When You Feel Spiritually Dehydrated…Again

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.

How?

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?

26 Comments

  1. Keri January 10, 2016

    Leslie,

    Thank you for sharing.  There is so much truth in your post.  I rejoice that you are able to receive from him in a dry and thirsty season of life.  May your reservoirs be replenished in supernatural measure.

    Keri

  2. Valerie January 10, 2016

    Your “small sips” analogy is just what I needed to hear! As a mom of a toddler, small sips are the only reasonable answer for me and I appreciate your comment that that is enough! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Leslie Verner January 10, 2016

      So glad to give permission for small sips!  It’s definitely all I have time for right now, too! Blessings on you, mama, as you rest in His grace.

  3. Caitlin Lieder January 11, 2016

    Yes!!! I can relate to this post so much! When we first moved to Germany, almost ten years ago now, I did the exact same thing. I listened to sermons and had bible verses everywhere etc. We moved back here again two years ago and although, this time I have a great church, I have zero community because we live in the country. It’s very disheartening and some days I’m really low, but I’ve taken up the same sipping of His water that I used to and it helps so much. I even often leave my Bible open on the table to read it in the minutes I have between requests from my little people. Thank you for your encouragement Leslie! It’s has spoken to me and given me the strength I was praying for today!!

    1. Leslie Verner January 11, 2016

      Thanks for reading and commenting and I’m so glad you found some encouragement!

  4. Melissa January 11, 2016

    This article really spoke to me.  I’ve been feeling that I need to focus on rest and being still this year, but it does stem from a time in the wilderness. I’ve been running on empty for far too long and I’m ready to fill ‘er up. In some ways, I’ve been waiting ’til we’re in the US for six months…but in other ways, it needs to start now and not just wait until then. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what you’ve learned.

    1. Leslie Verner January 11, 2016

      I feel like God has really been enticing me to rest recently, too, but it is so hard to know how to do that in practical ways!  But I think reprogramming myself to take rest when I can and not wait for large chunks of time (which never come) is helping a bit.  I hope you find rest now!  Allow yourself to prioritize it and you’ll be more alive for everything else you need to do.

  5. Ashley Felder January 11, 2016

    Small sips. Definitely small sips. Today, all 3 of my littles were quiet or sleeping for 45 minutes at the same time! I know you know the glory of that last part! For the first 30, I took a power nap. Then, after re-settling one of them, I jumped into the Word. I don’t always choose to do that, but today, it was exactly what I needed. A re-start. A breath of His love. A drink of His joy. If only I would look for these moments every day! I’m sure my attitude would improve greatly. 🙂

    1. Leslie Verner January 11, 2016

      Ohhh yes.   I always feel a bit giddy when I realize they are both sleeping AT THE SAME TIME.  It’s glorious. Good for you for napping and using that time to feed your soul!  I’m sure everyone benefited from it!

  6. Ellie January 11, 2016

    Thanks for this post, Leslie. I have been anxiously wrestling with the word “enough” which seems to be the word God is suggesting for me as my word for this year and this post was really encouraging on that front. Particularly: “we throw the spiritual nourishment back in His face because it doesn’t fit our rules for what is “spiritual enough.”” One of my biggest struggles with some things I’m wondering about doing at the moment is “it doesn’t look like what I thought I would be doing”.. but what if it’s God’s provision for me, it just doesn’t look “spiritual enough” in my eyes?!

    1. Leslie Verner January 11, 2016

      That sounds like a fabulous word to shape a year.  I, too, always wrestle with what I expect of myself vs. what God expects of me.  But I’m finding that certain seasons call for lower expectations of myself and that certainly doesn’t impact God’s view of me.  In fact, I think He likes it when I admit I’m spent and have nothing left because that’s when I can really start receiving from Him.  Blessings on you as you wade through all the implications of “enough” in your life right now.

  7. Monica F January 11, 2016

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post.  I can identify so with so much of it, as our family lived in a remote part of southern China for 8 years…sporadic fellowship with foreigners visiting us, or with local believers.  I loved your comment about Kingdom Culture- it’s something beautiful and so different that brings us all together…no matter the language, race, or culture.  Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Leslie Verner January 11, 2016

      Yes, I love Kingdom Culture.  Those relationships with Chinese believers were a salve to my soul during seasons of dryness.  So glad you got to experience those, too!

