Every once in a while, you find someone whose mere presence makes you a better person. One such person in my life is a missionary friend and mentor I get to see a couple times a year. Though she is the first one to confess her imperfections, I always have the sense that she is with and aware of God so often and so intentionally that I hear from Him more when I’m with her, as though He has rubbed off on her. Of all the time I have spent with her over the past few years, my most consistent impression is that regardless of where she is on her spiritual journey, she talks to God and asks Him questions with the expectation that He will answer. I’m trying to practice moments asking a question and waiting to see if the Holy Spirit will speak, and I have loved discovering how readily He often answers.
I had the pleasure of attending a women’s retreat this past weekend. I led a session on goal setting, which was a first for me. The retreat center was close to home but felt surprisingly rural with beautiful woods and a tiny chapel on the property. We had a chunk of time when we could choose from among several activities, including going outside for quiet reflection. I kept thinking of a retreat I went to several years ago when I felt like God spoke to me through scripture I saw in a chapel, and I felt again the tug to go by myself into the chapel. I was so eager to get there that I practically ran out of the room as soon as our free time began, hoping I didn’t seem rude in my pursuit of solitude.
I walked quickly on the gravel path, reminded of my dad as I always am when I hear the sound of shoes walking briskly through gravel. That sound and rhythm has been etched into my memory from childhood, when we used to visit my grammy in rural Pennsylvania and take family walks down to the creek to skip stones or to the local ice cream shop. For some reason, my dad’s steps are the ones my ears were always attuned to on these walks.
My steps slowed as I approached the door, and I felt a little afraid. I had the strong sense that God had something to say to me in that chapel, and I wasn’t sure what it would be or if I would like it. I waited, fully aware of how ridiculous it was to be afraid of going into a building to hear from God when He is already outside of it with me. I thought of the first time my (now) husband asked me on a date after three years of friendship. I was so nervous, I had had to tell myself, “It’s ok, it’s just Chris. It’s just your friend, Chris.”
I used the same kind of self-talk again: “It’s ok, it’s God, the one who loves you dearly. No need to be afraid.” With that, I opened the door. I looked around, noting the few rows of pews, the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, and the large narrow window at the back with the cross centered in it. I waited, remembering the other chapel I visited 3 years ago, when a framed scripture on the wall had stood out to me.
“Words…words…I need words,” I thought desperately. I scanned the walls. No words in sight. I felt embarrassed by my need for things to be so obvious and literal, and I wished I could be more artistic and abstract, like so many people I admire. I felt a little ashamed, like I didn’t have enough faith to hear from God in some other, more sophisticated way.
My eyes came to rest on the only words I could find, carved into the wood of a small altar in front of the window with the cross. They read, “THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.” I turned these words over in my mind, thinking of the last supper and of the importance of using memorials to remember what God has done. I wondered what He wanted me to remember at this moment, and then I thought about the words being on an altar. An altar. The words had brought my attention to the altar, a place to leave something, to make a sacrifice.
I walked up to the altar to examine it more closely, running my hand over the ridges of the painted wood.
“Let go of your fear and anxiety. Let go,” the whisper of a thought seemed to say.
I’ve spent the past year learning about my true self and my false self and have found, particularly through the Enneagram, that my false self is wrapped up almost inextricably in anxiety. Romans 6:6-8 says,
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
For me, to die to myself and to the “sin which so easily ensnares” me (Hebrews 12:1) means to die to my old way of being–anxious and fearful. I prayed for God to help me leave my anxiety and fear on the altar. I waited a moment longer and sensed that that was the end of what I was supposed to hear.
As I turned to leave, I took a few steps and then turned around to look back at the altar, as though Jesus Himself were standing there. In my mind, I asked, “Is that all?” I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything else I was supposed to hear. Through the silence, the words came into my mind, “I like words, too.”
I smiled. I like words, too. Jesus, the Word that became flesh. I realized that He made me a lover of words, just exactly as I am, because that is exactly how He wanted me to be. I basked in His pure delight in me, releasing the shame I had placed upon myself. I thought of the words of Anthony DeMello, quoted by Father Gregory Boyle: “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.”
The next day at church, the sermon was about the baptism of Jesus, when the heavens opened up and the voice of God said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The pastor encouraged us to pray and ask God what He wanted to tell us about Jesus. I prayed and waited, and the response came:
“I am the One who delights in you.”
I am learning to inhabit His delight in me. If we could learn to inhabit the Lord’s delight in us, I am confident the world would change radically. In Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle writes, “We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being—the fragrance of it. And it works on us. Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere)—to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight, confident that this is God’s only agenda.”
If I could wish one thing for you, it would be the same thing that I wish for myself, that we would learn to inhabit the Lord’s delight in us, and that in doing so, we would delight ourselves in Him.