Workshop Chapter 12: Down a Hole

Exploring a mysterious area under Pops’ Workshop, I begin to understand how neglecting the state of my soul has left much that needs to be addressed.

Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.

John 4:14 (MSG)

I don’t know when I first became aware of the hole, but there was definitely a large hole in the floor of the workshop. Shortly after the vision of venomous snakes, this hole in the floor was commanding my attention. It was in the back corner of the workshop, close to Holy Spirit. It was a round opening about three or four feet across. It looked suspiciously like an open manhole. I wondered about what might be at the bottom of the hole but resisted thoughts of exploring it. The hole was dark and mysterious. Thinking about what might be down the hole put me on edge. The nearby stairs leading down to a closed door at the back of the workshop seemed much more inviting and safer.

Once again, my spiritual director gave me a much-needed nudge. He noted that the hole certainly seemed important and that I would likely explore it at some point. Despite my director seeing what I was blind to, I resisted the hole for a week or two; when I finally did go down, I understood why I had resisted it. Down in the hole, I was brought face to face with much that I had hidden away, sometimes for decades, not wanting to face. But it would also be a place for healing that I didn’t even know I needed, healing for things I didn’t know were broken.

After much procrastination, during a time of prayer, I stopped resisting.[1] Down I went. The bottom of the hole was dark, dank, and covered with slimy muck. With the passage of a few moments spent wondering about where I was and why I was there, I discerned that the hole was meant to be the opening to a well, a place where someone in the workshop could let down a bucket to draw water from what was supposed to be a running stream of life-giving water. But the stream was littered and clogged with rocks, many of them large and jagged. A thick muck covered everything.

Before sharing what I have discerned and learned about this mysterious hole, the rocks, the slime, and the stream, I want to be clear in my narrative. My telling of my time down the whole may lead you to believe that I quickly and smoothly understood the significance of the hole in the workshop floor, but what the Lord wanted me to know about this place unfolded over a period of many days, with much prayer and much listening. As I pressed into this new, unexpected aspect of my Pops’ Workshop, understanding came slowly.

Even so, my understanding of it remains incomplete and evolving. Its meaning does not fundamentally change, but as I have continued to heal, learn, and grow, my understanding of this part of my time in Pops’ Workshop has matured. Like a painter adding a bit of detail to a landscape or a chef adjusting the seasoning in a dish, the Lord continues refining and sharpening my understanding of this pivotal experience in my Pops’ Workshop. Knowing that I didn’t fully understand The Hole stymied my writing for a long time; I wanted to understand it well enough to tell of it.[2] I am not sure that condition has been met! What follows is necessarily a snapshot in time; it is how I understand it today. I am confident that I will understand it better tomorrow.

Water and Rocks

As I sat with the experience of being down the hole, I learned that the large rocks had stopped the flow of water at its source. What little water did trickle out was fouled by the muck. I initially thought of the now blocked water as “healing,” but that is only a property of the water, not its substance. Light and heat are properties of fire, but neither of them defines it; they are not its substance.  In the same way, the healing is in the water but is not the water. The water’s substance is God’s Love: the very thing Jesus told me was needed to be able to perfect something.  God’s love should have been bubbling up from the floor but was blocked.

Water is a powerful and pervasive symbol in Christianity. We are brought into the newness of life through the waters of baptism. The gospels are rich with the symbolism of water. Jesus’ public ministry was launched when he was baptized in the Jordan River (an event chronicled in all four gospels). In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that the water he provides is “living water.” Later, Jesus declared to the crowds that came to hear him: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:35–38 ESV)

This living water of God’s love was what was supposed to be flowing in that subterranean stream. It was barely a trickle. Certainly not a river of living water. The rocks were stopping the stream at its source – blocking the flow of God’s love.

I have come to understand that underground, interior space as an image or representation of my interior state, my soul, if you will. God’s love should have been flowing through me and out of me in a torrent. Instead, I had just a trickle, and what love did flow was polluted. It was not a complete surprise to learn that I was the reason his love wasn’t coursing through me.

