We are posting a personal letter written to planter’s wives in one of NAMB’s Send Cities. This particular city is uniquely challenging with it’s vast size, secular culture, high cost of living, few churches and layers of diversity. Life here is not easy. It would be very easy for any spiritual leader who wants to make Kingdom impact here to hit a spiritual wall.
Yet the truth is, anyone could.
I returned this week from a trip to China to visit my oldest daughter who teaches there. It was amazing, and we saw some incredible sights including The Great Wall.
I also spent some time reading The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich. I had read this book a decade ago after a crisis of faith. I found it helpful and reread it for months afterwards. I am glad I did.
The book is based on credible research and describes different stages of faith. The first stage is described as the initial recognition of God. The second is a learning or discipleship stage.
The third is the “doing” stage. The goal at this stage is “to do our best for God, both within our community and beyond.” Here, we use our gifts for the good of others. Here, we are productive and fruitful. While this stage often feels exciting and fulfilling, it is also where we are susceptible to burnout.
We can become weary in doing good. There may be guilt associated with saying “no” or dropping a ministry. Suddenly, our doing no longer comes from a desire to serve but from a sense of “should.”
The fourth stage is referred to as “the journey inward.” It is often an unsettling experience. A critical part of this stage is called “the wall.” The wall is a place of questioning, doubt and struggle. It is uncomfortable, and we may do our best to avoid it. In stage three we felt confident and secure but now are confused and afraid by seemingly negative feelings.
We question our faith, and lies enter our hearts and minds like, if my faith were stronger I would not feel this way.
This is often a lonely stage. In addition to the fear that accompanies our own questioning, there is also a fear of being honest with others and how they will respond. After all, I am a church planter’s wife. I’m not supposed to feel this way.
There is some validity to this fear. People who have not experienced the wall themselves can have a difficult time understanding what you are experiencing. It is uncomfortable for them as well.
But here’s the good news! While we really don’t like the wall, it is challenging and scary, we can emerge with a deeper more satisfying relationship with our Father. It’s a place of transformation. The process of surrendering and going through the wall allows us to move along on our journeys with more assurance and peace as we experience God’s love and presence in a new way.
The first time I read The Critical Journey was after my first wall experience. It had been like hitting The Great Wall of China. It seemed insurmountable, and I wasn’t sure if my faith would recover. It did and was stronger for that. (If you’re interested you can read about that here: Facing Fear.)
This book helped me understand wrestling and struggling wasn’t due to my lack of faith but a natural part of the journey plus a chance to build my faith.
As I reread the book, I thought about some additional walls of various sizes I’ve encountered since. Unfortunately, we may need multiple wall experiences for continual transformation—at least I have. But I definitely identified with these words from the authors:
“If we take God’s love seriously and do the work of the wall, we will not recognize ourselves on the other side.”
They refer to the wall as an “excruciatingly wonderful experience.” Those words seem a bit contradictory—excruciating and wonderful—but there is another place where they collide … the cross.
Jesus endured not only the excruciatingly physical pain of the cross but also the deep darkness and confusion of being separated from the Father. Sometimes we look at the cross and feel condemned—ashamed of our questions, weariness and doubts. This is a lie. You are not condemned. You are loved. Jesus doesn’t judge us for hitting walls; He walks beside us and gives us the courage to face them. His unconditional love helps us break through walls.
I’d prefer he just use a super-power and obliterate the walls in my life. We may at times be tempted to think that if he really loved us that is exactly what he would do-but it’s not. In this world, we will have trouble (and walls) but take courage, He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)
There will come a day when the only wall we will encounter is made of jasper, decorated with every kind of precious stone. There will be no darkness, for the glory of God will provide light, and the Lamb will be its lamp (Revelation 21:18-19,23). The farther I walk on this journey, the more I anticipate this time.
Wherever you are on your critical journey, I am praying for you.
Prayers and blessings,
Published July 27, 2017