‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it’ Yogi Brennan.
This brilliant, pithy piece of wisdom has been hugely sustaining for me over the last week or so. I only came across it last week on a retreat day but it seems to sum up much of the journey I have been on for the last few months.
It says something about not being so desperate to be in control of whether or not one choice or another is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. A formulaic approach to God says ‘we have to get things right or God wont love us/cant bless us/life will begin to unravel.’ The reality is God cannot possibly love us any more than he already does and while some choices might be better than others we should not get so hung up in a Pharisaical, ‘tick the box’ kind of way where we attempt to keep ourselves squarely in the spotlight of God’s blessing. Like some childish game of not stepping on the cracks in the pavement, we pick our way fastidiously through life hoping to keep on God’s right side not realising that the spotlight of God’s blessing is not dependant on us, but shines on us faithfully whether we are near, far, failing, triumphant, joyful and confident or broken, rejected, unsure, isolated… (Don’t believe me? See Psalm 139: 7-10 or Romans 8: 38-39)
Three books have inspired the title of this blog: they have been ‘like water to a thirsty soul’.
Fear and Trust: God Centred Leadership by David Runcorn (SPCK, 2011) is a study on the leadership of Samuel, Saul, David and Jonathan. Always insightful, David Runcorn looks way deeper than the surface of these ‘sunday school story’ veneer. Made me think completely differently about Saul and Samuel in particular. But it was the polarity of the two words ‘Fear’ and ‘Trust’ that made this book a potent part of what God was saying to me.
In the House of the Lord: The Journey from Fear to Love Henri Nouwen (Dartman, Longman and Todd, 1986)
Spot the connection! The same two feelings underlined. Nouwen writes,
‘Without realising it we become fearful, anxious people, caught in the questions of our own survival… we ask if and how questions and fear filled questions never lead to love filled answers …. Jesus offers us a house of love, not in the afterlife but right now, right in the midst of our anxious world’
That quote is more summary than direct quotation but the bit in bold hit me between the eyes. The whole book is a reflection on how to keep ourselves out of the ‘house of fear’ and keep ourselves firmly residing in the house of love. I guess you could say he is talking about our state of mind, but its deeper than that, it’s an attitude of heart.
So I have tried each morning to imagine myself standing in front of two doors. Each door leads to an ‘ops room’. An ‘ops room’ is the room from which all operations are carried out – where all strategy is planned, resources deployed, decisions made. Each day I have a choice which ‘ops room’ to inhabit. From what position will my every action and reaction be determined? One door is labelled ‘Fear’, the other is labelled ‘Love’. Behind the first door, there is only me – it’s all down to me to sort things out, settle scores, manipulate my way round problems. Behind the second door, there is Jesus and he says stuff like ‘don’t try to work it all out, don’t insist on knowing the outcome, just trust in the fact that I am here and that I love you’.
Now, the reality is that I shuttle all day between one ops room and the other! But at least I’m trying. I ask myself what room am I operating out of as I try to resolve this challenge or listen to this difficult person.
Also I think I am beginning to understand that being in the right ‘ops room’ is more important that whatever decision I make.
Contemplative Youth Ministry Mark Yaconelli (SPCK, 2006) is the final book that has been brought into my hands. (It was a Runcorn recommendation, otherwise the ‘youth’ bit might have put me off). And surprise, surprise it’s also all about staying in the house of love and away from the house of fear ‘trusting unashamedly that God desires our presence more than our activity’. Reading these three books in sequence has felt like following a divinely laid treasure trail. I’ve read them against a background of wading deeply into challenging ethical issues – writing my dissertation. I’ve listened with heart-break to people with messy, mixed up, ‘not evangelically acceptable’ stories and realised that God not only loves them but he shines out their lives. Finally, I’ve wrangled over one of the hardest personal decisions I’ve ever had to take.
Coming out the other side of that decision and being met on my quiet day by the Yogi Brennan quote with which I started and Yaconelli’s definition of contemplation as ‘an attitude of the heart, an all embracing hospitality to what is’… makes me whoop for joy.
Life is to be embraced, trustingly not fearfully so ‘when you come to a fork in the road, take it’!