Attending to Our Interior Life

Attending to our interior life is foundational to our formational journey toward Christ-likeness. Yet many of us focus on our exteriors, on what we say and how we behave. We think if we look good, say the right things, and do the right things, then we are maturing as Christians. In the end, this amounts to us trying to fix ourselves. We believe that we are saved through Christ’s sacrifice but think our sanctification rests on our own shoulders.

Consider Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. (HSCB)” Many of us, myself included, can read this as our checklist of things we should do: be loving and joyful, feel peaceful, be patient, kind, good, and so on. Most of us can muster up the strength to do some of these things some of the time. But no matter how we try, if we are trying in our own strength, we will eventually fail, and in our failure, we become discouraged and even resentful that we are somehow supposed to achieve something that is beyond us.

We have it backward. Supppose I told you that the fruit of an apple tree is a bounty of delicious apples and your tree has only a few small and wormy apples. If we approach this problem the way we approach our interior lives we would rush off to Whole Foods to get the best apples we could find and tie them on to our tree and declare it an excellent apple tree. That sounds absurd, but it is essentially what we do when we think of the fruit of the spirit as something we need to do. We try to address the symptoms, not the disease.

Hiding is Never a Good Plan

Down in that mucky hole, Jesus showed me that the rocks came from me. When I sprouted fruit that wasn’t what a “good Christian” should be; rather than address the problems causing the bad fruit, I would just chuck it all down in the hole, pretending I wasn’t angry, quarrelsome, impatient, selfish, and so on.

This was especially toxic when I was angry, doubting, impatient, or discouraged with the Lord. I didn’t go to him with my true feelings. Instead, I pretended that I didn’t feel what I felt. I stuffed those feelings down the hole, and with the feelings went the parts of me that needed mending, out of sight and out of mind.

Let me give you an example. Back in chapter one, I was talking about my sense of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction is too soft a word. I was angry – very angry. I felt that I was being cheated. I was doing everything I could do to walk out my faith, but I wasn’t experiencing the joy-filled new life promised by scripture. Dissatisfied? I wanted to yell at God: “Where the hell is my new life? You talk a good show, you promise a sweet reward, well, where is it? Why aren’t you holding up your end of the deal? I am worn out trying to please you – trying to do what you want me to do. I am tired of waiting for you to come through! Where is all this peace and joy I am supposed to have?” I wanted to yell and kick and scream.

That was what my heart wanted to do. However, I am a person generally ruled by my head – I live in my head (it is usually a very nice place). I let my head rule my heart. It would be wrong to be angry with God. Just who did I suppose I was? My head reasoned that if someone is wrong here, it must be me, certainly not the Lord God Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth! He is God; I am merely a creature. If I am angry, frustrated, or impatient, surely the fault must be with me.

So, I hid the real me. I hid the pain and brokeness from God and from myself. I didn’t tell him of my frustration and anger with him. In that way, I neutered my relationship with God. I came to him only with the parts of me, the emotional states I thought were “okay” to bring. He didn’t get all of me. Instead, what I didn’t bring to him, I stuffed down the hole — the rocks that clogged the stream.

By keeping my disappointments, anger, and other “negative” emotions from Jesus, I was cheating us out of a full relationship. It is indicative of a lack of trust. I created an inauthentic relationship. I brought a false, or a best, partial version of myself to Jesus. Any relationship, whether between God and us or just between each other, must be based on honesty to thrive. Relationships based on anything besides honesty and authenticity can be neither vibrant nor healthy. The inauthentic relationship I offered Jesus made it all but impossible for his love to flow in ways that I could access it.