  8. Ruth January 11, 2016

    I’m so happy to hear from you, Leslie, and I love everything you have to say!  It’s definitely true that life with children involves more creativity!  I feel like it has freed me up some from the “mandatory 30 minute quiet time” idea and helped me realize there are a lot of ways to connect to God.  I still value extended time to focus, and try to make that happen almost every week (Kevin and I take turns taking 2-3 hours away…or at least shut in the bedroom…).  But the day-to-day is sustained by the little sips.  Sometimes it seems lacking, but other times it seems to sink in more, those single verses that I come back to, or the song I listen to again, or that moment of reflection hanging up laundry.  It’s more real, more a part of life, more “practicing the presence” of God.  And I do appreciate that.

    1. Leslie Verner January 11, 2016

      Hey Ruth!  I love that and agree that it does feel more real somehow even though spirituality can’t be colored perfectly within our lines anymore.   And you’re right about still making time for extended times away.  Adam and I will do that some mornings (especially if the kids wake up before 5:30!) and will just divide the time we have and one of us will escape to another room for a little while.  In addition to that, we have some plans in the works to each take a one night personal retreat this year, but we’ll see if we can follow through with that.  Sounds amazing.  But praise God for the ways He gives us grace during whatever season we find ourselves.  I think we’re the ones that need to also give ourselves grace during those busy times (at least I do!).  Good to hear from you!

  9. Elizabeth January 11, 2016

    “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.’ ” Ouch! And a very astute observation.

    I can relate to storing up spiritual reserves for later. I think I did that for our recent furlough. It worked for the first month or so, but by the last month my reserves were dry!

    I’m so thankful for living on the field — it HAS been like a training ground. It forced me to get more consistent in my time with God, because living here drained my dry faster, and what I was haphazardly doing before wasn’t working anymore. It wasn’t enough. So I’m very thankful for that.

    1. Leslie Verner January 12, 2016

      I think I’m still learning to adapt my pace to my current situation.  Living overseas, teaching full-time, going through re-entry, marriage, children etc. have all been chapters that have forced me to reassess how I’m actively meeting with God, but also how I’m allowing myself to receive from Him and lower my expectations for “doing” during certain seasons.  But you’re right that sometimes the same old thing doesn’t work anymore and we have to reevaluate and figure out what DOES work in whatever chapter we’re in.  I think that’s the main thing I’ve just started to realize:  my walk with God is fluid, not rigid, and I need to learn how to let it change with my days and be what it is.  Let Him be who He is.  And He has more grace for me than I have for myself.  Blessings on you as you figure out how to drink during this season back in the states.  I hope it fills and doesn’t drain your reservoir for the future!;-)

      1. Elizabeth January 12, 2016

        Thank you so much Leslie! We actually just returned to Asia — and not a moment too soon, LOL!

        But I agree with you about needing to be flexible. I did learn how to meet God in the small things on furlough, at least the first half of it. And I have to do that here, as well, even though I usually try to squeeze in my preferred early morning meetings 🙂

        Thanks again for this post!

        1. Leslie Verner January 12, 2016

          Ha!  Glad you’re back to what’s “familiar” 😉  And I prefer mornings, too!  I’m just still getting used to hiding in a corner of my house away from my children while my husband watches them for a few minutes!

          1. Elizabeth January 12, 2016

            LOL!! I know the feeling 🙂 Mine are older now and so mornings are easier to do 🙂

  10. vered January 12, 2016

    Thank you, your words encouraging!

    Vered Blumenthal, NW China (X’ian)

  11. Patty Stallings January 12, 2016

    Love this, Leslie.  Sometimes we think our relationship with God ought to remain the same in whatever ideal form we have imagined it ought to be.  But it is just that, a relationship – meaning there will be ebb and flow, a dance that changes with the tempo of life, a knowing and learning process in which we find ways to love and pursue Him in all places, at all times, in every season.  So thankful for all the practical encouragement you offer here!

    1. Leslie Verner January 13, 2016

      Thanks, Patty!  And I think I forget that our relationship with God has those nuances that other relationships have.  But like my relationship with my husband, there should probably be times where I talk to God every day, go out on a “date” every once in a while (a.k.a go somewhere quiet for a few hours every few weeks) and even try for a get-away every now and then (personal retreat).  I love hearing from you and getting your perspective on all of this!

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