July 15, 2022
I was hoping to find the perfect campsite, but I’d need to settle for the next available option. The foliage was thick thanks to the July humidity, but I found a small opening wide enough for a hammock and my gear. I quickly began setting up camp under the diminishing light. There would be no comfort of a campfire tonight, there was no space, and it was too hot anyway.
Rays of fading light shot around me in slivers. The silence had a mysterious effect on my heart. I felt very aware of the vulnerability of my solitude, which had me in a consistent low level angst. At the same time the silence was filled with potential. I sensed an invitation to lean into the Lord’s steady presence, to discover an abundance of peace and joyful anticipation.
I found a seat on a fallen tree. I closed my eyes and took a few slow breaths. I let the tension in my shoulders fall to the roots and dirt beneath my feet. I pictured the Lord, sitting next to me, beholding me. When I picture the Lord’s attention fixed on me, I can feel His love radiate over me.
Nicolas of Cusa describes eternal life as that blessed regard wherewith Thou never ceases to behold me. When I consider His affection for me, the world around me dissipates and I am swept into His delight. I smiled as I opened my eyes and pulled my pack over. I set up my stove and began working on dinner.
Since this was a one night trip, I decided to test two new pieces of equipment: a small rain fly and a two legged camp chair. I had been given the rain fly, if it worked out it would lighten my setup. After setting up my hammock I pulled out the rain fly. As I laid it out I quickly discovered that it was not long enough to cover my hammock. Good thing there was no rain in the forecast for tonight!
I set up the rain fly the best that I could, leaving about 18 inches of my hammock exposed. Then I pulled out the camp chair. I had found it on the trail about a year ago. I wasn’t so sure about it but I figured it deserved a try. It was built with weight in mind, with only two legs in the back. You provide the front two legs when you sit in it. I pulled it out as my dinner boiled over the stove.
I moved to my new seat as I rummaged through my cookware for a fork. After several failed attempts to find any utensils, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to pack any. I would have to make due with my pocket knife. I flipped the blade out, and began to awkwardly scoop my soupy cheddar rice. As I cooled a knife-full, I could faintly hear a distant rumble. Is that a storm? No, I’m almost certain there was no chance of rain in the forecast. I carefully took a bite, trying not to slice myself in the process.
It had been about 5 months since the beginning of the pandemic. It was becoming clear that there would be no return to normalcy. So many faces had disappeared from our Sunday morning gatherings. I think more walked away from fellowship because of disagreement than due to the threat of a virus. Political and societal opinions had become loaded issues in the height of the pandemic. The hyper division that resulted provided a new set of challenges to pastoral ministry.
Melissa and I had dear friends who not only disappeared from the church, they steered clear of us, associating us with something they no longer wanted to be a part of. Almost overnight the nature of my vocation had changed entirely, and I wasn’t entirely sure what it looked like or who was going to face it with me. Fear was oppressive in this season. This new level of relational uncertainty was exposing the depth of my insecurity.
It was with this in the backdrop that the Lord invited me to go for a hike alone. I hated backpacking alone. It was intensely vulnerable. Yet I knew this was an invitation to lean into the Lord, to get everything I need in Him. The aim of this hike was to push through the constant barrage of fear that was assaulting my heart, in order to fix my eyes on the Lord. I began to sense the breakthrough, sitting on my two legged chair, eating soupy cheddar rice with a pocket knife.
I quickly gathered my things and headed for cover under the rain fly. The heavens opened and the heavy rainfall pelted the fly. I quickly found my emergency raincoat and layered it on the rain fly, hoping to protect the exposed section of my hammock. Then I grabbed the remains of soupy cheddar rice, and returned to the chair beneath my hammock. For a split second, I completely forgot that the chair only had two legs. I began to fall forward and overcompensated with a hard push from my feet. I flailed as I fell backwards. I landed on my back, outside of the protection of the makeshift shelter. My head hit a tree root and soupy cheddar rice went airborne.
