I celebrated a birthday a few months ago and as I was reflecting on the occasion and on my life up to now I was gently, but firmly, challenged by the Holy Spirit. The essence of the challenge was to ask me a question: to what extent do I value and celebrate the unique life that He gave me. Not life in general or being alive as in breathing oxygen and existing on this planet, but my specific life with its Johan flavour, experiences, expectations and destiny.
I was aware of Him saying to me: As I said to Jeremiah many years ago I say to you: “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had My special plans for you”. I chose to give you this particular and unique life as my gift to you, it is who you are and who I designed you to be. It is a life that is unlike any other life on earth, there is no duplicate of it. I entrusted it to you and I want you to accept it, embrace it, celebrate it and value it in the shape and form that I chose to give it to you. I entrusted it to you as a stewardship because it is also the unique way I which I want to express My character through you.
It was a wake-up call for me and I still have not processed all its implications. I realise that I have never actually taken a step back from life and seriously contemplated the reality of this truth. I know that I have acknowledged some of it in passing, but then carried on with life day by passing day.
I am also very aware that I have spent quite a bit of time often being discontent with my life in general, not being pleased with it and what it contained. To some extent I have often strived for an improved life, being better and doing better, looking quite critically at myself and not measuring up to my own vague expectations of it. I cannot honestly say that I always appreciated and celebrated my particular life without reservation. There were too many things that I wanted to be different from that which it was. One of the important negative spin-offs of this was that I could not be adequately present to the many moments that I was in.
Right now I am in selah mode, trying to get in touch with this firm, but gentle and non-judgmental invitation to take stock.
First of all, I am remorseful or heartsore, but in a very good and positive way. Past experience has taught me that when the Holy Spirit reveals matters of my heart that have been hidden from me, it has led to a godly sorrow. It is a sorrow that, paradoxically, has much joy in it because it comes within the context of experiencing the focused care of the blessed Trinity. It is incredibly comforting to know that my life and the condition of my heart is so central-stage for them that they will do all that they can to reveal my heart and change me. It is the epitome of grace.
My response is to talk to Papa and Jesus and the Holy Spirit about it. I tell them that I can see these truths about myself. I don’t confess and ask for forgiveness anymore. That has been swiftly done and dealt with. I am communing with them, thanking them for their grace and patience and asking for a gift of changing my thinking or, in Biblical language, the gift of repentance.
I need to emphasise that this is not happening because I think I have failed and therefore ought to change. It is happening within the ambit of fellowshipping with them, trusting them to work the change in me. It is as though I see their face, with joy radiating from it and tenderness in their eyes when they look at me, encouraging me to enter into the spacious invitation of that which has always been prepared for me.
In the midst of all of this I came across the last book Henri Nouwen had published before his death. It is called Can You Drink This Cup? I was, and am being, thoroughly blessed by it because it echoes that which the Holy Spirit is speaking to me about.
As all of this is happening I realise how chequered my life is. It contains joy but also sorrow, boldness but also shame, faithfulness but also disregard, servanthood but also self-centredness, fulfilment but also disappointment and so much more.
Even so, I hear my Papa’s voice, I see my Elder Brother’s face and I feel my Comforter’s presence as they say to me:
Bring everything to us, hide nothing, embrace the whole spectrum of your life because we love you as you are. As you hold the cup of your own life in the light of our loving countenance, lift it up to others and share it, encouraging one another to do the same. It is only in this way that you will be able to authentically share life with one another. You have tried to create community in so many other ways because you felt that the cost of this one is too high, but there is no other way. This is community as it exists within us and as we intended for it to be amongst you. Don’t judge one another, but receive, first yourselves and then one another as we receive you.
I want to put my amazing technicolour dream coat on again and share a dream that I had in this regard way back in 1998.
I dreamt that I was driving somewhere, no specific place in particular. On the route I drove through a place that gave me the impression that it was a holiday resort. There were a number of houses that I thought were holiday homes.
What struck me about the homes was that they were very small, seemingly intended for only one family, although here and there I could see slightly larger ones that were intended for more than one family. They were very similar in structural appearance and in their garden layouts. They were very neat and tidy. They were also not facing one another, but every house faced the back of its neighbour so that in a sense they were not aware of one another. The most striking feature about them was their burglar-proofing. This was so large and elaborate that it was out of all proportion to the size of the buildings. Every single house had massive iron bars in front of every door and window and in the double storey ones it stretched from the ground floor to the top floor. Quite clearly the pre-eminent intention was to protect and guard very heavily against any possible intrusion.
I felt the Holy Spirit saying to me, this is how you conduct your lives. You separate yourselves from one another, you protect your privacy inordinately, but the time will come when you will have to be willing to dig up your foundations, turn your lives towards one another and take down your self-created protections.
The prayer of my heart is “Papa, help me to hold my cup, help me to lift it up to others and help us to drink this cup of life together!”
L’CHAIM – TO LIFE