Don't Settle for the Welcome Sign
“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.”
My schedule has me running at a pretty frantic pace most weeks. I occasionally hit quiet moments where I have a chance to reflect and slow down. Those moments are usually just long enough for me to start to realize “wow... I’m exhausted…”
This past week it happened on Sunday afternoon. I was feeling a little anxious about jumping back into the craziness of the week. My mind was jumping from each task, wondering when I’m going to get that done...when I’ll have time to do that. I start getting that pit in my stomach thinking about my alarm going off Monday morning. So like any good Christian I thought, “I bet some time with God will help me calm down” - and I set out on a walk to converse with the God of the universe.
If I’m honest with myself - I’m not actually looking for God in that moment. I’m looking for an experience that feels like God. It’s usually more akin to a camp high - I want to feel like God is comforting me but I’m not sure I actually want him near.
It’s no wonder the Bible is filled with people wandering in the desert as they meet with God. Away from the distractions. Away from civilization. Away from everything you can depend on. The desert strips you of comfort - reminds you of how small you are - makes you acutely aware of your surroundings. And yet, I went for a short walk in my neighborhood and half-expected a burning bush to show up next to the gas station...I want the experience without working for it.
Getting Past the Sign
I was praying somewhat frustratingly on my walk...wondering to God (to myself?) Why wouldn’t you show up and make me feel different? Don’t you want me to experience you? As I thought/prayed this, the following metaphor hit mer:
When you head to any national park, you can anticipate your arrival by each passing sign - “Grand Canyon - 45 miles.” But what do you usually hit at the end of those signs? The entrance to the park itself. So how foolish would you be to arrive at the entrance to the Grand Canyon and pull over at the sign and ask, “Is this it?”
We’re technically at the Grand Canyon...the sign welcomed us! But we still have a little work left to do. We would miss the beauty of the entire park by thinking the experience of the welcome sign was all there was on offer.
My small, faithless heart was standing at the entrance of the “park” asking God, “Is this it? Is this all you have to offer me? Where’s the view?”
I don’t want there to be work involved in being with God. I want it to come easily. I don’t want to have to venture into the desert, where I have to leave everything behind. I want to cling to my comforts and still catch a glimpse of the burning bush. But relationally, God wants more from me.
Not because he is playing some twisted game of hide and seek (though sometimes it can feel that way). But because he wants me to experience the joy of finding His presence when I could actually live apart from it. That’s part of what I’m learning these days - I can exist fine without depending on God...I can pull my bootstraps up, get things done, even feel pretty good...but it’s incomplete. I know I can just exist with my wife in the same house...occasionally talking...living more as roommates...but it’s not full. It’s not what either of us wants. Eventually it will run out and I’ll collapse from the stress and anxiety of not having a relationship the way I’m designed to. And I’ll have a choice in those moments - don’t take the welcome sign as the main event and keep going...or turn around and try it on my own again.
I know relationships take work, but I desire so often for my relationship with God not to. I also see this in my community too - I can isolate, focus on all that I have to get done, and then expect my friends to reach out to me at the drop of a hat when I feel lonely. I want connection, but the effort required to do so feels too big. What if I try and don’t feel connected?
So I have to shift from seeing the work as a burden...something to be ashamed of when I don’t do it...and more of a gift. I get to connect with the God of the universe by reading a book. I get to connect with the God of the universe just by praying. It begins feeling more like a relationship where in the process (work) of connecting I do experience something different. I don’t take a walk to feel something abstract - I converse with the God of the universe, read His word, and commune with other believers to experience His presence. I can’t stop at the welcome sign anymore; I have to keep going into the park.
In what ways have you sought connection with God without putting in the work to do so?