I made a telling discovery this morning during my morning devotional time – a few thoughts I’m lingering on and in as I begin this grace-day with Jesus. It’s about my standing “near the cross” and the posture of my heart therein. Let me explain.
Three years ago, I led a group of women through Alicia Chole’s study, Choices: to be or not to be … a woman of God. In this current season, I have the privilege of doing the same with another group of women at our new church. One of the questions that Alicia repeatedly asks of us in our times together is, “How is your garden growing?” (alicia chole, choices: to be or not to be a woman of God, 2003, p.4)
What I like most about this question is that it roots in intentionality—something along the lines of: This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there? And therein, I cannot sit back and simply lead. Instead, I must sit alongside my sisters as a participant. Just because I’ve done the study before, doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some fresh digging, fresh seed planted in the soil of my own heart. If I can’t give God access to the spade and shovel to work within the confines of my soul, I certainly shouldn’t waste the time of the members of my group in shepherding them toward the same.
And so, I give the trowel over to Jesus and ask him to break up the soil of my unplowed ground, to see, once again, what is growing within me nearly three years after this familiar blade first broke the soil regarding the choices I make … to be or not to be a woman of God.
Week Three, Day One (ibid, p. 29). Alicia guides me to consider that familiar scene at the cross, where Jesus’ mother, close friends, and followers were “standing by” as eyewitnesses to his suffering (see John 19:25). I journal my thoughts regarding the many, strong emotions that must have been present that day. I do so without looking back at the responses I wrote to this same question three years earlier. In keeping my responses fresh, I’m able to (at the conclusion of the activity) look back to those earlier responses and compare them with my current ones. It’s a rich exercise in evaluation.
Easily, I find the similarities. Feelings that include: confusion, emptiness, sorrow, loneliness, fear, gut-wrenching pain. I imagine many of you might reach these same conclusions regarding the emotions surrounding that day at Calvary. What surprised me the most in the comparing of my two lists was the inclusion of a couple of emotions this time around that were glaringly absent from my list three years ago. Those emotions? Relief and hope. Relief that Christ’s anguish had come to an end—a finishing point to an event that had, undoubtedly, been building up in their minds for a long season. And feelings of hope based on the reality of the finishing work of the cross—something along the lines of: Now that we’ve come to this moment in his story, I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.
And therein is my discovery, my lingering. Why the emotions of relief and hope this time around and not three years ago? Well, that’s another story for another day. But when I look back to where I was three years ago (a season of deep suffering and wounding) and to where I am today, the discrepancy is more clearly understood. Suffering sometimes clouds the truth, and the truth is … suffering does a finishing work in all of us. When we arrive at suffering’s end, hope often turns up in our hearts to surprise us and to invite us forward into holy expectation for the words yet to be written onto the pages of our lives.
This is the garden of your soul, Elaine; what’s being planted in that place? What is growing there?
Well, it feels like relief; it feels like it might be hope. What about you, friends? What is growing in the soil of your heart? Won’t you take some time today to consider the question with Jesus? It’s a fine deliberation and one that has the potential to yield abundant fruit for your soul. As always …
Peace for the journey,