Have I ever told you about the time that I stopped listening to Christian music, threw away my Christian t-shirts (“Color Outside the Lines – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind – Romans 12:2” was my fave) and took down anything from my living space with a bible verse on it? Believe it or not, I did it so I encounter God again. For years after my first encounter with God, I would have experiences in prayer or worship or even just through some unexpected event that I experienced as the Holy Spirit raining down on me. Like heaven was washing over me. It’s not an uncommon experience – in fact there’s a well known worship song called just that: Holy Spirit Rain Down. It’s a wonderful experience but one day it started going away. First God’s voice – that still, small voice that will sometimes come to us – just went silent. I would still have that experience of the Spirit through worship and sometimes through prayer, but in time that became more and more muted. Finally, it just seemed to be gone. I remember at one point telling my husband that I felt like I was wandering through a dark forest and God was there – somewhere above me – watching. He knew the way out but I was lost and he wasn’t helping me find my way. This was the first dark night. As John of the Christ explains it is the dark night of the senses. But I didn’t know much of anything about that then.
As the voice and presence of God became fainter and farther from me, I think that without even realizing it, I started adding things into my world that would remind me of God. Maybe make me feel some sort of connection or even just warm-fuzzies. I never went overboard, but as time passed I listened to more and more Christian music, read more Christian books, bought a few of the aforementioned T-Shirts, put bible verses on the bathroom mirror and on my screen saver. I became more stereotypically and outwardly Christian as if by surrounding myself by reminders would trigger that connection with God again. It may have even looked from the outside like I was growing in my faith – and I was, in a way. But from my vantage point, I was just grasping at straws and trying to will God to show himself to me again.
Then in the course of a week or so, a few bible verses jumped out at me. The two I remember are:
He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17:27-28
It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. Galatians 2:20
I occurred to me that perhaps my problem was that I was living and thinking as if I were in fact separate from God. That I had a life that God would come and visit me in, if you will. What if I stopped trying to entice God to come to me and started to really believe that I could never be separate from Him? That Christ is in me and that I am living and moving and having my very existence in God? So, I changed my radio presets and stopped wearing Christian t-shirts and took down the bible verses and turned inward to find God. And there he was. Just waiting for me. Instead of raining down, the Spirit could now well up out of me.
At first I was kind of irritated. I liked the old “Holy Spirit Rain Down” experience. This new welling up experience was much more subtle and fleeting. The rain down experience left an after-glow while the welling up experience seemed much more fleeting and hard to hold onto. But in time I learned to appreciate this new way of experiencing God. The old rain down experience had its draw-backs. It was big and loud, but lacking in details. When I would seek to discern what God’s will might be, the rain down experience wasn’t much use. I could be comforted by a rain down experience, but it didn’t impart wisdom. It really was like a thunderstorm – loud and bone rattling and attention getting, but who understands the words thunder speaks?
While this new welling-up experience didn’t carry the force of a thunderstorm, it was much more useful. For one, I didn’t have to wait or try to trigger this experience, I just needed to still myself and turn inward and pay attention to find it. When I sought direction – there was direction. At first it was just vague urges – I feel better about this option than that option. This thought makes my heart glad. Over time, as I learned to listen more skillfully, ideas that had never occurred to me would whisper into my heart. This internal experience helped me sort out my own issues – is this way of thinking or emotional reaction helpful or harmful? Does it make sense or should it be tossed? I could bring my questions into this stillness and start to puzzle them out like working knots out of tangled yarn.
And sometimes I would sit quietly and close my eyes and call to Jesus and I could sense his presense. Every time I did it, I had this feeling like we were sitting on a grassy hill and Jesus was off to my right and a little behind me. There were never any words, just a presence. Jesus has the sweetest, most gentle presence. It really was like sitting in the presence of love – kind, patient, not holding anything over you, just goodness. A spirit that I fell in love with. Would do anything for and anything to be like and be near. As much as I loved those rain down experiences, I wouldn’t trade a million of them for an hour spent in the presence of Jesus.
Of course, the Christian’s life is a journey – a path to walk. And if God has plans for you to move along, He will move along. A couple of years ago this welling up began to fade as well. More and more I felt like I was just talking to myself . . . many of the posts here have documented portions of this part of my journey. It’s another subject for another day.