I made a quick retreat back under the shelter, wet and still hungry. The rainfall was now bouncing from all directions. The driest place to be was in the hammock, so I climbed in. The combination of the small rain fly and the emergency rain jacket still left a small space unprotected, but I could choose whether it was my head or my feet.
My instincts told me that I couldn’t rest until I had solved the problem, that I needed to be fully protected from the rain or I was not okay. I was panicked at what felt like an impossible situation.
Then, whether it was my own or the Holy Spirit, a freeing thought popped into my head, Who cares? This was a discomfort and it didn’t need to rob me. I was in no threat of drowning, I could sleep through the night a little wetter than I preferred. I could sense the Lord inviting me to let go of control and to give myself to the imperfection of the moment.
It might sound silly, but this realization was radically freeing. The potential of being wet was no longer a threat. I am already wet! I don’t have to be afraid of getting wet anymore, it’s already happened. I can let go of the tension I’m holding, trying to protect myself from a potential outcome. I took a deep breath and let my body relax. As I let my guard down, laughter began to bubble up. Rain dropped steadily on my head and feet as I let out loud bursts of belly laughter.
The landscape of my heart shifted with each burst of laughter. Fear’s grip was loosened and the Spirit was filling the space with His comfort and joy. As I laid in the hammock I remembered something the Lord had told me a few months before.
It had been such a dry season in terms of experiencing the Lord’s presence. Sometimes it’s easy to feel His nearness, sometimes it’s incredibly hard. But I had finally broken through and could envision Him standing beside me. The increased awareness had come with such relief mixed with grief and frustration. Experiencing His nearness made me ache with longing.
“Why can’t I be this aware of you all the time Lord?”
He responded, “Your fear blinds you to my nearness. You don’t know what it costs you when you give in to fear.”
My face reddened as I considered this. “What am I afraid of?”
“Your future” His response was sudden, as if He anticipated the question.
“What do you mean? What about my future?”
“You’re afraid of future loss, future disappointments, and future failures.” He paused, letting it sink in. I could feel His gaze upon me intensify with love and compassion. “Kyle, I promise you that all of those things are a part of your future.” His smile gleamed toward me, as He began to fade from my view.
I shook my head in disbelief. Only Jesus can get away with saying something so heavy that results in such profound peace and freedom. He didn’t have to say it, I knew the implications of his promise. I don’t have to be afraid of whether those things will happen or not. They most certainly will. More importantly, those things hold no real threat for me. I am so secure with Jesus that there is no failure, loss or disappointment that has the capacity to rob me of peace.
The Holy Spirit is a present expression of God's Grace freely given to us. He is the realization of the promises we have available in Christ. The Holy Spirit brings to life the close proximity we now have to God, along with all of its inherent benefits.
The threat of something can become more destructive than the thing that threatens. In other words, our fear of certain outcomes can disconnect us from what’s more true than our circumstances. If we let it, fear overshadows our place of righteousness, peace and joy. Steve Backlund says that in every area of our lives that we’re not “glistening with hope, we’re believing a lie.”
How often do we think that a certain situation needs resolved before we can be ok? If I can just solve this problem…if I can just reconcile with that person…if I can just relieve that pain, then I’ll be okay. When we do this, we make our well-being tied to our circumstances, which simply isn’t true. This belief causes us to try to escape challenging circumstances when often, they are the key to our breakthrough.
In Romans 8 Paul describes the life that is available to us in communion with God’s Spirit. The chapter culminates in multiple promises that are true regardless of circumstance. All things result in goodness for us in Christ (Romans 8:28), no things can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:33-35, 38-39), and in all these things we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:36-37).
Neither the rain fly or the camp chair passed the test. I got rid of them both. But I treasure their lesson:
Our circumstances can’t hold us back or enslave us. We can learn to be so in touch with our position in Christ, that we will continue to thrive despite any sense of permanence in a challenging situation. The only thing that can set us back is our fear. Fear restricts and enslaves. Fear keeps us in touch with the apparent lack or the external threats rather than the reality that we have everything we need in Christ.