In the language of the Workshop, the water that should be available to be drawn up through the hole was not flowing. It was stopped up at its source. Let me be clear. The problem was not my anger and frustration or any of a host of “bad” emotions I felt. God already knew how I felt and had I told him he would have been neither shocked nor surprised that I felt that way. The problem was with me trying to pretend to be other than I was. The problem was me trying to hide myself, or parts of myself, from God. Trying to partition off the “good parts” to bring to God while hiding the rest is pointless and counterproductive. God already knows. Our hiding doesn’t fool anyone but ourselves. Yet it keeps us from bringing our woundedness, or pain, and our brokenness to Jesus, the only person who can heal and repair us.

The slimy muck that covered the rocks and the cave floor was also my doing. Hiding my true self from Jesus stopped up the flow of water, or nearly so. The nasty and slimy muck, grew and accumulated when I would not be honest with myself about negative feelings and emotions I felt toward others. If others left me feeling hurt, angry, or disappointed, rather than allow myself to feel those feelings, I would stuff them down the hole, where they would fester and foul what little water was still flowing. The dynamic with the slime was much like that of the rocks. Where the rocks impeded the life-giving flow of God’s love, the slime was fouling what little flow was left.

It sounds odd, hiding from ourselves, but a lot of us, maybe even most of us, do just that. We wall off and try to deny those things, those parts of us, we judge unacceptable. Our emotions, how we really feel about ourselves, those we love, and God, are stuffed down a hole and denied. Too many of us were raised in families where “Shame, secrets, lies, betrayals, relationship breakdowns, disappointments, and unresolved longings for unconditional love lie beneath the veneer…”[3]

In the years following my visits to Pops’ Workshop, as I studied to become a Spiritual Director, I read many excellent books. One stands out like a map or guidebook that helped me understand what God had been up to and how I had been transformed in the Workshop: Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality[4]. Scazzero shows us it is impossible for us to be healthy spiritually if we are not healthy emotionally:

“God made us as whole people, in his image (Genesis 1:27). That image includes physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social dimensions. … Ignoring any aspect of who we are as men and women made in God’s image always results in destructive consequences—in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.”

Scazzero, p. 17

That is a fitting description of what God was showing me down the hole in the back of the workshop. I was damaging my relationship with God, with others, and with myself.

I think of Scazzero’s five dimensions as spokes on a wooden wheel. When we are healthy and strong in all the spokes, we will roll along just fine. However, if any of the spokes in our wheel is broken, weak, or stressed, that puts more of the load of life on the remaining spokes. We may get along fine for quite a while with one or two spokes that are weak or damaged, but when we find ourselves on a rough road, with life’s rocks and potholes, things can go very badly indeed. The weakened spokes may snap altogether, leading to a catastrophic failure, or the weakness in one spoke puts more and more pressure on the others.  In either case, the end is the same: the whole works comes crashing down.

As Scazzero predicts, my relationship with others, with God and with myself suffered. My lack of emotional health stressed the other dimensions of my life. As time passed, I would have to wrestle with and accept the depth of the hurt I had caused my wife and children. For now, in his Workshop, my Pops was dealing with the damaged relationship I had with him, which started with the damaged relationship I had with myself. He was trueing the wheel and repairing my damaged spokes.

Exposing, understanding, and accepting ourselves as we are is a key first step in our healing. I had a lot to learn about myself, I needed to reintegerate some parts that had been lost for a long time.

[1]Reading this today, I notice that I had agency. I could have never gone down the hole. I believe the invitation would have continued, but my Pops would not force me to confront anything I chose not to.

[2]I have only recently begun to be comfortable with mystery. Being comfortable with mystery does not make it any easier to describe a thing shrouded in mystery, especially not for a seasoned left-brain thinker!

[3] Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature (p. 13). Zondervan. Kindle Edition

[4] Even years later, I am awed by the illumination of my later study. If I been exposed to work like Scazzero’s earlier, my unhealthiness would have kept me from receiving the healing the Lord was bringing. Learning after the fact has been affirming and life-giving; it validates and solidifies my sometimes vague understanding of what the Lord was doing

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