When was the last time you relaxed? I don’t mean in your easy chair. When was the last time you relaxed in your heart? My exterior life is mixed with relaxation to balance the routine demands I face. I ride my bicycle in the morning to relax my mind. I walk the dog in the evening to relax the tension in my soul. I sit by the fire in my chair at night to relax my body. On the weekends, I putter.
Yet I have spent most of my interior life—my heart’s passions—pushing, driving, striving, grasping, and longing.
Late in the fall I took my annual, personal retreat. It is a time for me to be by myself for several days, to walk, and pray, and read, and sit in the woods listening to the squirrels and birds and wind. It is a concentrated time for me to listen for Father’s voice telling me what is on His mind. It is a special time to plan, strategize, assess, and make course corrections in life’s journey.
This year I took very little with me as I sank deep into the Ozark Mountains high up in the state of Arkansas. My intent was to listen. My agenda had one bullet-point: To give Father freedom to express His perspective about whatever He wanted to discuss.
And I strove, and I pondered, and I drove, and I bumped against that bullet-point. I vowed in my thoughts, I will accomplish this! I will put a check mark beside that bullet! I will be able to give a report of my success while on retreat! And I pushed, and I shoved, and I fought valiantly in a losing battle against frustration and temptation, and I felt panic when the sun set and there was only one day left of my retreat.
The story doesn’t end there, but “part 1” does. Next, I’ll tell you what I did about my bullet point.
The next morning I buttoned my Carhart jacket against my throat, put my blade in my pocket and a folded piece of legal paper in my shirt, and I headed northeast toward the recesses of Malden Creek. By late morning, I was hot, so I stopped in a clearing. I dropped my jacket on the ground and stood-leaned-back against a flat rock taller than me, standing at a precarious, sixty-degree angle.
I felt the cool of the stone permeate into my core. I stared through an assortment of colored leaves into an azure sky, and I thought about working on my bullet-point.
But there was a question that caused my heart to stop: “Why are you pushing, and driving, and striving? Relax into Me. Let Me surround you, engulf you, and speak to you about My agenda.”
Had the intensity of the previous days not been so convulsing, and had there been more than a solitary bullet-point on my agenda, I would have missed Father’s perspective. But there, in a private sanctuary, surrounded by trees for witnesses and birds for friends, my heart touched for the first time what it means to relax.
I understand what Jesus meant when He told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled” (Jn. 14:1a).
Once the shroud was pulled away, the eyes of my heart saw Father’s peace that I perceived as my confidence through a tumultuous and intense year. I understand what Jesus meant when He told His disciples, “My peace I give to you” (Jn. 14:27a).
I never doubted Father’s presence during the difficulties of this past year, and I never questioned whether or not He had made the trip to my retreat site. But the frustration and panic in my heart were about blindness to Father’s grace.
He was faithful to stand beside me during the challenges and the tumult of my striving, pushing, shoving, and driving during the early days of my retreat.
He was waiting for an opportune moment to reveal His grace against a backdrop I would comprehend. I was never apart from His grace, for He was always present, but glimpsing what it means to relax into Him allows me to be a partaker of His grace momentarily and eternally.
As the Old Testament brothers who have gone before me often did, I bent down beside Malden Creek and picked up a stone of remembrance to add to my collection of reminders. The rock, labeled and dated, is in a bowl in our dining room.
So how about you? How long has it been since your heart relaxed in the midst of the striving around you?
Instead of resolving to follow hard after God, I encourage you to consider that God is following hard after you. As is my experience, if you’ll just stop and wait, I think you all will run into one another in fairly short order.
And as is my custom, an unabridged version of these thoughts follows tomorrow at PrestonGillham.com.