I’m still frying chicken. If you read my last post, you know that’s code for “Stay with it.” It’s hard and I’d rather not. Standing over the popping grease and hoping it doesn’t burn me or catch the kitchen on fire is isn’t easy when Chick-fil-A is within a mile of my house.
Why spend the time and mess up the kitchen? Why risk burning the chicken? Or the kitchen? Why do the work?
Counselors say things like, “Lean into the resistance” and “Do your work.” It’s easy to say and hard to do. Living with the soul thirst I wrote about earlier is uncomfortable, labor intensive, and time-consuming. Like frying chicken, it requires attention - standing in one space for awhile watching and waiting, doing hot, spattering work.
We don’t live in a culture that encourages watching and waiting, or taking the longer, harder road which sometimes requires we stand still. We live drive-through lives, ordering up our relationships, our worship, our own spiritual transformations as if they are transactions we can make through a speaker with a check card swipe and then drive away with a sackful of nuggets. Thousands of options promise us a way that is quick, convenient, and as private as the driver’s seat of the car, but spiritual formation doesn’t work that way.
True formation happens over time, practice upon practice, choice upon choice, imbued with grace, showered with mercy. Transformation is sometimes choices we make and partly responses we choose when the choices are made for us; but it is always the work of a God moving toward us in love. Our part is simply to ‘stay with it.’
Simple but not easy. Our Protestant work ethic, our American individualism, our bootstraps mentality combined with our current culture’s desire for instant and easy everything leaves us bankrupt when it comes to spiritual change. We are not used to waiting, to inconvenience, to letting go and trusting Divine Love when we think we can clearly see a path that could take us where we want to go. We have no tolerance for suffering either, especially in front of others.
You can run through the drive-through in your pajamas, without a shower, without another soul in the car. The grease isn’t going to pop out and sting your skin and nobody is going to see your inadequacy or your mess.
Yet what if the path to transformation is through the long waits, the practices and rituals piled week upon week, year after year? What if growth happens in the inconvenience, in the suffering, with the relinquishment of our own plans and expectations? What if the way to life is planting a seed in the black dirt and letting it die with no guarantee - only a hope - that it will spring up again?
As much as I don’t want it to be this way, it seems the real work of spiritual formation is in the slow, grubby, daily and sometimes heated stuff of human relationships. Of course that would be so - for God Himself is relational. He is a community of three persons, One of whom took the bitterest of roads in order for the Holy Three to be in relationship to us. Should I be surprised when my temptation is to leave the community of the hot kitchen and jump in the car and head to the drive-through? Give me fast, easy, private transformation.
Part of ‘staying with it’, living with soul thirst and occasionally tasting the living water available in this life is being available in community. There’s value for my soul in asking, “What’s it like to live with me?” and being open to the answer that comes back.* There’s goodness when a friend lovingly points out the thought loops and patterns I’m stuck in that are getting me nowhere except frustrated. There’s water to be offered among us if we admit our thirst to one another or open ourselves up to be the channel through which it flows.
A debt of gratitude to Dr. Larry Crabb and the School of Spiritual Direction for the ideas I’m pondering in these last two paragraphs.