Workshop Chapter 10: The Promise of Peace

I wrestle with the question of “why me?” and am promised, even in the face of impending danger, that my peace was coming.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (ESV)

My experiences in the workshop so far had happened over a span of five weeks. I had met and spent time with each person of the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was experiencing them in personal ways and was learning to trust my Pops’ genuine love for me. I had received profound and direct invitations to ministry. All of this is more than I could have expected and felt like it was more than enough, but, as it turns out, it was only the beginning.

Clearly, God was up to something in my life; I was on an incredible journey. One thing I did not know was how far along the road I was. Was I near the end of the road or barely underway? If you, the reader, had a book in your hands, you could look ahead and see how many pages are left or how many blog posts you have not yet read and make a pretty good guess. I had no such clues. I had no idea what, if anything, would be next. For all I knew, I could have already reached the end. Each time I returned to the workshop could have been my last.

I now know that was then nowhere near the end, but I had reached a point where the story was about to take an important and dramatic shift; a shift from calling and encouragement to healing deep wounds and scars that would otherwise keep me from walking out my calling. My Pops knew what I didn’t: I would need some reassurance and fortification in advance.

Why Me?

Shortly before my encounter with Holy Spirit, I had started asking myself, “why me?” I was pretty sure that my experiences were not typical; the few people I shared them with certainly thought them extraordinary. What was so special about me that I should have this ministry call to Spiritual Direction, especially in such a clear and personal way? Who was I that my Pops should bring me to his workshop? Many people wrestle long and hard to try to discern what the Lord is calling them to. I had received the proverbial engraved invitation.

In a time of contemplative prayer, I found myself at the back of the workshop asking Jesus these questions: “why me?” and “am so special?” He turned away from me and faced the back wall of the workshop. As he did, the wall faded from view. I looked where it l had been, expecting to see the forest or the side of the mountain. Instead, I saw row upon row and rank upon rank of people sitting at desks or workbenches. It instantly reminded me of a scene from King Vidor’s 1928 film “The Crowd.”[1]

Office workers in Vidor’s “The Crowd”

Vidor’s imagery emphasized the mechanistic, dehumanizing work environment where everyone is doing the same thing in the same way at the same time. He depicted row after row of workers, each diligently, if robotically, working — people as machines. In contrast, in the scene Jesus showed me, there was no sense of that dehumanizing environment. Instead of office workers, I saw people busy sanding blocks of wood, much as Jesus had. I was struck by the variety of people, young and old, men and women, some seemingly conservative and reserved and others more flamboyant and extravagant. They spanned racial, cultural, and socioeconomic spectra. All unique and yet all the same. Each was sanding carefully, thoughtfully, and lovingly. In the manner of Jesus, loving and helping to perfect what they were working on.

Although no words were spoken, Jesus impressed upon me that I was not alone in this calling. Legions of others are called to the same work. It was also clear, in this wordless communication, that I am unique and special to Jesus. I am not a nameless, faceless cog in a machine. I am known and loved by him. Many others, each known and loved, have been called to the same work. I am unique in my person but not in my calling; I am not alone. I am special, as each of us is in Jesus’s eyes, but not unique. This did not answer my “why me?” question, but it rendered it moot; the answer was no longer of interest to me. Why me? Because Jesus loves me and can use my natural and supernatural gifting to help him help others.

Peace is Coming

Soon it was Easter Sunday, and I was once again engaged in what seemed to have been a favorite pastime: serial repenting. When I review my journals, I see an annoying and embarrassing pattern of repenting of some sin, trying my best to keep myself on the straight and narrow, then sometime later, I’d once again find myself repenting of the same sin. This time I was once again repenting of being self-absorbed and self-centered – that was one of my favorites for serial repentance. It seemed that no how many times I repented of this sin, earnestly and with every intent to change, I sooner or later found myself back in the same place. Those twisted places in my soul had not yet been straightened out, and, oblivious to Holy Spirit’s work, I was trying to do it myself. So, there I was, in church on Easter Sunday, once again confessing this sin, fully aware that I had confessed and repented of my self-centeredness over and over again, when I heard the Lord say to me, “Your peace is coming.”

