I wasn’t allowed to go to church for three years. I lived in a remote area of China with one female teammate that I met with on Sunday mornings. We would take turns planning our “service,” downloading sermons and singing along with Cyberhymnal online. And while I cherish the simplicity of those days, I also remember beginning to feel desperate for community. My soul thirsted for God in a dry and weary land where there was no water (Ps. 63:1).
I eventually took a risk. A precious Chinese mother-figure to me was very involved in the local house church, which was far from “underground.” A large red cross served as a sign for the unregistered meeting place of believers. I often ran along a dried up river that served as a dumping ground for a local dairy factory, right across from the church. So one morning I went on a run, with a stop along the way at the large red cross.
I didn’t understand much of the service, but I recognized the Spirit there. Sitting on tiny wooden benches with handmade quilt covers, the men on one side and the women on the other, I drank in the joyful singing, the passionate sermon and the intimate conversations. I was greeted with crinkly smiles and sparking eyes. My friend introduced me to her friends as if I was her daughter and I felt like I was finally among family in this place where I had felt so isolated and alone.
Out of respect for the rules of my organization and the safety of the Chinese believers, this was my only visit to this oasis in my city. It’s a strange world when going to church is breaking the rules or something to feel guilty about! Tears streamed down my face the first Sunday back in church in the states while I was home for a break, as the waterfall of worship poured over my soul. The wilderness taught me to cherish church like never before.
But for three years, I survived in a dry and weary land where there was no water, spiritually speaking.
I got creative meeting with God. I listened to sermons, downloaded worship songs and spent my mornings studying God’s Word and journaling (I was single and not being woken up at 5:20 am by kids as I am now).
I sought out Chinese believers, who seemed to operate under different cultural rules, which my teammate and I called “Kingdom Culture.” They got me in ways only other followers of Jesus get one another, in spite of our different language and cultural backgrounds.
I prioritized staying in touch with friends back home, asking them to pray for me, writing them letters and scheduling regular phone calls. I begged friends to visit me in China (and many did). I also often communicated with other friends from my organization who could relate in ways my friends from the states just couldn’t.
But what made it easier to be there in the wilderness was simply knowing that it was exactly where God wanted me to be.
I am now back in the U.S. and find myself spiritually dehydrated again, though I can now attend church weekly. We are in a new city with no close friends and as a mother to two teeny people, I no longer have mornings to be in the Word.
So once again I am learning to drink in new ways.
A surgeon friend of mine had to adapt her water consumption in medical school so she wouldn’t have to leave during surgery. She became a binge water drinker. But in this season of life, I am learning to take small “sips” throughout the day to keep my soul hydrated. A Bible verse scribbled on a post-it note, a worship song in the shower, Bibles thrown open in every room, a proclamation of God’s goodness to my children, an arrow prayer for this friend or that need. These are the ways I now connect with God throughout my day.
And Jesus has been whispering something to me lately that is so freeing.
IT IS ENOUGH.
Because Jesus is enough.
I have been forced to release my grip on spiritual perfectionism. I just can’t do all that I want to do in this chapter of my life–and that is okay.
I now live in Colorado, where every “lake” in my city is a reservoir. As I pass the slow receding waters, I am reminded that any time I have spent in the Word over the years has poured straight into the reservoir in the recesses of my heart, because His Word never returns void (Is. 55:11).
Lately, I find I am drawing from those reserves that I stored up before I had children—ironically, from hours I had when I was in a dry and weary land where all I could do was drink deeply of God’s Word alone in my cinderblock apartment in China.
Those lonely, but rich, moments in the wilderness created a spiritual reservoir that is sustaining me even today.
On a recent road trip, my three-year-old son cried for his water cup. I eventually took off my seatbelt as my husband drove and I craned my arm back to search for his cup. I finally found it—under his arm. Immediately following, my one-year-old daughter shrieked for her water. I found it on the floorboard, but as soon as I handed it to her she hurled it back down. And it occurred to me that these are the two ways we often approach God’s attempts to quench our soul: we either don’t notice His provision for us or we throw the spiritual nourishment back in His face because it doesn’t fit our rules for what is “spiritual enough.”
I want to be better at noticing and receiving.
Our sojourns in the wilderness are never a waste of time. The wilderness is God’s training ground. It teaches us to seek Him in new ways, value our faith community, and sometimes even store up what we are learning for those days ahead when we find ourselves unable to spend hours with Him.
Jesus will always be enough to nourish our souls, because He is the only one who can. And because He is enough, He invites us to surrender our spiritual perfectionism and relax, with a sigh, in His grace.
In what ways do you struggle with spiritual perfectionism?
What kind of spiritual “drinking” is God calling you to in your current season of life? Small sips or gulps?
Are you feeding or draining the reservoir?