It was 2013, and we were packing up our home to move from Laos to Thailand. We were weary and decided to take a Sabbatical in Chiang Mai, Thailand where we would be able to access both counseling and nature. As we entered into this time, we found ourselves asking whether it was possible to enjoy what we do. This was a real question after doing work and ministry that had left us feeling depleted…doing things we felt we “should do.” Was it possible to even consider that it wasn’t a choice between serving God to the detriment and cost of our very souls, or to live for ourselves and not try to serve God anymore—was there a whole other way to envision life with God? Talk about a season of disillusionment. (But that is only something I can say now, we had no idea what was happening in the midst of it all.)
As we shared with our small fellowship in Laos that we were receiving the invitation “Come to me all who are weary,” I found it ironic to look out at the weary faces looking back at us. Why could I take this invitation? Was I being selfish to say yes, when all these other weary men and women were staying? But I said it out loud anyway…yes, we were taking this invitation literally…
A few days later I received a call from Ruth, a woman I barely knew. Usually, people don’t reach out to you when you have just announced you are leaving. Why was she reaching out to me? My prayer had been for someone to disciple me…someone who would journey with me through our season of sabbatical. Otherwise, I pictured myself alone and lost in my ability to navigate the sense of failure that was lurking within me as we left our work and ministry so much sooner than we had imagined.
As I sat across from this woman at a coffee shop she told me that she was a spiritual director. I had no idea what she meant, and though she tried to explain it, I nodded with very little comprehension. She felt like God had nudged her to reach out to me when she heard our plans to take a sabbatical…and wondered if I would like to meet for spiritual direction. Even though I did not understand what she was offering, her offer to walk alongside me during our sabbatical season was an answer to prayer and longing. I immediately said “yes”.
More than six years later, I look back at our sabbatical season and see God’s gentle hand in my life. How I came to the end of myself and my own resources, and in desperation made a decision to take his invitation for rest literally…and how God actually met me beyond what I even knew to pray and ask.
Having a spiritual director walk alongside me in some of the darkest months of my life was truly a gift from God. Ruth helped me face my false scripts and my false ideas of failure and how God viewed me. In one of our early sessions I pictured myself trying to keep all these plates spinning (like the plate spinners you see at the circus). I was failing at keeping the plates spinning and they were falling left and right but I was still frantically trying. She invited me to imagine where Jesus was in this image. As I sat with my eyes closed, I could see Jesus stretching his hands out. Could I hand the plates over? I began to hand the plates to Jesus. Ruth asked what I noticed Jesus doing with the plates?
As I sat with Jesus, I noticed that the plates just disappeared into his robe (yes, Jesus was wearing a robe in my image!). He took each plate as I handed them over, and suddenly there were no more plates. And then I noticed that his hands were still reaching out and open, for me. This was a powerful interaction with Jesus and enabled me to continue to deal with the ways I had taken on a savior complex in my years overseas. My sense of failure was not from God, it was from my false idea of God’s expectations towards me. With the help of my spiritual director, I was able to face my false self and begin to experience God’s love for me…a very healing place to be with God.
Six plus years later and I still need to sit with God and hear that I am fully loved even as I am fully known. The invitation to “Come” never grows old. We are all welcome to hear the invitation to “Come”. How do you respond to the invitation, “Come to me”? Take a moment to hear these words and notice what stirs in you. Do you notice places in you that feel longing? Where in you do you notice hesitation? Sit with what you notice and let it become your prayer with God. Start with where you are today.