This morning I spent an hour with my counselor/spiritual director. That chair in his office has become a sacred place for me, because when I visit, God is present, in emotions felt, in the safety of total acceptance, in the act of quiet listening to the silent rumblings of the inexpressible, in Word spoken without words directly to the soul. I sure don’t understand what happens in that space and time, but I’m usually serene, often in awe, and always grateful when I leave. I don’t know a better definition of encounter with the Divine.
This morning’s encounter became the first stop on this pilgrimage when I was acknowledging that, 24 hours prior to departure, I’m feeling fear (nervousness, drivenness, brain and body in a hurry) and, behind that, sadness. I hadn’t recognized the sadness nearly as much as the fear, but it was on the surface as soon as I sat down in The Chair. I’m sad to be leaving Lauren and Graham for what amounts to a long time in a toddler’s world. I’m sad to be leaving the safety of familiarity and routine for the unknown of new places and experiences.
It was the fear that surprised me. I’ve been aware for weeks of the buzzing fear that grabs onto trivial little things like whether I have the right clothes and whether I’ll get everything done before time to leave. That’s been buzzing like a gnat in my ear for a while (and I’m awfully grateful for my wife’s help in sorting all that out!). This morning I realized there’s a much deeper fear gripping my soul. It was 18 years ago this month that my dad was killed in an airline crash, and a week ago I reconnected at several levels to that event as I watched the movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (the story of a boy’s grief journey after his dad was killed in the 9/11 attacks). When I put the subtle signs together this morning, I realized I have a deep (irrational) fear that my plane will crash and I will die on this trip, putting my family through what my family and I went through when Dad died.
Only when I was able to acknowledge that fear was I able to hear God’s Word emerge deep inside:
It will be okay.
As those words appeared in my mind, I felt like a child in grandma’s lap, surrounded by the embrace of love and safety, and I knew the truth of that statement.
That Word isn’t about what will happen or not happen in the next two weeks. It doesn’t change the possible events or the fact that I feel fear about whether I have the right clothes or whether I’ll catch something from the water or whether our plane will crash. But it does remind me that God is bigger than any circumstance, for me and for my family. It invites me to surrender, to recognize that I never know what’s going to happen in the next two weeks, even in the midst of the familiarity of everyday life and the illusions of control I take for granted in my usual settings. It invites me to recognize that every single day I have a choice: will I live in fear, or will I surrender? Will I operate as if I can control my life (and if I fail, bad things will happen), or will I recognize that my security comes not from avoiding bad things but from the love and presence of my Creator? Will I try to grip my way through in a (losing) effort to beat the fear, or will I acknowledge that I feel afraid and then choose to trust in response, relaxing my grip as much as I’m able? When I relax in the face of this choice, I feel free-er, lighter, secure in a way that won’t change when I leave home.
Tomorrow I leave to travel over 10,000 miles to meet God in South Africa. God met me right here this morning. And I’m grateful–and peaceful.