Sometimes when I hear from the Lord, I struggle to understand if it is him or me that I am hearing. This was not one of those times. “Your peace is coming” landed solidly in my spirit. I was certain it was the Lord. Unfortunately, I had no idea what it meant! I did understand it as a “now” word, not a “someday” word. My peace, if not yet present, was on its way. The order had been shipped, whatever the Lord meant by “my peace,” it was coming. I wondered how that could relate to my repenting over and over again of selfishness and being self-centered.

I knew that part of what the Lord was calling me to was to “speak peace” to an endless forest of people, yet I couldn’t fathom what my peace would look like when it arrived. I mentally tried on a few ideas of what my peace could mean. Perhaps I would be less impatient and angry? Maybe I would be able to get a job that allowed me to not travel so much? Winning the lottery would surely make me peaceful, could that be it? But none of them rang true and none of them seemed to have any connection to what I was praying when I received that word. Surely there must be a connection there. But no answer was forthcoming. I was left wondering: what was my peace that was on its way? How would I recognize it when it came?

It is only now, as I write this years later, that I am confident in what the Lord meant. As I expected at the time, it was not a coincidence that the Lord’s declaration about my peace came after my repentance. He was telling me that a deep, interior transformation I was about to experience was even then underway. My Pops knew how anguished, disgusted, and distressed I was with my repeated failed attempts to renovate my own heart. He was telling me that the needed changes, things he knew well and which I could not have guessed at, were already in the works. The peace that was coming is the peace that comes with true spiritual freedom, with knowing that I really don’t have to do anything. Even more, I can’t really do anything about my condition. It is a paradox for many of us: as long as we are determined to mend ourselves, we are doomed to failure. We are fallen and corrupted creatures. We are absolutely incapable of saving ourselves. That was one of many lessons I was about to come face to face with.

An Unexpected Caution

With the question of my peace not yet resolved, three weeks later, I had another vision, this time an ominous one. I was outside the workshop. The woods were thick, and there was an understory of dense vegetation low to the ground. I was walking down a narrow dirt path that wound through the brush and trees. Knee-high plants were growing up to the edge of the path. As I walked along the path, I glimpsed shiny black snakes in the underbrush along side of and sometimes crossing the path ahead of me. In the vision, I knew that the snakes were venomous. The Lord explained to me that the snakes were the enemy, Satan, lying in wait to strike me. Suddenly, the bucolic charm of the workshop was not so charming!

Then it got worse. I was told that I would be struck and wounded by the enemy. I saw myself being bitten on the foot. But as my injured foot swelled alarmingly, I was also shown a stream of cool running water, a stream of healing where I could bathe my wounds and be healed of my injuries. As I put my now bruised and swollen foot into the water, it quickly returned to its usual healthy state.

I would have expected that this revelation would alarm me. To know not only that Satan was lying in wait for me but also would strike me should have filled me with apprehension. But the promise of Jesus’ healing somehow made it seem all right. Without realizing it, I was starting to trust. It was easy to trust when Jesus was offering something good, like a ministry of spiritual direction. Now, surprisingly, I was finding myself trusting even when what is being promised is pain and difficulty. Perhaps my peace was closer at hand than I had realized. Trusting that whatever God has for me will be good is the beginning of surrender, and surrender is the beginning of peace.

Without realizing it, I was starting to trust. It was easy to trust when Jesus was offering something good, like a ministry of spiritual direction. Now, surprisingly, I was finding myself trusting even when what is being promised is pain and difficulty. Perhaps my peace was closer at hand than I had realized. Trusting that whatever God has for me will be good is the beginning of surrender, and surrender is the beginning of peace.

I had received three seemingly unrelated visions. I had been assured that I am not alone, I am unique but not unusual. I was promised peace for my soul. I had the sure knowledge that the enemy would strike me but that it would be okay; I would also find healing. None of these seemed to make sense in the context of the workshop or in the ministry I was being called into.

It is only in hindsight that I can begin to understand. I did not know it at the time, but I was about to be taken on a journey of self-discovery and healing. A journey that is necessary for me to be who I was created and called to be. A journey that will sometimes be painful and confusing. In those times of pain and confusion, it is vital to know that I am not alone and that healing was available. I was heading into turbulent waters, but peace was on the other side.

[1] Yes, I am a bit of a fan of old movies. But it is illustrative of a truth I discovered during my time in the workshop:  God speaks to us using images, references, or ideas that will resonate with us. For me, it was a scene from a classic film.

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