Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Thoughts on Leadings III

[My reflection paper for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.  The theme and quotes for reflection are available online here.]

As I write this from Atlanta, the Pacific Northwest feels very far away.  At the same time, the theme of “Wilt Thou Go On My Journey” speaks to me, and especially the quote from Luke, where Jesus tells the disciples to go out and take nothing on the journey.  Last year, I sold and gave away almost everything I owned because I felt God leading me to go to seminary.  At the end of my first year, I am still not sure why or what I will be doing when I am finished with this degree.  But I felt clear that this was the path for me and I am continuing on it.

The quote from Isaiah (“Here I am.  Send me!”) made me smile.  Out of context, it seems so hopeful and encouraging.  But the chapter goes on to say that Isaiah will speak but the people will not understand.  When Isaiah asks how long, God responds, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate.”  (Isaiah 6:11)

This is a hard message.  God is asking Isaiah to go out and speak to a people whose eyes are shut and ears are closed, until everything is destroyed.  But at the end, a stump remains, and “The holy seed is its stump.”  (Isaiah 6:14)  This passage and the other quotes remind me that in ministry, our goal is faithfulness, not success.  God may be calling us to do or say hard things, things that others may not understand.  And yet, even when it seems like everything is falling apart, God is still there.

At the beginning of a leading, everything feels easy and rightly ordered.  I am afraid, of course, because I am taking on something new, but I also have a deep sense of joy.  As I go on and follow that leading, things become harder.  I find myself feeling worn down, or in conflict with people I care about, or simply questioning whether I heard correctly.  I start to calculate the costs of setting out on the journey and think that it would have been easier just to stay home.

I have also found that following leadings tend to bring up my deep stuff―the things I need to work through.  In fact, this is one of the signals for me that I am on the right track.  When I find myself struggling with old issues, I know there is something for me to learn from the situation and that my perspective is valuable in some way that I can’t quite see.

Fortunately, I don’t have to go it alone.  I have a massive “spiritual pit crew” for this journey including my spiritual director, an anchoring committee, elders, peers in ministry, and many friends who are willing to provide a listening ear or a timely prayer.  It is also a blessing for me to be able to accompany others in this way, whether it is through an ongoing spiritual friendship or a spontaneous phone call from a different time zone.

When I get to the end of a leading, it never looks quite the way I expected.  The fantastic visions I had when I first felt led have been replaced with a more solid reality, but one that feels earned and better than what I imagined because it is real.  I am grateful for the things that I have learned along the way, even the hard things, and for the relationships that have deepened.  I can see how God was with me through it all.  Most of all, I am tired and ready for a rest―happy to lay down this particular thing for a while and take a break before the next journey.


  1. Working on my SotS final project, I got the idea of making a timeline of one's sexual history so I have timelines on my mind. It might be interesting to see a timeline of your leadings and what you were learning and doing prior to and after you are given a path.

    Thank you for sharing your journey in this way. It is a gift to see from a different perspective.

    with love,
    Mary Linda

  2. It's great to hear from you, Mary Linda!

    The timeline idea is interesting. Often, when I first have the sense of a leading, it feels like it is out of the blue. Later, when I have a little perspective, I can see how what was happening in the time leading up to it directly contributed to it. And afterward, there always seem to be transferable skills.

    Will you be sharing your final SotS project anywhere? I would be very interested to see it!

    With love,

  3. Speaks to my condition, Ashley. Especially the part about being challenged by old stuff while trying to make something new, or be something new. Thee has the pit crew. I feel the challenge especially hard because there is no chevurah of f/Friends that are willing to carry a share of the weight with me or even support a journey. I think i can deal with the part about not seeing desired results, about the length of the trip and the need to put one foot after another… looking for the remnant in the wilderness. But the Cassandra Curse is almost unbearable alone.
    . The 'world's' culture of individualism demands that we face these things alone and our testimony of Community is often visible in the breach.

  4. I'm sorry to hear that you feel such a lack of support, Pablo. I have to say that I'm a little surprised by your comment because I know that you have a support committee through the meeting, and it seemed (at least from this distance) that the meeting was supportive of your work in Cuba financially and spiritually. I hope that you are able to communicate with the meeting the kind of support that you need or that you think would be valuable.

  5. Don´t forget the unrealistic part of your vision.
    After the rest, say yes to the impossible .Maybe you will find the way anybody never thought about and then you can guid rest of us to the next place of holy silence and peace.

    ps. I am a friend från Sweden Yearly Meeting

  6. Thank you for this reminder, Marcus!

  7. Ashley - I am fascinated by the subject of leadings and how they are recognized, experienced and so on. One thing I have noticed is what you referred to as "everything feels easy and rightly ordered." I have noticed this multiple times, to the extent that I call it a form of shock! As if God knows this is going to be challenging for us, but in order to get us started He makes it seem so easy and obvious! When others say "Wow! You're going to do that!! You're so brave!" I think, "Yeah, what's the big deal?" I honestly don't even see what they are daunted by - not till later! Usually much later. My husband and I have undertaken many things in our lives that evoked that reaction, and at the time it seemed so easy, especially because those spiritual blinders allowed us to see just one step at a time! The one thing that is tricky for me is to keep on reminding myself that it WAS a leading when the going gets tough. That is surprisingly hard and always reminds me of the Israelites in the desert. How could they doubt and want to go back after having seen the parting of the waters and all the other miracles! How could they forget? But it happens to me repeatedly.
    Thanks for the post,
    Barb Smith

  8. Thanks for the comment, Barb! I like the idea of "spiritual blinders." They are helpful when setting out to do something that might otherwise seem too challenging.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.