with Him. He began to show me that the pace of my spiritual life was crossing a line from growing through increasingly knowing who I am in Him to one of pleasing and attaining. I was beginning to live from drivenness instead of belovedness. Just as I was racing through the labyrinth and bemoaning my nap, I was doing the same in my spiritual life. I had an agenda and it was to process, grow and change. Not just here at the residency week, but it had started to invade the way I was daily living at home too.
I suddenly paused as I became a bit less confident in the path because some weeds had confused the way. Had I continued at my previous pace, I probably wouldn't have even paused. I would have hopped right over the weeds in the way. I abruptly stopped and heard in my heart, "You miss a lot at the pace you are moving. I don't really mind the weedy areas. You do. I can help you. They are part of life and can point you to me if you let them. I know what to do about them and how to guide you through them. I'm not in a hurry. I simply want to be with you."
I realized I was beginning to experience a drive in my spiritual life that wasn't from God. It was a drive for perfection, a drive to prove my worth, a drive to grow past the shameful places in me that cause pain in others. My drivenness was an attempt to cover myself instead of letting Him cover Me. It was a drive for perfection masked in love for God. It was a way to once again trust myself to know what my heart and life needs instead of trusting Him. I had begun to work so hard at growing and changing that I had forgotten that true growth happens through abiding. The purpose of our life isn't growth, it's being with God. For sure, being with God will change us, but that is the outcome, not the purpose. The fruit of the Spirit is just that - fruit of the Spirit. He was asking me to abide; not race through life in an attempt to somehow self actualize and slap His Name on it. In the end, that's not all that different than what everyone is trying to do without God. God is wanting us to live our life with Him. Not for Him. There is a difference. Living with Him produces true and lasting fruit because it is HIM living through us, but this only comes from abiding WITH Him.
He was wanting me to just enjoy being with Him. That is where true change comes. We can, with good intentions, become so laser focused on becoming more like Him that we become less like Him in the process. Sometimes we try to become like Him without just being present with Him. Even our times with Him can become more like an agenda meeting rather than a time of abiding. I was having my time with Him, but my times with Him were subtly shifting from abiding to striving. Not striving in the way I used to strive, but striving in a different way. These things show up in our lives insidiously and are subtle shifts we sometimes don't notice.
Trying to produce fruit is a lot different than abiding in Him and fruit growing naturally through that. Branches don't try to produce fruit, it happens because of their connection to the source. I was in danger of turning our relationship into something less than God designed it to be. Something less than He bought on the Cross. Something less than the beauty it is. It's funny how we can do that unknowingly. It seems it's really hard for us to wrap our minds around the great and extravagant love of God and entrust ourselves to Him and that love fully.
The nap and the labyrinth were God's attempt to show me where striving had unknowingly made its way into my life with Him. The problem with striving in the spiritual life is that it can look so benign. It can look good actually, but just because something looks good or godly even, doesn't mean it is. It's the self life wrapped in a religious robe. God in His kindness asked me to take a nap and walk a labyrinth to once again save me from myself and the subtle shift that was happening below the surface in my life. A shift that would surely steal joy and the life of freedom He desires to have with me.
God has so much for us in our lives with Him! I am learning that we can trust Him with us. He is faithful to show us those places in us that need to change so that we can grow in our love for Him and the knowledge of His love for us. He is never at a loss about what to do about us and knows all the places in us that are unknown even to us. What is God speaking to your heart right now? Where do you need to be reminded of your belovedness to Him?
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Trevor Hudson is one of the teachers I have had the privilege of sitting under. Listening to him has been life-changing for me. Here is a message about our identity that I think you may enjoy! A quote from the message - "You are God's precious image bearer." Trever Hudson - I Identify As
Listen to Sarah Kroger's - "Belovedness" here
(**This may be important for someone to know. I want to say here that often when I say 'heard,' I mean I have a sudden understanding of an idea God is trying to communicate to me. The best way I know how to convey it is through written conversational style because I have journaled for so many years and it's how I articulate things God shows me in my heart. Sometimes He speaks words, but other times it's more of an idea or understanding, but I convey it through words. People often tell me God doesn't speak to them and then proceed to tell me something that He clearly spoke to them. I think God wants to and does speak to all of us, we just sometimes have a hard time recognizing it is actually Him.**)