As we approach the halfway point of a year of gathering together, I reflect on what I thought this year would be and what its reality has been. When I discovered the Fellows program, by accident really, I immediately heard God whisper my name, “Kelly, this is what we will do next together.” Though I thought I’d be spending a year engaging intellectually and learning more about spiritual formation, I failed to recognize this as God’s invitation to actively engage in my own spiritual formation, transforming my soul and likeness into Christ.
I remember driving to the first retreat, nervous because I didn’t know anyone that would be there, and therefore wouldn’t be known myself by anyone. Except for seeing Bill preach three times and walking up to say hi after one service at The Falls Church Anglican, I was going in blind. But I was known to God and I cried out to him the whole car ride down. If this was just another community gathered together to talk about the surface level, more pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-and-try-harder religion, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I wanted real life, the messy, honest, this-is-hard-but-oh-so-beautiful relationship with Love that I was pursuing, and I wanted to know if these could be my people.
I could feel the prompt to share this honest, soul-bearing truth with the group that first morning. I shared, “If I was to say yes to this Love that called me by name, my greatest fear was the death it would call me to, a death to the old self. Though I was tired of being a slave to this old self, it was the only way I knew how to engage in this life. I also feared a death to my new self that would sacrifice itself daily to receive and then give away love beyond what I ever thought was possible.” With tears in my eyes I waited for the response to my honest truth, and I remember Bill said, “You get the point of this year, let’s give you your certificate of completion now!” Please don’t, I thought, not yet. I need to be here.
And oh, how I have needed it. Coracle has been a balm to my aching heart and soul. As God and I engage in new conversations (talking, but mostly listening) that I have been introduced to here, we have met in the sweetest of times together. To be given the invitation, and even the permission to sit and listen to God has been so transforming as I engage with the God of Love. I’m learning through this to know and be confident of what his voice sounds like in my life, the gentle, peace-filled language of love. Knowing this voice helps me to identify the false voice I’ve been listening to for far too long, the one that tries to achieve love through doing.
I was right, learning to listen differently would be the beginning of dying to the false self I desire to make peace with but no longer be ruled by. And what I’ve found is it’s not as scary to do away with as I feared; hard, yes, but perfect Love is driving out that fear. Now I don’t carry so much a fear of a new way of life as a humble repentance to acknowledge what we refer to as the negative emotions of life– the jealousy and pride and need for control to which I am blind that provoke my actions and reactions and compulsions. It is a tremendous blessing to stand back and engage in conversation with God: “Sorry for what I’ve done, denying your love.” “Why did I do that?” “How would love rule my heart instead?”
It’s easy for me to become frustrated when my old self keeps unconsciously coming to the surface. I describe the feeling as being stuck, but I’m not stuck, I’m just a sinner, saved by grace, a masterpiece in progress learning little by little to let the love of Christ rule in my heart. I am the beloved and when I feel like I should give up I remember this truth of my identity. I can’t give up because Love never gave up on me. Often and regularly we need to rest, but not give up.
My old way of thought would have me believe that I need to attain some threshold of sinlessness in my life before I am deemed worthy of service in God’s kingdom, but that is a lie, slowly being uprooted. We will never reach perfection or completeness here, but we can offer ourselves humbly and with reverence to the God who loves us and calls us and most of all empowers us. It will not be what I am that makes be worthy to serve, but who he is through me as I offer my body as a daily living sacrifice to love.
Well if this is where Love and I have journeyed in the first half of this year, I can’t wait to see what the second half has in store! Most of all I’m looking forward to taking steps to engage this community of Coracle God has given me as a gift to share the journey together. Vulnerability has been hard for me lately as I have been left with many wounds in the recent past. They are healing though and will only continue to heal within the love of a community of fellow pilgrims on this journey with me. I am grateful for the invitation God gave me to do this next.