One of my most loved, and at the same time, most hated parts of the experiences I had at Recovery Weeks was the excursion at the end of the week. We were each instructed to find an object that would mark the work that had taken place in our particular stories that week, a gift from Jesus so to speak, to help us remember his extravagant love. We all loaded up in a van for the long drive to a quaint town known as “Little Norway” – the ride there long enough that I was able to retreat into my own thoughts after a polite amount of conversation. As I considered our assignment, I loved the deep meaning, and the hope that Jesus would somehow miraculously help me find the perfect object. And I hated the fear beginning to gather, heavy and hot in my gut – what if I can’t find the right gift? Underneath, what if Jesus doesn’t come through for me, what if I really am not known and loved?
I’d like to say that the second year was better, that my experience of Jesus coming through in a big way that first year was a steady reminder for my heart not to fear. And yet, the truth is my heart knows too much of how risky and foolish it is to trust, to let my guard down. There is a part of me that holds myself separate, protected, sure that my competence will be needed to save this experience from disaster. I walk into the first store, wander among the aisles and glance up at the signs on the walls. My eyes are drawn immediately to the simple, yet bold words.
The woman in me who has come to know something of the wild, but always kind, love of Jesus recognizes his gift. The young girl in me hesitates, too familiar with fear, the constant second-guessing of my knowing – because if no one else believes, it can’t be true, right? Surely it couldn’t be this easy, this good so quickly; it must be my idea, born out of my fear of failure, clearly it couldn’t be Jesus, so I can’t trust it. As I read my own words just now, my heart feels the weight of the bind that I find myself in too often –
I can’t trust myself, and I can’t trust Jesus, so where does that leave me?
I wandered some more that day, but nothing called to me the way those words had at the very beginning. I finally gave up the arguments circling in my head, allowed kindness and love and being deeply known – a miracle – be true. The words hang on the wall in my favorite room, where I love to linger with my husband, coffee, a good book, my journal. And yet, lately, I find myself avoiding them, distracting myself with things less disruptive, the familiar young fear suggesting that miracles are ridiculous, certainly not to be trusted.
And oh, how I love that Jesus knows this about me! I sat in church three weeks ago listening to our pastor’s words about Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” I know that you are the Good Shepherd, attentive enough to notice that I was lost, then pursue and find me, like no one else. I know that you are a Prodigal Father, demonstrating your wild love with a ring, an extravagant party, and forgiveness. I know these things, and I feel the familiar bind – somehow I can’t trust them to be true, but I also know I can’t trust myself. And then I hear the words. “You don’t need to know more about Jesus – you already have all that you need. Maybe today you need a fresh encounter with the living Christ.” He happens to be facing our direction as he speaks. The words, I am sure, are for me.
There is once again, an invitation – this time, instead of Little Norway, to the back of the room, under a richly colored mural. The walk to the back felt as interminable as that van ride, my heart filled with both longing and dread. I tried to quiet the internal angst by focusing on those who were lined up, ready to pray for people – some of them I recognized, some I did not. I silently went through each in my mind: I could trust this one, or that one, but not that one…until it was my turn…and the spot immediately in front of me – our pastor, opened up. I have never met him, he asked my name, asked if there was anything in particular he could pray for. My tears were already flowing, all I managed to get out was that I felt like he was speaking right to me about needing to encounter Jesus. And as he prayed, I knew in the deepest parts of me, that it was Jesus praying over me – the words he spoke were kind, attentive, deeply knowing and full of love.
I left that day without the heavy, knotted bind in my gut; reminded that I want to live my life as though everything is a miracle. I know that as long as there are still young parts in me that need tending, I will forget. And I also know that this wild Jesus will always call to me, “Remember.”
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.